As a wise man once said, “If you do drugs, you’ll go to hell before you die…”
This was proven absolutely true in my playthrough of Garage. Welcome to a Top-down, drug-laced, survival horror nightmare. Garage has a generally slow pace with occasional moments of frantic button mashing as the exploration is broken up by combat featuring mostly one of five types of zombie or rat. I hate the rats in this in Garage. They are far too numerous and annoying to kill and at first only vulnerable to kicks, whereas every other enemy is vulnerable to all of the actual weapons to varying degrees.
In the Controls Menu, the Sub attack mapped only to ZL is merely a kick and never used for anything else. The humble kick is your greatest tool against rodents. Melee combat is annoyingly tricky but once you get a gun in Chapter 4 the dual stick controls start to make sense, but up until that point (and beyond to be honest) they are frustrating and ill-explained. Just because you have a gun doesn’t mean you can use it though, as there’s a lock on system that doesn’t always get what you’re aiming for. Ammo is sparse when you need it and often abundant when you don’t (this could be due to my bad aim and the need for constant reloads).
The few bosses you encounter are beyond difficult and hideously frustrating. The early Human Centipede and final boss very frustrating one hit kills. Honestly, they’re annoyingly hard even on the easy setting. I told my Switch to Fuck off many times, upsetting all those around me.
Often your hands will be uncomfortably spidering around your controller trying to change to a suitable weapon and attack after long periods of slow-paced, long walks through dreary similar corridors over and over again. After attempting the game on normal, I realized my normal human abilities where no match for Garage and I was forced to play through on Easy, cursing the game at every death and crash.
Sometimes if you’re in a different room to an enemy they’ll vanish, lulling you into a false sense of security. I thought perhaps it was a line of sight issue, where, if your player character couldn’t see the enemy they wouldn’t show, but there’s no rhyme or reason to it. Literally, after writing that sentence I thought I was stuck behind a door, so I stood there kicking it to try and open it only to realize I was being attacked by an enemy. After axing the bugger to death, I was still taking damage so I got my gun out and started shooting. It was only when it had been defeated that I realized I was taking damage from a second enemy that was now a puddle of goo.
Fortunately not every enemy encounter is broken like this, but player stress should come from in-game disasters and narrative tension, not programming errors.
Experimentation within the limits of the levels is occasionally fun but mostly frustrating, it’s hard to get into the gameplay flow as when you die you may have to go back to a frustratingly distant checkpoint. I keep wanting to do things but I spend most of my time having to walk around. Some things are very interactive and well made when others, like the Secrets hidden behind walls, require either checking every surface or being darn lucky. The slow-paced start eventually gives way to a much tenser second half, but unfortunately, this also brought in frame drops and much worse.
Halfway through my review playthrough, the Ver 1.0.1 update came out, bringing the game into line the newly released Steam version. Several design oversights really hold this title back, even after the 1.0.1 update. There are quite a few quirks and oversights to be found behind the curtains, for one, you can often trick the AI enemies into walking into the deadly traps meant for Butch (pits of red steam, lava, and laser beams) if you stand on the other side of the trap. As the enemies charge at you they’ll more than likely end their own suffering. Could this be that their berserk undead rage knows no bounds, making them willing destroy their bodies just to possibly harm our beloved Buck or just dodgy AI?
Levels often end suddenly, without a direct sense of accomplishing anything. You go through many corridors that lead to well crafted but eerily similar looking areas and then all of a sudden you go through another and BAM! Mutilated dog taking up the full screen. At first, the loading screen seemed to mostly have a still image of a mutilated dog that has so far only featured a handful of times in my playthrough. This is a tiny amount compared to the other repeated enemies in the game. Such a hideous image should not greet you every time you load up and the poor dog really hasn’t warranted his place as the games loading screen master.
The newly implemented Ver 1.0.1 introduced a random selection of pixel art in the loading screen, which is often fantastic, but that damned dog is still in the menus and pops up from time to time in the loading screens that you will see for a long, and frequent time if you die a lot like I did. Also, Challenge Mode is surprisingly activated after the eighth level and then once you have finally completed the game. I couldn’t notice any further unlocks.
