UPDATE: As of an update on August 10, the window cleaning mechanic was changed and you can now add plumbing elements to any room. Literally my two of my three biggest issues with the game were patched out.
I love a good relaxing simulation game. I'm always down to try out a new Sims title, or a theme park builder, or--the newest established style in the genre--a career simulator. There's a meditative quality to even the most stressful releases in this genre. You are fully in control of an immersive world where anything that goes wrong can be fixed instantly with a reset.
My favorite among these have sandbox modes, where time and money are of no value and you can build whatever you want. The artificial scarcity of earning money in the regular modes isn't even that inconvenient, as the developers tend to be quite generous with funds compared to how city building or repair work would go in the real world. Still, I prefer a simulation with no firm deadlines, just clear objectives and a lot of creative freedom. That's almost like a sandbox mode, just with a few more critical elements to deal with.
Enter House Flipper, a new PC simulation game from Empyrean. It is exactly what the title says. You are an all-in-one house flipping business person, doing everything from painting and tiling to massive renovation and repairs. You earn money to purchase properties outright by taking on home improvement tasks--install radiators, repaint a house, clean up a rental after it's trashed by college students. Once you purchase your own property, you get to work cleaning, repairing, and designing someone's dream home. A stable of clients will let you know what they like or don't like when you put the house on the market and the highest bidder wins. You then start the process all over again.
House Flipper is very reminiscent of Viscera Cleanup Detail, a horror-themed sim about cleaning up after the wreckage of mass murders, alien invasions, and mad scientists. Both feature first person perspectives, a wide range of tools to use, and very exacting conditions to obtain 100% accuracy on any maintenance work. House Flipper is just a bit more accessible to a wide audience, what with soggy cardboard and the occasional roach infestation being the most disturbing thing you'll find in a house.
At its best, House Flipper is like a first person version of the home builder mode in The Sims. You are in charge of every design detail. You lay down the carpet or hardwood floor. You choose the toilet, tub, and sink for the bathroom. You pick the paint colors for the walls and the appliances for the kitchen. You even rotate everything to get just the right angle for your vision. It's quite relaxing.
The potential buyers add the wrinkle that keeps the game interesting. Sure, you can be like me and build your Halloween dream home again and again and again. You'd be surprised by how many variants of black, purple, green, and orange I can put together and never grow tired of the aesthetic. But if you want to earn real money, you need to acquiesce to the desires of the buyers.
Some buyers will love a bright house with every color of the rainbow. Others are literally only interested in properties with two or more bathrooms and will not even come close to being the top bid on anything else. Some will question what they will do with a kitchen, while others will only really invest in a house if it already comes furnished with art on the walls. The buyers are very clear on what they like and you can check on their real time reactions to the changes you make as you rebuild their potential dream homes.
The hit or miss element of House Flipper is the controls. Each tool comes with its own rules for how it has to be used. A mop is point and click--find the dirt, hold down M1, and it disappears. Painting is done section by section of a wall and requires you to move around the room and reload the roller as you go. Tiling is similar, only you have to pick up new tile for each section you use. The sledgehammer has to clearly break through a section of the wall to cause a wall to crumble and the price gun lets you sell back any supplies or objects you don't want to use with a simple click. These all work great, though the accuracy does take a bit of time to get used to.
Two mechanics in the game are incredibly frustrating to me. The first, and worst, is the window cleaning. You click on a dirty window to clean it. You get a nice close-up view of the filthy window and have a squeegee ready to go. The squeegee is very difficult to control. It does not easily conform to straight lines (you know, like an actual squeegee does on a window) and seems to spin on a free axis point somewhere between the handle and the head. It's frustrating to use, but actually required for some of the home improvement tasks to receive your full paycheck. I don't mind a first person window cleaning simulation, but I do mind that the tool is so unwieldy compared to every other tool in the game.
The other mechanic frustrating mechanic is installation of appliances and fixtures. This is where House Flipper just misses the mark on what makes simulation games so compelling. If you want to install a toilet, a radiator, a shower, a washer, etc., you are going to have to complete the installation step by step in the game's correct order. That means every screw, every bolt, every nut, every wire, ever clamp, ever latch, every cable, and every tube needs to be separated, moved, and reattached in a specific order to complete the job.
This wouldn't be too bad if it was consistent. I don't understand why, when installing a shower, a bracket that (from the game's visual perspective) is already in place needs to be clicked on once before you can press and hold the M1 button to screw it into place. Some objects snap together or come apart instantly, while others require you to hold M1 long enough for the action to take place. There is no indication of which is which and I still cannot wrap my head around the correct sequence of events for a washing machine, a sink, or a shower. The color indicators--blue means you can interact, red means you cannot--are helpful, except even those need to happen in the precise order to actually work. Like the window cleaning, I don't mind having to do so many steps in these tasks. I do mind how inconsistent the controls are and how unclear the objective order is on some of these fixtures.
If this review seems negative, it is not meant to be. There are literally only two elements of the game that I find frustrating. The rest is golden, from the soundtrack to the lighting design. If I'm playing the game before leaving for work, I have to set an alarm for myself so I know when I have to stop playing and get on the road. Otherwise, I would probably just keep going. It's an engaging simulation game to say the least.
House Flipper is, for the most part, just a lot of fun to play. It really brings me back to when I used to stay up all night redesigning my Sims' homes until every detail was perfect. While you don't quite have that level of control over the physical build of the house, you can literally use every color of paint offered in the game to create an elaborate pinstripe rainbow in each room of a home, with every tile on the game's floor a different material and every inch of the ceiling covered in lighting fixtures. This is a design simulator framed as house flipping game and it's brilliant at what it does well.
House Flipper is currently available on Steam.
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