Written by: C A S I N O
It is hard to say whether or not walking simulators should be considered games. After all, there is no such thing as losing or winning in these sorts of games and most of your time will be spent holding down the W key on your keyboard to move forward. As such, they need to make up for their lack of actual gameplay with striking visuals, a proper mood-setting soundtrack, and an engaging story that has the player coming back for more. The question is, does Argent Games’ “Self-Checkout Unlimited” tick off all the right boxes?
The game starts off with your faceless and silent protagonist waking up in an empty, mid-90’s indoor mall with no obvious way of getting out. It is up to you to explore this strange embodiment of American consumer culture and to find your way out, though the game makes it very clear that not all is as it seems with posters telling you “Rapture is giving up the need to control” and reminding you “Nothing that you see here was, is, or ever will be real.” Directed by the friendly voices coming from intercoms above head, you go on a journey of self-discovery and self-reflection to find out who you really are and exactly what it is you are supposed to be doing in this big scary world of ours.
If it sounds deep, that is because it is, but also it is not. It is like looking down into the depths of a giant pool that seems to have no bottom… only to jump in and discover that what you thought was an endless abyss was actually only about two feet deep and now your legs are broken. Throughout the game you go to various stores, each with its own purpose in helping you discover your true self, but the game never seems to get to any kind of point. It tosses around a lot of deep sounding words and phrases, but at no point did I feel like they had any kind of meaning to them.
Furthermore, there is very little interactivity in the game. There are a couple of very minor puzzles, but most of the time your tasks involve walking from point A to point B and occasionally placing object C into spot D, and the above is only done in the context of progressing the game forward. It seems like such a waste to have an entire (albeit rather small) mall at your disposal and for there to be so little to do. There are only five outlet stores which are open to you in this place which exist solely for the purpose of progressing the story forward. The others are closed off and kept in darkness so you cannot even go inside to have a look around.
What the game does get right, though, are the visuals and sound design. Clean and polished tile floors reflect the lights that shine overhead, the constant babbling of the grand fountain in the middle of the shopping center, the barely audible Muzak that plays from unseen speakers. The soundtrack is completely original to the game and was produced by Mr. Zunino, along with beloved vaporwave producer desert sand feels warm at night, who provided the music for the more abstract parts of the game. The Stores and small size aside, this place feels like the proper abandoned mall that fans of 猫 シ Corp. keep dreaming about. Furthermore, as you go along your quest you will be transported to other settings that are staples of the vaporwave genre such as an indoor swimming pool and a seemingly endless parking lot.
All in all, “Self-Checkout Unlimited” really nails the aesthetics, but with a price tag of eight bucks and a shallow experience that only lasts for around an hour, it is a damn shame that the developers could not do more with it.