Those issues are pretty much admissible, but a more annoying oversight is when playing in tabletop mode, the Switch Pro Controller doesn’t work! It works across the Switch menus and allows me to start up Garage, but then receives no inputs once the game is running. It’s fine in Docked Mode or using the Joy Cons connected together, even after the 1.0.1 update Garage still doesn’t support the Nintendo Pro Controller when in tabletop mode. but if you play with the Joy-Cons detached it’s completely fine. There also seems to be options that are made for the PC version in the Switch options menu.
The worst offense committed by Garage is an experience that I have never had with any other Switch game. Aside from overheating, every so often my Switch was forced to shut down. I’d be greeted with a black screen of frustration popping up and saying “The software was closed because an error occurred”. Not cool, man! This happened numerous times, resulting in frustrating progress loss.
It has been argued that the story in video games isn’t always important, but in a game that is so constantly frustrating, you’d hope for a little payoff. Garage’s pessimistic story is tricky to keep track of, due to being tonally all over the place. Could this be a dense satire of the Triple-A Games industry, forcing unlikable protagonists down our throats? A comment on mental health, addiction or the pressures society puts upon a man in the age of consumerism? Or just a pile of interesting ideas mashed together without thought? What you do get for narrative is mainly delivered at the beginning and end of levels in a minor text dump, or ebbed out from the in-game TVs that the player character can optionally “watch” (this is nothing more than you reading tiny lines of text, except one).
The story barely unfolds as you make your way around the labyrinthine eponymous Garage. The main character is called Butch and he seems to be a (possibly) ex-drug dealer, filled with neurosis. He’s joined on his vague quest by many of video games character archetypes. Way late into the game you actually team up with one of these characters and the game become much more enjoyable (read easier) but this lone sequence is short-lived in the Story Mode.
During the rafting section of the game, you get hints at a story, though there’s barely any gameplay. I feel as though I must be playing it wrong, as the controls for the raft are (as far as I can infer) A to accelerate and B to brake. I think I had to steer twice. The whole sequence is sluggish and tedious. Every so often a tiny bit of dialogue is said. Chapter 10 is “Missing” and feels like either the video game equivalent of when the animator suffers a fatal heart attack in Holy Grail or just a cop-out. In forums, the creators have hinted at bringing this missing level to Garage through DLC, which kills the joke if they actually do put it in later.
Very rarely, there are a few sequences that are truly unique. For example, about midway through the game you press a switch to turn a TV on and all of a sudden, there’s a fullscreen pop-up, warning the audience to prepare for a commercial break and then a weird advert for generic Viagra pills, while becoming darker devolves into a possible They Live-style media take over or could this just be another excuse for jump scare? Apart from the jump scares, there is no other moment like this and hints at multitudes of cut content. The main bulk of exposition comes at the conclusion of the game, after defeating the final boss. Just don’t waste your time reloading and healing like I did at the end of the game! The end boss is the end of any danger. The ending is a bit of a letdown and quite reminiscent of the ending of Super Mario Bros: The Movie with a still image proclaiming “see you next time!” on Garage’s Home Menu icon which could be considered mildly spoilerific? I often felt like there was a lot of content that was never included in the final product.
The music is another contradiction in quality. On the one hand, it’s oppressive and occasionally bizarre, littered with inaudible voice samples. However, there are islands of excellent sections to the soundtrack. I’m disappointed that the gameplay of the Raft level, being so painfully slow, has the most listenable part of the soundtrack. You can hear splashes of the classic Aquatic Ambience. I wish the soundtrack had been more like this the whole way through. I am not sure if it just comparatively after not enjoying the other parts, but it was actually relaxing and, dare I say it, enjoyable.
I honestly feel guilty bashing this game as you can tell talented people were involved in the production and a little more time in the oven could have helped to produce a better gaming pie. In the later stages of the game, the levels actually start to look pretty decent, with multilayered action and are sometimes amazingly detailed, drawing inspiration from many of the PS1 era’s greats (Metal Gear Solid, Resident Evil 2 and Loaded to name a few). Another commendable feature is that when dismembering zombies with an axe, they are broken up into small pieces and then and an armless zombie or an undead torso will end up coming at you. There are some solid ideas that just don’t come to fruition. When Garage is good, it’s fun, tense and good looking, but when it is bad it’s bland looking, repetitive and frustrating. It feels like a lot of hard work went into this game from the creators but didn’t come together to form a cohesive product.