Ah, life after high school. Your first real job, that cheap apartment, saving for a big-screen TV, and getting ready to build a mansion so you can show up your supposed friends at your high school reunion– in just five months! Isn’t that what life is all about? It is in Life Quest, a passable time management game that claims to be a ‘quirky simulation.’ Quirky? Definitely. Simulation? Maybe not.
You play a recent high school graduate, whom you can lovingly customize with a variety of faces and skin tones, a limited selection of clothing, and a name of no more than six letters (and anyone wanting a character named ‘Kathryn’ or ‘Nathan’ is out of luck, though NPCs with those names appear in the game). A tutorial leads you through the basics of getting a job, working, feeding yourself, and buying stuff.
Your character has a limited amount of time, money, and happiness. Jobs burn up happiness and time, but generate money. Food costs money, but gives happiness. Stuff costs money, but it gives happiness if your character spends time to use it.
Smell bad? Don’t take a shower–buy new clothes!
Your character also has skills, which can be improved by taking classes. Classes require stuff, money, and time, but improved skills can help your character get a better job, leading to more money to buy stuff to regain the happiness lost working… it’s just like real life!
It doesn’t really matter what you pick. You can optimize a little, but your character earns about the same money as a janitor or a cook, gets about the same happiness from Squab Nuggets or Buccaneer Burgers. The choices are for fun and flavor, and if that were the whole game, Life Quest would be a light version of the Sims. But here’s where the ‘Quest’ part of the game comes in.
As you play, you’ll face 19 ‘rivals’ from high school. One by one, these menaces from your past will call you, announce their plans to get a new job or buy a pet fish, and encourage you to do the same thing.
Choose your adventure.
You’re not just keeping up with the Joneses, you’re keeping up with Daphne, Vivian, Reggie, Greta, Nora, Michael, and all the rest of the gang. Your overriding goal in life is to do the things that the people you know are doing, but to do them first. Maybe the game should be renamed Stalker Quest.
On the one hand, it’s just a game. Completing quests, a simple economy, game events happening in days rather than the months or years they might take in the real world… these are legitimate ways to turn complicated and messy into simple and fun. The Sims did all of these things, and became one of the world’s most popular and critically acclaimed games.
But The Sims also put the player in the driver’s seat. It established basic needs for your character and offered paths to fulfilling them. What you did after that was up to you. Some players pursued a mansion on a hill. Others built houses with no bathrooms and laughed.
You can do your own thing in Life Quest, but the game pushes against it. Each game day starts with a pop-up showing your progress in the current quest. The game keeps a final score for you, and if your rival beats you in this ‘friendly’ competition, you lose points until you achieve the goals of the quest. The message is clear: stay on the treadmill.
Maybe that’s realistic, too. But does anyone really need a game like Life Quest to tell you that?