Giraffe Town Put Me On a Weird Road to Nowhere

I see the trailer while idly clicking through my Steam queue. It’s about a giraffe looking for love, but it’s clearly a setup for some sort of horror. A little bit of scary music at the end of the trailer and the horror tag are as good as a stage wink to its audience. I give it a try. You’re a giraffe, you have slippery feet, you are enamored with a singer named Love you see on TV, you want to meet her across town. It’s the kind of thing that is described as Lynchian because it has a slow pace, a heavy atmosphere and seems absurdist. The game draws its inspiration straight from the PS2, a cross between Silent Hill 2 and cutesy Japanese oddities like Chulip. The cutscenes move at a snails pace, cutting from the giraffe to some other character at odd angles, the surrealist dialogue comes across the screen in audible text. It’s weird for weirdness sake, and occasionally points that out, but it still feels captivating.

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The first spot of actual gameplay has you walking down a road that winds and fractures. The giraffe’s slippery feet mean the tiniest push of the joystick slides you forward. It’s a masocore setup that I hate. But I want to see what comes next so I give it my best. As I slip inch by inch to the next faraway checkpoint with no end in sight, the sound of rain and the mist flowing over the curving wet road start to get to me. I fall into a weird trance. The focus I’m putting into this challenge and the atmosphere of the winding road are bringing back sense memories. Walking on warm rainy streets after midnight in quiet towns. Mist haloed lights floating in the darkness as billboards come in and out of view. Ambient songs play and fade out and new ones come on. I fall enough to get a game over and a generic screamer plays. I say fuck it and watch a Let’s Play.

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But the Let’s Play showed me I had been SO CLOSE, so I tried again and made it. There’s more. The giraffe talks to weird characters, there are other gameplay bits, the pace of the cutscenes is so slow that I managed to have dinner over the course of one. I don’t know what keeps me going because there’s obviously no payoff. A jumble of game mechanics interspersed with painfully slow and deliberately meandering cutscenes. But the tone of it is just so captivating. So I make it to the next part of the game I can’t get past, and this time there is no Let’s Play to tell me how much more I’ll have to endure. It’s a game that will gladly have you watch almost 5 minutes of a giraffe distorting as he’s drawn through a portal in his TV, at any moment I could be stuck in an intentionally unbeatable zone. So I haven’t finished. It’d be nice to see someone get to the end, but I think what really got to me about it was the experience of trudging through.

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The game feels like a a mishmash of intentions. It breaks the 4th wall every so often, in the clumsy way something written by a kid does to sound clever. But the atmosphere is heavy and for all its signposting as cheap absurdity the vibe of the game feels intentional. It felt like I was looking at someone using the language of creepy-pasta (the screamers, the generic asset looking characters stuttering around, the visual references to games from peoples’ youth) to make something more personal. The way the royalty free sound effects were layered, the easy to render roads floating in empty space still creating that effect on me, the intentional jabs at it’s own legitimacy not really cutting through the intentionality of the camera shots… It all felt like using the materials of a genre known for cheapness and imitation to make an original piece of art.

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