Review: Speaking Simulator

30 Jan 2020

Are any of you familiar with QWOP? It was an incredibly small and simple Flash game created over a decade ago with a simple goal: make an athlete run as far as possible by individually commanding the runner’s thigh and calf muscles to extend or contract, using the Q/W and O/P keys, hence the name. It was amusing for its time for how it takes a task we all take for granted, breaks it down into its individual components, and sort of teaches us how not-so-simple the seemingly menial task of running really is.

Why am I bringing this up? Because today’s review title, Affable Games’ simply-titled Speaking Simulator (Available on Steam and Nintendo Switch – the latter was played for this review) aims to do essentially the exact same thing for a different bodily function: speaking (and making facial expressions). Now, QWOP was easy enough to pick up on and was kind of fun for what it was (for a few minutes, at least). Does Speaking Simulator do the same thing for a different everyday body function? Let’s find out.

Robot Reconnaissance

This game is all about a sentient android whose task is to infiltrate human society without being detected by fitting in and interacting with humans as believably as possible. This, of course, means speaking to real people and expressing emotions – tasks which it has not mastered and which are up to you to train it in.

To this end, the android is sent to work in an office for some Fortune 500 company, and you must subject it to various common real-life scenarios, like a date with a coworker and a job interview, while you avoid making these people suspicious that you’re not a real human being.

The story is clearly intended to be humorous and makes it quite clear that the game is not really supposed to be a serious simulator (of course, neither was QWOP). However, both your dialogue (when uttered correctly) and that of the NPCs you interact with is so silly and lacking in sense that it just ends up falling flat. I feel like it’s trying too hard to be funny, ending up being completely unfunny as a result. It also doesn’t help the believability of the story when every error you make with the game’s mechanics causes obvious, visible damage to the android’s head that would immediately tip off to even the most clueless human that something isn’t right, and yet you have to make a large number of mistakes before you actually arouse suspicion. Yes, there’s smoke coming out of my mouth and half my teeth have fallen out in the last sentence, but believe me when I say I’m really a normal human! I’m sorry, it’s just too stupid to be funny.

Putting the Words Together

So how exactly do you simulate speaking for our vocally-challenged robotic friend? Very much like QWOP, to utter the sentences the android is tasked with saying, you must use the left stick on your controller to manipulate the android’s tongue, moving it to various positions within the mouth to activate highlighted buttons, and the right stick to open/close the jaw and expand/contract the lips. You input these commands in a sequence to speak each sentence. So, unlike QWOP, where your goal is to simply get the pattern of muscle movement down and just keep it going to run as far as you can, here it’s really closer to something like you’d find in most rhythm games – the game indicates what movement you need or tongue switch to press and you simply imitate it, as quickly and accurately as possible.

If you don’t move the tongue carefully enough or you take too long to perform each motion, a suspicion meter will rise. If it maxes out, you’ll be discovered as not human and you’ll fail the scenario. While the game is actually quite lenient with this, it is nothing but an exercise in frustration. If you move the tongue too quickly or too far in a given direction, it can get stuck in the back of your mouth or get caught on your teeth, sometimes knocking them out, which, needless to say, doesn’t make for a very accurate simulation. Make more mistakes, and the android will start malfunctioning and smoking. No way those humans will notice that! You also earn points based on how accurate and fast you were, and scores are kept for each scenario, but will you really want to go back and improve your score after spending the last five-to-ten minutes swinging the tongue around trying to slap those buttons on the roof and floor of the mouth? Probably not. By far the biggest problem with this, in my opinion, is the movements you make don’t really seem to match up with the movements an actual person would make to produce the needed sounds.

As you complete each level, you will earn points which you can spend on “upgrades.” I put that in quotation marks because many of these so-called upgrades actually add more mechanics that you have to manage, like raising and lowering your eyebrows and lips with the controller buttons to make facial expressions. You can also do things like increase the tongue movement speed, which debatably makes things harder rather than easier, even though you do need to be fast to achieve the best possible results. With this upgrade, I would end levels with most of the android’s teeth knocked out, and yet somehow still not arouse suspicion at all.

Should you find yourself entertained by the game, you’ll discover it is quite short, with ten main levels. None of the levels take particularly long to complete once you know what to do, so it’s rather lacking in the content department. The only thing that extends this is the need to repeat a level to earn more upgrade points if you find yourself lacking an upgrade required to unlock the next level. And while you need to deal with more mechanics as you get to later levels, the formula is the same for all of them; say all the words without letting on that you’re a machine (Even though some of the dialogue you’re instructed to speak would do that just by itself).

Working the Eyes and Ears

For a game primarily about executing speech, it isn’t too impressive in the auditory department. Are any of you familiar with Microsoft Windows‘ text-to-speech features? Your android’s voice is a dead ringer for the Microsoft Bob voice. While it works, it certainly doesn’t add to the ruse you’re trying to pull off. The music, while not special (and including some real classical music), is matched well to the environment and is nice and pleasant. That’s about the best thing I can say about the game unfortunately.

As for visuals, the game goes for a simple look with lots of solid colors for the backdrops and what I can best describe as a caricature look for the people. There’s not much in the way of details except, of course, for the android’s mouth, which is the main focus of the game. The main problem here is the tongue which looks and acts as if it’s made of gelatin – far more squishy and wobbly and stretchy than the real thing is, given that it can hang out of the mouth like the tongue of a dog.

To sum it up, it isn’t terribly good and it isn’t bad, just straight up mediocre. It can evoke some laughter for how silly it is, but that’s about the extent of the enjoyment I got from the game.

Last Few Sentences

Really, I get it – Speaking Simulator is trying to position itself among the ranks of other, more joke-oriented “simulator” games, such as Goat Simulator, and isn’t trying to be serious nor does it want to be taken as such. However, I found the gameplay to be nothing but infuriating. You’ll complete the levels because the game is fairly forgiving, not because you’re playing well. Any real human being would discover you’re a robot long, long, long before the game decides you’ve failed. In fact, your struggle to form your first word in the first level should immediately end the date you’re on right there. I’m sure some may feel like I’m missing the point here, but I do get the point. I just don’t think the game is succeeding at what it’s trying to do.

Now I don’t want to fault the creators of the game too much here. The game is actually built well in a functional sense. Everything clearly works as intended, technical problems were mostly nonexistent, and they clearly put the effort in. From that technical standpoint, they legitimately did a good job. The problem is the game just isn’t fun (or funny) at all. They clearly did their best to come up with a unique game concept and make it work, but the concept just didn’t translate into a fun experience.

To wrap it up, the controls are frustrating. None of the “sim” aspects are even close to mimicking real speech. The jokes are corny at best and totally unfunny at worst (Even the NPC names are jokes, like the boss “Grant Access”- ha, ha, get it?). The game is quite short (whether that’s good or bad, you decide). The dialogue and concepts are borderline ridiculous. To top it all off, the speaking voice is just really annoying.

If you want to play a non-serious “simulator,” go play Goat Simulator. As crazy as that game is, you can actually get some entertainment out of it, and it somehow comes closer to simulating what being a goat might be like than this game comes to actually simulating speaking.

~ Final Score: 3/10 ~

Review copy provided by Affable Games for Switch. Screenshots taken by reviewer. Featured image courtesy of Affable Games.