REVIEW: Barn Finders

Nov
01

REVIEW: Barn Finders

With a unique, clever premise for a video game, Barn Finders looks like it would be an enjoyable experience. However, after scratching beneath the surface, you’re left with a game that’s not worth playing.

Released: Steam
Type: Single-Player
Genres: Simulation, Management
Developer: Duality Games
Publisher: Duality Games
Release date: 15 June, 2020

First Impressions

Barn Finders (BF) is the kind of game that likely wouldn’t have existed were it not for reality TV shows such as American Pickers and Storage Wars. These are only the introduction to many programs centered around buying up junk to refurbish and sell, which has taken off in recent years. For most people who have cable or satellite TV, I think it’d be likely that they’ve at least glanced at one of these shows before. Either way, from what I could glean from the trailers, this game would capture the general principle of bidding for items and hoping for big pay days. I’m no expert on antiques or the like, but there’s still something appealing about the idea of taking a risk, doing some wheeling and dealing, and making a big score.

Yep, that’s an outhouse alright. It’s usable, and even includes appropriate sound effects with it. This is the tone you should expect from Barn Finders.

Gameplay

My first impression was fairly incorrect, as though bidding and flipping items is an important element of BF, the more significant focus is on rummaging around in abandoned areas. Some of them require you to win an auction to have access, but when that’s the case, the game tells you up front what the general cost will be when you check the map. As long as you’re within a couple hundred dollars of that price, you will be able to get it, because even if you are outbid in the auction, you can simply retry it with no penalty. Worst case scenario, you can revisit earlier areas, which will generate a small amount of merchandise you can sell at the store. There’s really nothing to fear when bidding on the auctions, because you’ll always earn more than you spent since these are required to progress in the game, so you can’t go wrong. Aside from these few auctions where there’s an initial cost to access a site, there’s no upfront cost aside from the gas to get there and tools you’ll use often like the ax and lock-pick.

The only thing that ever had me think out the cost of something was Bid Wars. Otherwise, even the auctions are no-brainers.

At first, I thought going onto different properties would involve an element of bargaining and negotiation, but all you have to do is walk around, picking up anything of value. The simplicity is nice, but between this and other design choices, there’s really no challenge or need to think about what you’re doing. For instance, since the game tells you the price of all the items, there’s no risk in overspending on something or selling it for far less than its worth. After all, whether it sells for $50 or $500, you paid nothing to get it directly, so it’s a profit either way. Later on, customers will sell stuff to you so you can resell it. However, you still see the prices, and they always start off by selling it to you for cheaper than you’ll sell it for. None of them try to pull a fast one or drive a hard bargain, they always make the deal to your benefit, so you can’t screw it up unless you’re horrible at the haggling mechanic. At its most contentious, the AI will be a bit aggressive during an auction, but I was always able to make another attempt and get it for even cheaper than what the game said I’d need to spend on it.

Thanks for taking out all of the guess work. I know that buying anything a customer sells me will make money, and it even tells me how much more.

When you acquire various items, most of them can be sold in your store immediately. However, some cleaned off, repaired, or put together. Though conceptually this should add variety to BF, in practice it’s tedious busy work. Cleaning items is fickle at best, as I’ve struggled mightily to find the alleged spot I hadn’t doused with water, even after going over every inch of it multiple times. Assembling pieces requires nothing more than moving them from storage to a work bench until you have everything, and then you hit a button. Repairing stuff isn’t much better, because as long as you have the required scrap, you just hit it with a hammer repeatedly to fix it.

This is one of the few items you have to clean that isn’t a horrendous pain to do so. Some of them are such a chore.

Controls

You’re able to play BF with either the mouse and keyboard or a controller, and for the bulk of the game, the controller works fine. However, when dealing with the map screen and navigating specific menus, I can’t tell which icon I currently have selected. It’s much easier to simply bring up the mouse and select them that way, which isn’t that big of an issue. Another small problems comes from the few times you do some platforming. The momentum of your jumps don’t feel right, and I wasn’t even sure if I had made a jump most of the time due to my poor sense of self and hit detection on the ground. There’s no penalties for falling into a pit or electrocuting yourself if you mess up though, so like other aspects of the game, it doesn’t matter if you fail or not, just try again. I normally break down the control scheme of the game, but it’s not that necessary here, as the game shows you the inputs. For instance, the top of the screen shows all your tools and the button needed to bring each of them up.

Selecting where you want to go is done much easier with the mouse, so go ahead and do it that way.

Story

BF doesn’t actually take place in our world. Instead, it’s supposed to be on a planet called Ameryka, which seems like an unnecessary choice by the developers. They’re already mocking rednecks with no pulled punches, so I don’t see the point in making such a slight change with so little payoff. Besides, the world-building is sloppy and inconsistent, as every location is supposed to be slightly misspelled because it’s not our planet, but they throw in images with correct, real-world spelling all over the place. Either fully commit to the bit, or don’t bother, but doing both shows such poor attention to detail.

Including national flags and state license plates, in a game supposedly taking place on another world, is inconsistent to say the least.

As far as your character goes, they have a very humble beginning in the game. Simply put, you’re a broke hick living with his uncle, and have to make some quick cash. At first, it’s a slow start, because with no merchandise or funds, you have to recycle trash for money. Before long though, you earn enough money to contend with anything BF has in store for you. However, as you explore these areas, you’ll see hints of alien activity, before the game loses all subtlety and the aliens become incredibly brazen, to the point they’re flying saucers in front of multiple people. So, in traditional redneck lore, are they there to steal cows and probe human beings? With the multitude of unfunny stereotypes, illegible messages, and low-brow humor, I wouldn’t have been surprised by that. They took the high road this time though, as the aliens were throwing an amazing party, until somebody stole the moonshine, and they need you to go get more for them. I don’t know how it concluded, because this is as far as I got in BF before walking away.

