I had high hopes for Speaking Simulator upon hearing I would be reviewing the game. I had seen a trailer a while back that looked pretty good and the game’s Steam store page was plastered with trade show accolades and positive quips from the press. After spending some time with the game on my own time, my enjoyment fizzled quickly. It is a seemingly great premise that largely delivers on what it promises to do but still feels like a prototype rather than a cohesive experience.
The nuts and bolts
Those damn robots are at it again. They have assembled the not-so-perfect infiltration machine — a walking, talking contraption coated in synthetic skin and enough points of articulation in the skull that it may conceivably pass for an actual human. Your job is to be this machine. Speaking Simulator drops you into a succession of social encounters where you must juggle the manipulation of various levers and toggles to help the robot pass undetected by a neighborhood of clueless skin bags.
It should be noted that the robots in this game are not as advanced as the ones who sent the T-800 back in time to kill Sarah Connor. This social terminator was built with what appears to be untested schematics and incredibly loose tolerances. While you have manual control over its jaw and tongue, the simple act of speaking can often be enough to wear out gears, bolts, and internal motors. You don’t so much converse with people as much as you avoid falling apart spectacularly.
Playing it cool
Initially, the silliness of the situation is worth half a chuckle as you wrestle with the tongue in an attempt to press buttons within the mouth and accidentally knock out your own teeth. Each level in the game is a simple conversation where you try your best to spit out some semblance of the English language. Each time you screw up, a bar that measures the suspicion of the person you talk with fills up. If you cannot enunciate the assigned passage before the bar fills, your robot infiltrator more or less crumbles into a pile of scrap.
If you succeed, you get to go back to the home robot office and purchase new teeth. These dental upgrades can offer simple buffs to things like tongue control or add all-new functionality to the robot, such as the ability to smile and frown or the power to dance. These add-ons bring an additional layer of difficulty and complexity to the conversations as they require manipulation just like the tongue and jaw.
Am I dead inside like a robot?
Playing Speaking Simulator reminds me of QWOP, the older web game that tasked players with simply taking steps with a track runner by manipulating knees and ankles. It starts off awkwardly and the contorted positions the runner ended up in were pretty funny. Speaking Simulator is following this formula and you’ll quickly find yourself with the robot’s tongue hanging outside the mouth while you bite down or even worse.
The in-game models will clip into themselves and as the robot begins to fall apart under the pressure, the visuals can quickly approach nightmare fuel. I know that I’m supposed to be hootin’ and hollerin’ with delight when the goofs happen, but I never had a moment where I was having fun. I personally found the dialogue to be lifeless on either side of the conversation and simply failed to have an emotional connection to the plight of the robot. I discovered that most encounters could be rushed through by rotating my mouse around and rolling the WASD keys around. The awkward fish-out-of-water absurdity never clicked for me in Speaking Simulator the way it did for similarly-themed Octodad.
Beta robot firmware
The previously mentioned issues aside, I thought Speaking Simulator felt undercooked. For the most part, the graphical presentation was perfectly adequate for conveying the plight of the robot and the music in the game was solid. I ran into some technical and design quirks that marred the experience for me. The settings menu in the game is incredibly barren, especially when it comes to the graphics options. There is a fullscreen toggle, a quality prest toggle, and resolution toggle. I could not get any of these to work. The game would launch in a square window at an odd resolution and no amount of playing with the options could fix it. Moving through the quality settings didn’t seem to affect the graphics in any way. The three available resolutions to choose from didn’t make any sense (1900x1030 for example), but it did not matter much as changing them didn’t actually do anything.
There is no antialiasing available, so the visual presentation was marred by lots of jaggies and stair-stepping as I could not get the game to run at my native resolution. Whatever resolution the game was running at managed to cut off the dialogue text on both sides of the screen, which was really bad considering the real humans had no voice-over. The speaking control UI was a real mess. Controls for the eyeball placement were almost always obscured by the robot head and really hard to select and control with the mouse. If there was some way to control the additional face functions with keys, I was unable to figure it out and the control options screen was no help, as parts of if were cut off due to the resolution. A face recognition option was shown in the settings menu, but it could not be turned on and no explanation was given for what it was supposed to do.
It is entirely possible that Speaking Simulator is just not made to be enjoyed by me. I could see where a streamer could use the game to make a video and get some cheap laughs, letting friends at a party take the controls, or something similar, but as a full-fledged solo game, I found it to be incredibly underwhelming. I could definitely see myself being intrigued by the game at a trade show from a short demo or trailer, but it doesn’t feel like a full game. I still have a soft spot in my heart for QWOP, but it was a free Flash game that excelled as a short time-waster. I expect more out of a product with this asking price. 5/10 robot firmware teeth
This review is based on the PC Steam release. The game key was provided by the publisher. Speaking Simulator was released on January 30, 2019.
- Decent graphics and music
- Solid premise
- Playing with tongues is always fun
- Humor often failed to hit
- Sparse selection of options
- PC version bugs affected gameplay
- Feels more like a prototype than full game
Chris Jarrard posted a new article, Speaking Simulator review: Stutters and sputters