June 23, 2021 | 09:20
Publisher: AMC Games
There are two good things about the Magnificent Trufflepigs. The first is that is looks very pretty. The second is that it’s cheap. Beyond that, it’s in trouble. A narrative adventure that explores the relationship between two metal detecting enthusiasts, Trufflepigs suffers from the double Walking Simulator gut-punch of a story that’s insufferably twee, and an almost complete lack of meaningful mechanical interaction.
Trufflepigs’ tale sees you play as Adam, who has reunited with his childhood friend Beth to help her find an earring on a farm. Beth found the earring’s counterpart as a teenager, which briefly made her the talk of her home village of Stanning. Now she wants to find the other earring before the farm’s land is converted into a solar array, due to happen in a week’s time.
The game basically involves walking around the fields surrounding the farm extremely slowly, sweeping your metal detector in front of you. Every so often, your metal detector will beep, leading you to some buried metal. You dig it up with a shovel and a trowel, photograph it, and then send the photograph to Beth.
From a purely mechanical perspective, that’s basically it. There’s no skill required to actually do the metal detecting. Finds are “discovered” based on a timer, rather than being specifically placed in the virtual ground, and you’ve no real control over the digging beyond pressing a single button to make Adam dig. Even by walking simulator standards, Trufflepigs is interactively insipid.
This might be less of a problem if Trufflepigs made interesting use of its metal-detecting concept. But it doesn’t. Most of its understanding of metal-detecting seems to be ripped straight from the (excellent) BBC 4 comedy Detectorists, right down to the “farm being converted into a solar array” plot point. The more problematic borrowing though, is of Detectorists’ running joke of only ever finding junk. Toy cars, hairpins, horseshoes, anything but Viking gold or Roman jewellery.
It’s a great gag for a half-hour long comedy episode, but it’s far less amusing when you’re wandering around a virtual field waiting for something to happen. Part of the issue is the act of metal-detecting is not particularly interesting. You walk in straight lines until something goes beep, that’s it. What makes it interesting is the prize. Like fishing, the thrill of metal detecting stems from the potential for something exciting and amazing to happen, that you might uncover a Saxon hoard or some medieval jewellery.
In a virtual context, you don’t have that potential for a prize, so the only way you can make it interesting is through the story associations the designers apply to whatever you find. With this in mind, I came into Trufflepigs expecting some kind of mystery related to your detecting, not least because the developers have cited games like Firewatch as an inspiration. Maybe you unexpectedly find a bit of treasure that leads you on a grand hunt, or perhaps something that relates to farmhouse’s own history.
There’s none of that. Instead, Trufflepigs is primarily a story about relationships. As I said, Adam and Beth are childhood friends, but as adults they’ve drifted apart. Beth has become a workaholic, toiling for her father’s outdoor equipment company Mudalot. She’s also engaged to be married to a man named Jake, and is currently planning their wedding (much to Adam’s chagrin as he still clearly has feelings for Beth that go beyond friendship). As the days progress, it becomes increasingly clear that Beth is struggling with all elements of her life, and her reuniting with Adam is a way of coming to terms with reality and figuring out which road she should take next.
It isn’t a terrible story, but I found it difficult to empathise with. For starters, I didn’t buy into Adam and Beth’s relationship. It comes off as forced and artificial, which is odd considering there’s some decent acting talent behind the performances, with Doctor Who’s Arthur Darvill playing Adam and Luci Fish as Beth. What doesn’t help is that it’s awfully twee, with Adam and Beth texting terrible jokes about their finds, which would be amusing if we were already familiar with the characters, but from an outside perspective just doesn’t land.
This leads into the broader issue with story, which is that there’s little tangible to it that players can get involved with. Everything Adam and Beth discuss is stuff that’s either already happened, is happening elsewhere or is simply imaginary, such as the running theme of UFO folklore. Without wanting to delve into spoilers, the twist at the end compounds this issue, making you rather wonder what the point of the whole experience as.
Finally, the story and what few mechanics Trufflepigs has don’t gel that well. Whenever Adam and Beth have a conversation, the game basically stops, as Adam puts the detector away to speak to Beth over walkie-talkie. Trufflepigs is slow enough as it is, so for it to basically pause every couple of minutes so Adam and Beth can have a chat makes it infuriatingly tedious.
At least it looks nice, I suppose. Developer Thunkd has effectively captured the pastoral beauty of the English countryside in summertime, and I appreciated the little details that change as the days progress, such as seeing hot-air-balloons scudding across the sky one day, and a jubilant hang-glider swooping around the next. It’s a pleasant place to be, I just wish there were more interesting things to do in it.
Trufflepigs would make for a nice short story, or as a peer pointed out to me, a radio-play. As a game, however, it’s a complete misfire. Mechanically it’s outright boring, and the story just doesn’t fit with the player’s own experiential interaction at all. It’s the gaming equivalent of somebody telling you about their dreams. It might be interesting to them, but I’d much rather learn about the history I’m unearthing from the ground with my own two hands.
October 14 2021 | 15:04