Blimey, that US sanction stuff is pretty unnerving, eh? North Korea launching missiles, China and Russia blocking attempts for the US to intervene, it’s all a bit Doomsday-like, isn’t it? Still, some people have been training for years in case of such an event, haven’t they? Yes, those regular Mr. Prepper’s, always with a plan for if and when the bombs drop.
This is the debut release from Polish studio Rejected Games, a team that released Mr. Prepper on Steam back in March 2021, with the launch being successful enough to see a release on consoles as well. Whilst PlayWay was handling publishing on Steam, the console release has been handled by Ultimate Games, with a focus on cheap entertainment centered on uniqueness — well, uniqueness and car mechanic simulators, the best of both worlds, of course.
You play as one Mr. Prepper, a disillusioned survivalist who has been caught by the authoritative force of ‘Murricaville after trying to escape the dystopia that the country has created. These white picket fences and tidy lawns are merely a front for the escalating fear of nuclear armageddon approaching from other governments. As such, Mr. Prepper sees this as the last chance to escape the country — or at least retreat to a safe distance before WW3 breaks out — so he decides to build a bunker underneath his house to host his plans.
When you see how Mr. Prepper plays, with its 2.5D graphics and survival simulator mechanics reminiscent of something like Fallout Shelter, you’d think the story was merely a framework. A motivational aspect that is only meant to be sprinkled over the top of simply surviving. Truth be told, you can stay as long as you want in ‘Murricaville, but as time goes by, Mr. Prepper sees itself bringing in several mechanics that demand a speedy exit.
Given your recent incarceration, you’re on parole, and you’re also subject to weekly inspections of your house in order to make sure that everything is up to the standards of a good honourable citizen. Provocative imagery that highlights international tensions, such as suspicious items like long-lasting canned rations, or even having a workbench in the open. All of this will point fingers towards your unruly nature, and they can end the game for you quickly if you don’t keep a low profile.
It’s a very interesting restriction that forces you to keep up appearances while working under limitations that require more resources than you necessarily would. A day in Mr. Prepper takes 24 minutes, from 00:00 to 23:59, and you’ve got 24 minutes to check out everywhere in your surrounding areas: Whether it’s the mine for minerals, the forest for wood and food, or ordering stuff from the shops nearby, it’s a small window which I personally don’t care for.
It wouldn’t be such a problem if it wasn’t for the fact that as soon as the clock hits midnight, you’re immediately told to go to bed. It doesn’t matter whether Mr. Prepper is feeling tired or not at that point in time, you are forced to go to bed thanks to slower build times and a decrease in your “Preparedness”. The Preparedness meter itself is a gimmicky little thing that translates to your current productivity, and if it drops to zero? Mr. Prepper will faint for an indeterminate amount of time.
It’s not easy to actually let it run out, but there will be certain points where productivity simply stops, whether it’s due to resources being drained, or no idea where to go. The game’s linearity does force the player to lean into certain low points of success and exploration, where you’re struggling to craft the items necessary to get past certain areas. This isn’t a problem specific to Mr. Prepper however, this midway lull is a common trend with many a lacklustre survival sim.
The need for income, something which is more demanding here than other games in the same vein, is offset by a less restrictive approach to what you need in order to produce materials. For example, acquiring a furnace, or growing plants within your bunker – these are functions that don’t ask you to acquire many external parts for, thankfully. The only problem is the game taking too much for granted with this accessibility, with that particular demand rearing in other more irritable ways.
Of course, the inspections can turn into more rigid and harsher checks in regards to your water supply, or the amount of electricity you’re using. Sometimes the postman will inexplicably disappear, putting a stop to acquiring more resources directly. These random events can add a challenge to factors like item placement and scarcity within your own home, but at the same time, Mr. Prepper rarely offers a solution to these new rulesets.
It can be repelling in certain situations, especially when you consider that the game only ever saves when you go to bed for the night. When combined with the 20 minute-long days, the harsher and harsher inspections, and the typical midway slumps in survival sims, it all adds up to an experience that demands so much of so little. It’s a shame that the linearity of Mr. Prepper is a double-edged sword because as it stands, the narrative crafted of this choice is very absorbing.
It’s interesting to see such an obvious stab at the supposed values of American freedom, unashamed of being either jealous or angry at the nature a certain dream represents. The insecurity over other-world advancements, the blind devotion to a certain President of the free world, it’s all cheap jabs that are, quite frankly, welcome; especially in a climate that currently misunderstands satire. What isn’t welcome is a certain zaniness other characters exude.
There’s something about the other NPCs you’ll meet in the world that just seems grating. Whether it’s Bob living in the mines with a tonne of disallowed posters, or the woman who speaks to a plant she always holds — which yes, we’ve all seen Twin Peaks, it’s a very quirky character trope, well done. It smacks of unnecessary flavour, a bad taste emanating from their kookiness standing out, more than Mr. Prepper himself, and they’re not the ones being carried away by the secret police for not adhering to social standards.
For what it’s worth, the story of Mr. Prepper may be the only thing that helps it stand out. The restricted breathing room the linearity gives you may turn off more free-flowing players, whereas others may find cadence and rhythm with deadlines given in such a harsh way. As it stands, its story is definitely a talking point, for better or worse, whereas its actual mechanics may be seen as a detriment to a satirical piece that should thrive in more meta-commentary.
Mr. Prepper (Reviewed on Xbox One S)
The game is average, with an even mix of positives and negatives.
With a storyline that is clearly angry at western values, Mr. Prepper can do nothing but try and stand out with a story that comes at the sacrifice of compelling gameplay. The attempts to challenge with a forced playstyle may turn off potential window shoppers.