It's a joke, of course. Goat Simulator's very existence is a sort of self-fulfilling meta-prank, in which a spoof idea proved so popular that Swedish indie developer Coffee Stain Studios decided it should make it a reality. But how funny the joke is ultimately depends on you.
The game's main stroke of genius is its choice of animal anti-hero. Goats are, let's face it, the perfect protagonists for a farmyard riff on GTA. Sociopathic gluttons with weird horizontal eyes who solve every problem by headbutting it, goats are the arseholes of the animal kingdom and ideal for a game in which mindless destruction is your primary goal.
Controlling your caprine avatar is simple enough. Movement is, rather amusingly, third-person shooter style, leading to the unusual sight of a quadruped animal strafing sideways. You can also jump to a limited height, and also sprint - which manifests as a gamboling bound or that weird bum-dragging thing that dogs do on carpets. Another button lets out a bleat, just because.
You can also, of course, ram into things - your primary mode of attack - while moving backwards when attacking unleashes a fierce kick. Since goats will eat anything, licking is your other main way of interacting with the world, though in the case of Goat Simulator that means attaching your adhesive elastic tongue to any object and then dragging it - or letting it drag you - around the map.
Other important functions are the ability to go limp at the press of a button, a button to activate special abilities once found or earned, and a slow motion view. In ragdoll mode you'll bounce twice as high off the game's many trampolines and steam vents, while slow-motion gives you reasonably precise control of your flight path while sailing through the air as a bag of fur, meat and bone. A simple multiplier system is on hand to keep you in motion, scoring points for every new thing you ram, smash or hit.
Sooner rather than later, however, you'll bump into the invisible walls. This is sandbox gaming on a micro-scale, as you're presented with a small but open map and are left to do whatever you want in order to create mayhem within in its toy-town borders. There's a house you can go inside and trash. There's a petrol station you can detonate with a well aimed ram. Cars, too, explode with hilarious ease while everything from fences to barrels ricochets around at the slightest provocation thanks to physics that are always pitched somewhere north of realistic.
Everything works just about as well as it needs to, but no more. I hesitate to use the term "AI" in conjunction with the smattering of civilians hanging around, as they'll only react to your mayhem when you attack them directly and will otherwise keep strolling, dancing or simply standing like a statue and staring at nothing even as things explode and people catch on fire right next to them.
At first glance it seems like there's nothing to it beyond a rudimentary physics demo with a knowingly bizarre player character, but Coffee Stain has been a bit more canny than that. This is a game that knows its limitations, but one that also knows the value of a good easter egg. The long term appeal comes from a surprisingly generous array of offbeat secrets, challenges and other details worth finding.
Ramming a box may not do anything special, but dragging a screaming civilian onto a treadmill to be flung into the distance is worthy of a special score alert. The same is true of demolishing a remote toilet outhouse, or wreaking havoc at a BBQ party or in Coffee Stain's own offices, recreated in the game. It's there that you'll also find a playable mini-game - Flappy Goat, inevitably.
"Coffee Stain may not have taken too much time on the technical polish, it's put a lot more thought into what could easily have been a shallow punchline than was strictly necessary."
The more you poke around, the more you start to realise just how many weird things you can do in the game, and how many daft bonuses you can unlock. There's a hang-glider circling above? Can you somehow reach that? And what about that blue storage crate hanging from a crane? And the sinister ritual site tucked away in one corner of the map, or the stone circle in another? There's an Anti-Gravity research station, if you can find a way inside, and giant slides to ragdoll down.
There are collectable statues hidden all over the place, which accrue to unlock different goat types for use in custom games. There's one that turns you blue and lets you perform Sonic's spin attack. Others turn you into completely different animals, such as the "Tall Goat" and "Feather Goat" of the African savannah. The Steam Achievements point you in the direction of most of these curious features, or at least set you on the right path, and the fact that the forums, and YouTube, are already full of "How do I...?" questions suggests depths that may not be immediately apparent.
By the time you discover that you can summon flying saucers, travel into space and be crowned King of the Goats, able to summon your dead brethren from the sky, you start to appreciate that while Coffee Stain may not have taken too much time on the technical polish, it's put a lot more thought into what could easily have been a shallow punchline than was strictly necessary. Add in Steam Workshop support, and the game's currently slim content becomes less of an issue.
There's long term appeal here, then, but that really means an afternoon's worth of play rather than a lunch break. Even once you've found and done everything your goaty heart desires, the game clock probably won't stand at more than three or four hours. Those hours are likely to be filled with belly laughs and cries of "did you see that?" and "what the **** just happened?", though, so it's hard to criticise the game too much for choosing not to outstay its welcome.
It's rough around the edges, and amuses only for a short but sweet time, which may lead some to look askance at the price tag. Yet there are plenty of games which cost more and entertain far less, so while Goat Simulator is a joke, it's at least one in which the player is a willing participant. No kidding.