There’s nothing more I love than dystopian fast food situations in games, from the conveyor-belt burger assembly at Monolith Burger in Space Quest IV, to the questionable fried chicken joint in Cookies (arguably one of my favorite games this year). I’d never played the original Happy’s Humble Burger Barn (confusingly also referred to as Farm in some places?), but the concept seemed right up my alley – a sort of lunatic fast food sim with generous sides of horror and dark humor. Its successor, Happy’s Humble Burger Farm, seemed like something that would hit the spot.
I’m pleased to report that so far, Happy’s Humble Burger Farm does exactly what it says on the box, and that its makers, Scythe Dev Team, are sadists in the most appropriate way. As a new Burger Farm restaurant employee, I started my first shift with a plan – I read the manual, went over the various sandwich ingredients, had a rough idea of the kitchen layout, and felt somewhat confident that I could figure out the rest along the way. Naturally, I was wrong.
As with Burger Barn, the new Burger Farm boasts an ominous, quasi-claustrophobic Dreamcast/PS1-style aesthethic, although the lighting and designs have been brightened and refined compared to the original. Frankly, when it comes to the fast food industry, you don’t even need to add surreal horror elements to the mix to make the experience terrifying, because fast food work is hell. Herein lies the essence of Happy’s Humble Burger Farm: the job sucks, management sucks, and if you don’t do your job correctly you could quite literally die.
Each shift consists of serving a few customers, faceless drones who show up, throw money down, and wait for their food. You have to complete their orders within a set time limit, while avoiding the three infractions rule; if you mess up, you don’t get paid as much, and eventually you’ll incur the wrath of the game’s titular mascot, Happy. Keeping a clean record becomes increasingly and deliberately impossible as you, the Burger Farm’s lone employee, are also expected to unclog the toilet, take deliveries, bring out the garbage, and fix the parking sign.
My first fastidious attempts to standardise my topping layers – lettuce, then cheese, then pickles, et cetera – were a fool’s errand. After cheese slices started randomly exploding everywhere, I resigned myself to chaos. If a piece of tomato or meat landed on the floor, I simply picked it up and slapped it on the bun. The kitchen layout is huge, meaning you’ll be sprinting around with your fingers mashed down on ‘shift’ so that you can get food off the grill before it burns, or dash to the bathroom to plunge the bog (a cloud of yellow particles did erupt from my person after one such plunging). Can I wash my hands after? Did I try? Absolutely not.
Then there’s what happens when you proceed further into the alpha teaser, reality starts to glitch, probably because I couldn’t maintain a strike-free record of serving customers on time while trying to be in five places at once. Without too much spoilering, there’s a reason that the game (and fictional burger franchise) is called Happy’s, and if you played the original Burger Barn you’ll be familiar with its crew of animal mascots, the Barnyard Buds – if you’re new to the Happy universe, they’re arranged somewhat menacingly in front of the bathrooms. Things get weird, but as for now it’s unclear as to what end.
I’m not sure whether the demonically tiny reticle was a deliberate choice by the devs – perhaps my neurotic approach to the game manifested as shaky mouse movements – but selecting and aiming ingredients (especially the pickles) is rough on a time limit. This isn’t to say the game is tedious, but that the nature of the work it depicts with precision mechanics is a real-life modern horror; after my initial attempts I developed a kind of sick admiration for how well the devs had instilled exhaustion and resignation in my achy fingers. By the time my third day rolled around, I didn’t even care that I was making $1.50 a shift – I just wanted it to be over.
So far, the alpha seems like a step up from Burger Barn in embodying the full miserable scope of fast food work: heroic levels of multitasking, while being expected to hit a perfect standard of corporate consistency for absolute peanuts. It has more to say than the average burger-flipping game about capitalism and labor through the lens of existential horror. There’s supposed to be more content in the final version – more places to explore around the city, and more established canon in the horror universe that Scythe Dev Team is determined to bring into our nightmares.
If you’re into the dread and decay of corporate America served up through a grainy old-school filter, this is probably the happy meal you deserve. But if you get easily stressed doing customer service sims on the clock, don’t worry – like real corporate America, you’re pretty much set up to fail at your job here, just as Happy and her brethren intended.