‘Goat Simulator 3’s’ gleeful gags and glitches generate guffaws
The original “Goat Simulator” was born from a singular premise: What happens when you take control of a goat to wreak havoc in a sandbox environment? The result is utterly rambunctious: screams, explosions, mayhem — all the work of a lone goat with rag-doll physics and a ridiculously elastic tongue. However, it’s also a gag that very quickly grows stale after an hour or so. Compounding this is the game’s (partially intentional) unpolished state. The jankiness is part of the joke, but in practice proved frustrating to play, with assets clipping into one another and the goat getting stuck at invisible barriers. Remember those infamous “Skyrim” glitches, like when a random villager would spin like a helicopter rotor? “Goat Simulator” wanted to be a game about capturing moments like these — a title seemingly made for Twitch or YouTube.
“Goat Simulator 3” (the game’s first joke is that “Goat Simulator 2” doesn’t exist) seems to take itself a lot more seriously than its predecessor. That’s not to say that the unrestrained, slapstick humor of the original has vanished; the sequel still conducts itself with the propriety of a massive fart joke. You can still head-butt bystanders off a skyscraper. You can set everyone in your vicinity on fire by dousing yourself in gasoline. You can reduce people to tears by bleating incessantly into their faces.
The main difference is that “Goat Simulator 3” no longer revels in that one-note joke alone, with the sequel proving to be a much more polished experience. For one thing, clipping into objects or falling through the ground doesn’t happen as frequently as in the first. And then there’s “Goat Simulator 3’s” decision to anchor its comedic routines to the joy of exploration. The discovery of Easter eggs, gags, gaming and pop culture references, and other events is the engine that drives the game, rather than the propensity to perform genocidal stunts with a rag-doll goat.
One element of what made the first “Goat Simulator’s” shtick grow stale so rapidly was its boundaries. In the original, there are only two zones to gallivant in, and they’re pretty vanilla aside from a few interesting sights, such as stumbling upon a Deadmau5 concert. But in “Goat Simulator 3,” there are several cities and places, each brimming with life and vibrancy, to explore. There’s a food factory that manufactures fake bananas. There’s a cemetery where phantoms can be tormented and dragged out of their graves with your elastic tongue. There’s a huge, impossibly rad bouncy castle. By highlighting them as places of interest with a symbol on the map, “Goat Simulator 3” encourages exploration. How you get there is up to your own discretion (the goat can confidently handle a steering wheel now, so grand theft auto is a totally viable option).
If one goat isn’t enough, you can also invite up to three friends to engage in caprine duties and terrorize the town together — a new feature that helps extend the shtick’s life span considerably. “Goat Simulator 3” includes multiplayer minigames, such as Car Derby, Prop Hunt, The Floor Is Lava and other derivatives of popular minigames you may already be familiar with from titles like Mario Party and Garry’s Mod. You can initiate these minigames from anywhere on the map, which often adds to the chaos, and they’re good for whiling some time away in “Goat Simulator 3” with friends. Though what’s more entertaining is the freedom to goof around with your belligerent goat buddies across these cities, chuckle together at the absurdity of your collective mayhem and leave a trail of smoking destruction in your wake.
The game also offers quest-like features called “events” and “instincts” to inspire mischief-making. Think of events as mini puzzles you can solve, with vaguely worded descriptions barely serving as clues (“Care for the flowers in the garden”). Instincts are more straightforward achievements you can unlock (“Do a 720 degrees backflip”). This, too, is how “Goat Simulator 3” gradually emboldens your curiosity, as you entertain fleeting thoughts like “Can I dive bomb into a grieving crowd in the midst of their funeral procession?” — and then scratch that itch. Yet “Goat Simulator 3” is at its best when you are just trotting along to wherever your hoofs bring you, free as the wind, and stumbling into these snafus randomly.
Witnessing how the ill-fortuned residents of “Goat Simulator 3,” including the very world itself, will warp themselves in response to your antics is another part of the game’s joys. Even something as banal as stepping into a petrol station could result in complete pandemonium. In one instance, I walked in the path of a passerby, who lost his temper at this act of audacity and attempted to kick me. Unfortunately for him, he missed, his foot instead launching an innocent bystander into the wall. The pillars holding up the roof of the petrol station immediately disintegrated, the roof fell in and that triggered fiery explosions. The fire engine swung by, but then knocked into another vehicle, causing yet another round of explosions. It’s a demonstration of the butterfly effect at play, and it’s downright hilarious.
There are also a host of other activities to busy your goat with. “Goat Simulator 3” now has unlockable costumes, which you can purchase with points you earn from events and instincts, collect after completing specific events, or pick up while exploring. Some costumes are merely cosmetic, like making your goat carry a dumbbell in its mouth or putting on a silly straw hat. But others come with abilities that can aid you in your high jinks. Gravity helmets cause people nearby to float, and a saddle lets you hoist a nearby victim onto your back. A personal favorite is a costume that’s just a curmudgeon elderly woman who shoots balls of yarn out of a cannon. Tons of collectibles, like glistening trophies that hover precariously at the end of a crane, are ripe for hoarding.
Perhaps the biggest issue with “Goat Simulator 3” is that it plays up every single gag and misfortune as if they are a punchline waiting to be delivered. Any act of tomfoolery is celebrated with an overstated exclamation, complete with the sort of “ta-dah!” sound effect that congratulates you on what a good prankster you are. Then there’s “Goat Simulator 3’s” act of unveiling pop culture references as if their very appearance is the joke itself — something I refer to as the “Ready Player One” effect, where your enjoyment of the movie is contingent on recognizing as many pop culture references as possible. While funny at times, these don’t quite work as great in-game jokes.
There are funnier games out there, from the refined comedic diction of “Untitled Goose Game” to the sardonic humor of “Portal.” But it’s the thrill of discovering ludicrous scenes, and the delight of digging into every crook and cranny in search of more absurd secrets to unearth, that elevates “Goat Simulator 3” above the one-note joke of the original game. Take a long walk along a quiet street, or hitch a ride on a moving van toward the next city. Perhaps you’ll spot the sigil of Baphomet, or meet a clandestine group of occult worshipers, hidden behind the dense foliage of bushes and low-hanging trees. Drag a scarecrow into a satanic circle or two, and see what unfolds; it’s usually an unexpected treat.