America - Front
America - Back
By Lee Mehr 22nd Mar 2021 | 1,618 views
Making games is difficult and exciting. Terrible Posture Games (Tower of Guns, Mothergunship) utilized a backdrop it's intimately familiar with and fused that with a structured half-hour sitcom. What launched on Epic Games Store in 2020 in weekly episodes has now been collected into one season and released on various consoles. It's meant to crank up the absurd antics through both its story and gameplay surprises. Considering the low bar set by the title itself, how does 3 out of 10 - Season One measure up?
Welcome to Shovelworks Studios, located... somewhere in New England! As the title implies, this developer has never released a game that's scored higher than 3 out of 10. The studio even has a Sword of Damocles in the form of an algorithmic score predictor hanging on an office wall. But there's hope for a better tomorrow. Shovelworks' newest member, Midge, is "hired" on the spot to improve its latest endless runner. She and the rest of the team, from the green-skinned Pylon to the violence-obsessed Viper, will navigate weekly antics around the office while trying to release a game.
Anyone familiar with The Office can follow along with the structure here: the narrative focus rests more on how characters solve wacky situations versus progressing the main plot. There are no silly cutaways to a camera interview, but the dialogue choreographs with exactly what you'd think they'd say. A mysterious man set up as the secretive main villain gets less screen time than a Nerf gun fight. This isn't necessarily bad on its own. It's just important to understand that the slapstick comedy is what gives wind for Season One's sails.
There's going to be a clear motif throughout this review: Episodes 4 & 5 are what tempt me into considering this a worthwhile adventure. With respect to the "absurd and topical" antics hyped up here, Episodes 1-3 fell along similar levels of quality as The Big Bang Theory for me. I only have a faint memory of getting a good chuckle twice throughout their runtime. It's silly in that way where writers throw something at a wall to see what sticks; there's no insight or lasting flavor as to how jokes are used. Then a lot of things do in fact stick in the last two episodes. I connected more with the consumerism of cheap, kitsch products than the running gag of interns in doggie kennels.
The balance of the situational comedy as well as snappier dialogue coalesce quite well. I wouldn't say this is my favorite confection of disparate personalities within an office environment, but there's an earnestness to them. Midge being the designated fish-out-of-water is a good idea for players to ease into this wacky world, though the execution feels a bit rushed; that said, when pushing past lazier jokes for shock value there are interesting dynamics at play. Games could use more of this discordant comradery.
In sum, Season One's uneven quality gets some tailwind and uplift where it counts: when crossing the finish line. It can sometimes be a tonal mishmash with quippy bits to paper over that. The meta-humor isn't nearly as incisive as The Stanley Parable or Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger, and The Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist. Despite such considerations, there's still an authenticity here that piqued my interest after its cliffhanger finale. That counts for something.
In one of the company's blog posts, Terrible Posture's founder, Joe Mirabello, replied to the question "What genre is 3 out of 10?" with a curt "Yes." That meme-inspired response is quite fitting here. If you can think of an ancillary gameplay idea you'll likely guess 3 out of 10's cavalcade of mini-games most of the time. You could be playing a puzzle game one moment, watch an extended cutscene, and then a first-person stealth mission the next. As to how successful these concepts are at maintaining excitement? Remember the motif I mentioned earlier. What starts as a 1:2 ratio of good/bad mini-games in the first three episodes gets flipped in the last two. Both in their inspiration and slight uptick in complexity, Ep. 4 & 5 kept me much more engaged.
This lopsided quality doesn't necessarily mean you're slogging through muck beforehand. It's just that the nice novelties like driving through town with stacked interns atop Midge's hatchback make way for a couple of uninspired puzzles. Whether it's the playable version of Shovelworks' "Surfing with Sharks" endless runner or skydiving through rings, these trials have a 5-star rating system to encourage replayability. This inclusion and the option to skip any mini-game altogether was actually a good determiner in assessing its inherent fun.
Endless surfer (with an end!), first-person shooter, box shuffling, and arcade racer are just the tip of the iceberg. It's easy to spot Terrible Posture's effusive spirit in just grabbing different genres/sub-genres out of a toy box and winging it. This doesn't initially work well for the game. Several early templates don't really congeal with the story as they should, nor do they feel rewarding. As the tension and antics begin to swell so too does the inspiration and overall gameplay quality.
One aspect that results in... evenly-spread appreciation/criticism would be the art design. Being pegged as a "playable sitcom," there’s clear inspiration from various animated TV shows. Considering I'm not the biggest fan of several current cartoons that've released, I only appreciate it to a limited degree. The best aspect comes down to the characters. All of them have their own Cartoon Network-esque visual quirks, supplemented by good animation work. But considering that the environment is used to play up some visual gags, there’s this overreliance on randomness within certain backdrops, resulting in it feeling uninspired as a result. Considering the infamy of TellTale style adventure games, at least I had no technical hiccups or half-second freezes when character conversed with each other.
Audio presentation is altogether functional. All of the voice actors came in and earned their paychecks, with special credit due to Alan Adelberg as mid-40s, Midwestern-raised Joan. One nagging issue that I believe was COVID related was the unequal voice quality. There are moments scattered throughout where it sounded as though some recordings were done via remote locations and with different tech. Mike Mirabello and Chris Zukowski's soundtrack is an eclectic one that's trying to match fitting music with the plethora of creative scenarios and game genres whilst maintaining the theme of dorky office job. It’s a sufficient OST that often marries well with the outlandish work environment.
Assessing value is going to heavily rely on whether you're in the market for a gameplay-light adventure game. It's not really about weighing various dilemmas like a TellTale game, but you're on a linear route like one. When considering how Terrible Posture have... well, postured 3 out of 10 as equivalent to TV episodes, I believe the $10 price is suitable. Two bucks for 30-45 minutes an episode is an honest way to break down the expected charge; plus, it's supplemented with the replay potential in getting 5/5 star ratings on every mini-game. Not insane amounts of replay value, but enough make the price a non-issue for me.
If nothing else, at least Terrible Posture Games gave itself a low bar to cross. At one point I thought that point threshold wasn't too far off, until I warmed up to it. 3 out of 10 - Season One is close to many popular TV shows whose initial airing begins on a rocky start. As the team finds its footing, good comedic and gameplay bits feel less like accidental occurrences. I don't anticipate many will have such patience to see that through - and I don't blame them either. But should you be among those hankering for a different type of adventure game, my advice is this: don't let the title scare you.
Despite being one of newest writers on VGChartz, Lee has been a part of the community for over a decade. His gaming history spans several console generations: N64 & NES at home while enjoying some Playstation, SEGA, and PC titles elsewhere. Being an Independent Contractor by trade (electric, plumbing, etc.) affords him more gaming luxuries today though. Reader warning: each click given to his articles only helps to inflate his Texas-sized ego. Proceed with caution.