Creative concepts like this really warm my A+ Large Heart.
This is the first review I’ve written for this site where I’ve been this torn. In my review for The Medium I talk about being torn between the game’s average qualities and my own basies, but overall it was deserving of a good score, but here… I’m really and truly torn; but, as I’ll explain later, maybe it doesn’t matter that I’m so torn.
Space Warlord Organ Trading Simulator basically does what it says on the box; according to an official description ‘Everyone has them, and everyone wants them. You are an Organ Trader, the funnel for fleshy meat parts into a strange, evolving, and desperate universe full of clients.’
It’s part sci-fi body horror and part market tycoon/simulator, and honestly I was following this game since the release was announced, the look is great, the idea is crazy and it seems so cool, so why do I keep holding back on saying it’s fun? Let’s get into it.
The art is what first drew me to this game, from main menu onwards it’s an extremely stylised affair, the menus all look like they could be from an Alien movie, the organs take on a delightful mix of silliness and grossness, and the text is wonderfully kinetic, with some words popping out or shaking for emphasis. The only problem that arises is that I’m not totally sure why it’s stylised in the way it is? The only way of describing the look that I can think of is ‘80s-future’, but this doesn’t seem to be paying homage to anything from that time period of horror and it only really feels that way 50% of the time. I just can’t quite place what the look is going for, is that inherently a problem? No. Is it still distracting? For me, and others who I’ve spoken to about the game, a little bit.
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In terms of music, I very much enjoyed what the game had to offer, I played through the game about three times in preparation for this review, which isn’t too difficult (I’ll talk more on that later), and each time I remember thinking, at the start, about how much I liked the music and how it dynamically changes depending on what you’re doing and what screens you’re on. The only problem with the music, which could be a big one, is that there isn’t much of it. By (in-game) day 15 I found myself going to the menu and turning the music down to listen to something else. It helps add to the atmosphere of the game, but when the atmosphere is set up things need to change, and I don’t think the music in this game did that enough.
Already you can see, this is really a tough game to rate, everything it does well has downsides, be it lack of variety or mystery decisions, but it’s not all bad, and the gameplay is where the visuals and music shine the best, especially when combined with the simple, fun and frantic gameplay loop this game presents.
I am so easily drawn into an addictive gameplay loop, especially ones that want to absolutely punish you. Normally, though, the kinds of games I’m describing involve tense and challenging combat loops, the punishment is lack of skill and reaction speed. Here, though, the punishment is through the near-totally random changes in the market, and how it plays you as much as you try to play it.
SWOTS is a pretty simple game, you open the market, buy organs, fill out requests, then when the market closes you play the charts. Oh, eyes are 15% up? I can wait for that to be higher. It’s a simple and effective gameplay loop that feels as though you could keep it open in the background, but if you give it your full attention it could easily eat up huge chunks of your day. But it’s not all good, the gameplay switches between the calm and leisurely sections in between market closing and opening, but after it opens it turns into a hectic and panicked world where you’re actively fighting against other organ traders (all part of the simulation) to get the best organs and fill out your tasks. It works really well, especially as a simulation of stock markets, except when it doesn’t. The big place that this pacing hurts is the story, which the gameplay often makes it hard to follow, offering no important story beats in the leisurely sections, all of it being relegated to the high-stress market sections so that if you do actually try to stop and take in the story, you’re punished by losing the small amount of time you have. In fact, it often pays to just ignore the story, which is a shame, because the story, by which I mean the world of SWOTS, is actually pretty great.
If the art is what pulled me into this game, the story is what made me begin to fully doubt it; It seems fortuitous, in a year when video game publishers have tried to extract value from players in new and cruel ways, twisting promising new technology into something cold and harsh and dystopian, that this game would so perfectly act as satire for this very present and future. People themselves become the currency, not unlike how our labour under conglomerates is bought and sold by cold, soulless creatures. It harkens to recent stories of the laid-out plans of certain groups, outlining people being forced into labour on Mars or in the so-called Metaverse. Space Warlord Organ Trading Simulator acts as a skewing of this dark world we find ourselves in, but still remains a pointed commentary on it.
Xalavier Nelson Jr, the director and creator of this game, previously was a writer on 2019’s Hypnospace Outlaw, is no stranger to creating modern corporate satire that uses a 90s-00s feel.
The story of this game is pretty straightforward, you’re trading organs in space. But, over the course of the game, you’ll encounter many wacky characters who will try to scam you, blackmail you, raise the dead, or be stupid enough that you can scam them. With more than ten unlockable endings gained through completing quest lines, the game has plenty of play time to offer, with each ending taking between two and eight hours (at least by my estimates) to complete. The gameplay matches the story nicely (at least aesthetically), and the commentary or themes never push through and get in the way of the silly on-the-nose writing or fast-paced gameplay. However, you may be wondering what it is about the story that made me stop enjoying this game. It’s got good themes, good pacing, lots of content, what’s the problem?
The problems come in the form of speed. Where I mentioned that the gameplay matches the story well, that’s not entirely accurate. Whilst it may ring true to how the surreal aesthetics blend together with the strange world the game creates, it’s not all smooth sailing. As mentioned previously, in the gameplay section of this review, it can often pay to just completely ignore the story, and to the game’s credit you’re not punished for doing so, but it’s hard to say that you’re not missing out on some fun dialogue. It’s just a shame that the writing and story seems to have been maligned, especially when there’s so much going on and so much to explore, for the gameplay. Though, again, it’s hard to be too mad when the gameplay loop is so moreish.
Space Warlord Organ Trading Simulator is a creative, gross and charming game, and it’s one that seems a little confused about what it wants to be. Does it want to create a fun world? Seemingly not. Does it want to be a consumerist allegory? Sometimes. Does it have a consistent and clear aesthetic? Kind-of. Is it fun? Oh, absolutely. And at the end of the day, in the world of video games, that’s what it boils down to. Many of my qualms with this game can be relegated down to nitpicks and honestly, most people won’t notice or care about the things I’m making complaints about here. I may be in two minds about this game, but I can whole-heartedly tell you that this game is absolutely worth your time if it catches your eye.