Why would you put so much effort into writing such hard to read text? It’s aggravating.

Graphics

The graphics for BF are composed of 3D models, and a significant amount of the game’s graphics look pretty good. Items you’d find in the real-world look reasonably accurate and well-composed, whether they’re crates and boxes you break up, or objects you can sell. The environments are of similar quality, as the trees and bushes don’t look uncanny or out of place. However, there’s a big dip in quality with the character models, as they don’t look lifelike or that well made. I don’t think any of them have walk cycles, as they’ll either be completely stationary, or when at your store, they’ll simply poof in and out of existence. All that leaves for movement is when they make some gestures with their hands, which already doesn’t look that great with the models. Adding in that they don’t even walk, they wind up looking rather stiff. I’ll also point out that there’s quite a bit of clipping in BF. For instance, grass going through the floor, scrap falling through the ground so you can’t see it, etc.

He either really wants this item, or he’s calling me out for a fight. I think I could take him.

Sound Design

As I was playing the game and recording it for a theoretical Let’s Play, a song that played in the intro made me think the music wasn’t originally composed for the game. Instead, I figured they used licensed music, either with the artists’ permission or having made some sort of arrangement to use it. However, I’m so out of the loop with music that I wouldn’t know an original track from a top ten list, so I tried to figure this out. The store page doesn’t emphasize its soundtrack, but from what I could find, the developers didn’t write the music themselves. I’m basing that off of this discussion found on the Steam boards, wherein the developer answering the question states that perhaps 1 song was an original composition. A spreadsheet linked within this board lists different sources for the music, so that’s my best conclusion.

This is a hidden collectible to search for in the game. Really looks worthwhile, no?

Regarding the quality of the music, it’s not bad. The main issue is how little you’ll hear it. When in the pawn shop, you can turn on the radio and listen to music that way. However, the game treats the radio as the source, so if you walk too far away, you can’t hear it anymore. Its range doesn’t extend outside of the shop, except in very particular locations, and if you go too far towards the front of the store, you’ll barely be able to hear it even then. When I kept returning to stages I already cleared and paid more attention, I realized there was no music playing at all. I thought perhaps it was because I had turned off the radio, but even if it’s on when you leave, you’ll only encounter silence, with some background sound effects here and there. I’ve not seen a game exclude music from the areas where you explore before, so this decision perplexes me.

Watching a redneck named Bubba stare at a coffee vending machine is something I could envision in an artsy, independent film. I imagine it’d either be as silent as this game, or perhaps have overly dramatic music playing.

Pros

  • Though games around business practices exist, few allow you to venture into different areas and search for items yourself.
  • The flame paint job on the truck is probably the best aspect of the game.

Cons

  • Since you only infrequently pay a direct price for an item, goods that sell for small amounts are more annoying than they are valuable. Making $30 on a sale is frustrating when you could be selling something for $300+ instead. If you had to make investments into these items, small gains here and there might seem more meaningful, but as it is these sells are poor uses of your time.
  • Except when you need money for auctions and tool upgrades, you have nothing meaningful to do with it. Investing in the shop doesn’t change profitability or customer retention, so buying the skins is purely a cosmetic change. They’re rather expensive as well, which impedes your goal of saving money for auctions, so buying them is a detriment anyways.
  • Though it wouldn’t be special or meaningful if they were all over the place, the limited number of big ticket items like cars inhibits my interest in scouring for the scant items I overlooked. Plus, after making a big sell, it’s almost disappointing because the payoff is so brief, “I sold the 1 car I had. I might find another in a few hours.”
  • What the game deems as valuable items vs junk can be baffling. I don’t expect every piece of furniture to sell well, but you’ll pass by items such as vanities, cabinets, and what should be expensive chairs and couches. However, they’re either just props to scour through for other items, or they’re junk.
  • Waiting for customers so you can sell your junk is obnoxious and boring.

Tips

  • After buying all the tools, you don’t really need to upgrade all of them. A higher level shovel just speeds up digging holes, with no increased chance of finding anything. The 3 star ax produces more scrap, but the game doesn’t give you enough to do with all the remainder you’ll accrue. The only essential would be the lockpick, so you can unlock all the doors and chests.
  • Don’t bother with the cosmetics, or at most, buy 1 wall, floor, and shelf design.
  • It’s worthwhile recycling all the trash, as I’ve made over $500 doing it.

Final Thoughts

Initially, I got sucked into BF as I obsessively searched for every item I could find. However, with no sense of challenge or anything worthwhile to do with my money, this interest tapered off before long. Even as the last few areas started going off the rails into utter nonsense, which probably would have held my attention earlier, I was so bored by the repetition that I just stopped playing it. Plus, I think this was done out of desperation, knowing the gameplay wouldn’t hold up on its own.

Based on the bugs that both I experienced and others reported, I think, “It should work,” is as much Duality Games’ motto as it is MIKKO’s.

When looking at the individual aspects of the game, and what it amounts to as a whole, I have to say that BF is a failure in almost every area. It’s had problems with save-deleting bugs, the gameplay is boring and frustrating, there are careless mistakes with the graphics, the writing is lazy and reliant on randomness to stay interesting, it needlessly has silence more often than not, and basic mechanics and controls are dysfunctional. With so many flaws, I’m surprised it took me so long to recognize how bad BF is, and is a game I strongly recommend avoiding, especially since it requires 20 GB of space.

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