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‘Speaking Simulator’ Review: Talking is Hard



“Sorry, but you are now alive”

Talking is hard. In Speaking Simulator, you are a machine struggling to master the art of conversation, and this subtle art is not easy.

One part elaborate joke, one part satirical social commentary, and one part semi-interesting game, Speaking Simulator sets you about the task of manipulating a robot’s face and mouth well enough to evade suspicion and blend into society. It is funny, it is smart, it is dumb, it is sometimes even fun and rewarding, though it can also be deeply frustrating. But hey, so can talking to others.

“Sorry, but you are now alive,” declares your maker. Once born, you are tasked with seamlessly infiltrating human society in the interest of destroying it. The presentation is as funny as it is wonky, weird gritty mechanical noises push against a forced perspective of your android prone in a chair flanked by yellow ‘Meal Food’ boxes. Your off-putting android model interacts with boxy caricatures of other office drones in a broken landscape of corporate nightmare fuel. Periodically you have teeth removed for upgrades. The game looks and feels like an underdone N64 company training exercise from the abyss, which all happens to feel appropriate.

A Robot’s Life

The actual game is broken up into social scenarios in which your intended objective is to blend in as a ‘regular human’ – dates and job interviews and variously escalating weird social encounters and situations that build a bizarre semi-narrative of societal infiltration.  Not unlike in real life, the bulk of your time is spent trying to speak in full sentences without malfunctioning. This task is, by design, nearly impossible. But the biggest joke is that it is foolishly simple to pass as a human, even when your eyeball is popping out of your head, your nose is falling off, and you say things such as, “Like many humans, Carl, I enjoy the process of excretion, but not at the expense of productivity.”

The actual mechanics of Speaking Simulator primarily involve moving your face and mouth in a convincing manner by following screen prompts and pressing the right button or moving the joystick correctly in largely illogical sequences. For instance, your tongue is controlled with the left stick, and with it, you must press a series of green lights without hitting any of the red ones. But as you do so, you must also operate your jaw with the right stick and your eyebrows with another series of inputs. The result is overly complex by design. 

If I Only Had A Tongue (That Worked)

Speaking Simulator is innately funny. There is a slapstick joy to watching and making your weird robot get it all very wrong. Oddly, the intentionally difficult controls at play are also surprisingly intriguing. The simulation tasks you with paying attention to multiple parts of the screen and moving and reacting quickly. A gamer’s heart will want to achieve this, but said heart must be warned: the intentional awkwardness of the controls has not been optimized for the sake of achievement. The difficult and bizarre sequences do become more manageable with multiple tries, but due primarily to the ironic stubbornness of the tongue controls, you can never actually find a comfortable rhythm to the gameplay. The result, while truly silly, is also often truly frustrating. While this carries its own inherent meta-joke, it’s a bit of a shame that the developers didn’t take a little time to finesse the controls and presentation just a bit more. In a way, the bonkers control scheme is original and shows promise – it’s a bit like controlling a tank through a series of elaborate button pushes. But the experience steps a little too far into the super-janky, leaving one wondering what it would be like if accuracy could be achieved. Don’t worry, it can’t.

As you somehow move these halting conversations forward, gameplay is almost too difficult to pay attention to what your robot is saying. In itself, that’s rather funny, too. But because your frustrating failures will inevitably loop you back through to play a level several times, you eventually start to piece together these ridiculous threads, and they are often hilarious. As you get ready for your doctor’s appointment, your android opines, “Organic meat shell is now primed for inspection.” Not every sequence is as funny as the rest, but in the end, the strong sense of humor, the inherent absurdity, and the self aware wit keep you coming back for more, and the journey of your android isn’t so long that it’s impossible to get through.

Speaking Simulator is incredibly strange and often legitimately funny, and the developer, Affable Games, should be commended for having the audacity to make such a weird thing. Its in-jokes sometimes get in its own way, but its bizarre sense of humor gives it a life of its own. If your cup of robot tea is trying out bizarre experiments, drink up and laugh along. But if you’re looking for compelling gameplay and inspiring presentation, you may want to look elsewhere – this game is a bit suspicious on those counts.

Marty Allen is an artist, writer, and creative producer who lives in Brooklyn. Marty loves to write about video games, pop culture, and all sorts of things. He's written a pile of books and made a bunch of art and songs, but mostly he just plays Animal Crossing and eats watermelon.

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