Game review: Manual Samuel is a weird and wonderful little title that gives you complete control

It’s bizarre and absurd and unique, but Samuel answers the question of what’s it like to have someone totally under your power – and we do mean totally, from breathing to blinking to walking

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 November, 2016, 1:00pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 November, 2016, 1:00pm

Manual Samuel

Perfectly Paranormal

3.5/5 stars

I can’t believe nobody thought of this before. Wasn’t there ever a time late one night when an inebriated game developer said to a friend: “Dude, what if, like, you had to control a human with a gaming controller?”

Surely that must have happened? Evidently not, as Manuel Samuel seems to be the first game that fits that description.

Here’s the gist: Samuel is an average, everyday guy who just happens to die. At the gates of hell, he’s sent back, with the caveat that he’s now completely manual. Which is another way of saying, we gamers have to control his every movement – not just walking and jumping, or whatever standard first-person movements you’re comfortable with.

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Breathing, blinking, grasping each finger around a cup of coffee, maintaining a suitable posture to stop you collapsing into a complete mess – all those little things our subconscious minds take care of on a daily basis now must be laboriously controlled through a limited game pad or keyboard.

It may sound tiring – and it can be at times – but Samuel’s equal measures of ridiculous humour, cartoonish violence and brief levels keep things generally fresh.

The game is thankfully set up as a series of fragments and each requires you to perform a fairly mundane task: the aforementioned coffee situation first appears to simply involve cooling down a hot cup, but it soon turns into a frustratingly funny muddle of blowing out and remembering to breathe in again.

Driving, conversely, is absolute chaos, a crash-heavy series of jams on which the player is constantly switching hands and feet on gears, wheels, brakes and accelerators, watching the road for innocent pedestrians – and, oh, remembering to breathe and blink through it all.

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If it wasn’t so damn comical, I might have given up long before it reached its ridiculously over-the-top boss ending. Samuel’s vibe is all about the animated violence, but there were a couple points where the developers could have toned down their gloating, geeky humour.

And there were glitches, too – not surprising for a release this minor, but I honestly couldn’t tell if they were part of the game or just a mess-up (the latter, I think).

Still, where Samuel succeeds is in its absurdly unique concept, a bright, bizarre and almost brilliant turnaround on the standard gaming trappings. Now I know what would happen if our lives were controlled by a grim reaper puppet master – and I kind of like it.