Despite being a Humble Monthly customer since it began, I’ve never actually played any of their non-DRM free games. Mostly because, after noticing it when it first came out, I completely forgot about it. And then, over the last couple of months, I forgot I had the subscription entirely… Until the other day! I checked it and the DRM-free game available through the Humble Monthly was one called Booth, a game set in a dystopian universe where you sort people’s food, sending it through or tossing it into the recycling hole.
Booth has a very strong Papers, Please vibe to it, which the developers lean into and even reference at some points in the game. You manage to luck your way through an interview and exam to earn a job with the government as a food inspector. The only catch is, instead of living in the city of Iden, you’re taken away from your home and your ailing mother and plopped in a rather impersonal granite cube in the sky. Wonderful views, but not much in the way of amenities, and no ability to return back to home for at least six months. You are able to decorate your home with posters, books and other trinkets with money you earn from your job, but I could never get it to look anywhere near “nice”. Despite that, this depressing room was a great setting for the game in general, and really puts you in the same mindset as the protagonist.
The gameplay in Booth is, as you would expect in this genre, fairly unexciting. Despite that, it’s not boring. There are three different difficulty settings to play on, which is a masterful touch, as getting top marks in these sorts of games can either be far too easy or incredibly tough, so it’s nice to have the option. Whichever difficulty you choose, the main tasks you have to do are all to do with examining and preparing food. Sometimes you’ll have to do a combination of tests, some times you’ll just have to literally rubber stamp an object to push it through to the citizens. In order to perform these tasks, food comes along a conveyor belt at varying speeds and it’s up to you to do all the tests you need to do before time runs out, and preventing any untested food from reaching the end of the conveyor belt. As it speeds up, it can be increasingly tricky to get everything tested, to identify counterfeit goods and push everything along before the end of the day, and if you finish late, your pay gets docked along with it. It makes for some hectic and challenging gameplay, but also really varied and rewarding getting an S ranking on your report card.
Probably the strongest aspect of Booth is its story. I do have some criticisms of it overall, which you’ll read below, but the story itself is very strong. There are so many choices that you have to do and every single one affects the story in some way. A little overwhelming, perhaps, but it just means you’ll want to revisit the game and see which choices you could do that would alter everything that you’ve been doing up to that point. While the translations can be a little off, which does harm the immersion, that doesn’t make the message they convey any less emotive. I really got a strong feeling for each of the characters you interact with, and found myself wanting to speed through the work day just so I could see what the story would throw at me next.
Same Old Story
I’ve played a few games in the genre now. Booth, Papers, Please and Not Tonight are all examples I’ve played relatively recently, and they all have quite a bit in common – mainly that they stick rigidly to the tropes in the genre. No matter what, it seems like developers have to set the story out to give you the choices of being loyal to the government of the day, or rebel and join the underground resistance, using your governmental position to leak information or smuggle goods or people in and out of the country you’re in. I do enjoy these stories, but they do seem pretty formulaic in their style, meaning that the game is fairly easy to predict. Don’t get me wrong – as I wrote above, I still enjoyed the story in Booth, but it definitely followed the route I thought it would.
The Final Word
Booth is a solid, enjoyable game. I’d rate it higher than Not Tonight in terms of replayability, and it definitely walks the line and deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Papers, Please. While it’s not breaking too much new ground in the genre, there’s a massively enjoyable story to play through multiple times to see every part of it.