House Flipper - Brutal Backlog

February 10, 2020
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Brutal Backlog is a semi-regular feature where the JDR team play through some of the unplayed games on their shelves (both digital and physical), disregarding their age or the technical limitations of their era. Only the very best titles will stand up to scrutiny today.

I’ve always had a fascination with simulation games that mirror activities I could theoretically pull off in real life. I even have a special cap I only wear to play Euro and American Truck Simulator. I find there’s something special about walking in the shoes of a known quantity for a while, like a virtual existence that conforms to the boundaries of my own world. 

On paper then, House Flipper is absolutely a game for me. Like countless reality TV shows, you purchase dilapidated homes in need of a little TLC and restore them to all their glory, before selling them and moving onto the next. So I slipped on my slippers, proudly proclaimed to my girlfriend that I had to get back to the day job, and proceeded to sit at my computer for seven hours straight. 

I’m not sure I’d trust a decorator who calls this dump an office.

Ten Minutes In 

Straight from the get-go, it’s clear a small team made this game. The presentation is a little rough, and I spot several spelling mistakes during my first ten minutes of play, though this may be because the game developer, Empyrean Games, is a Polish studio. I think these rough edges add some charm to the whole experience though. The game is niche enough to be a labour of love and so far appears to be incredibly wholesome; there’s not a gun or bad guy in sight. 

The game begins with me loading into a ramshackle shack which serves as my office. Sitting on a grimy desk is a laptop, which contains just one email from Sara Lewis, subject: Ex-boyfriend stole the radiator from my house. Suspecting Sara Lewis might be a Nigerian Prince, but equally aware I currently live in a shed, I accept the dubious job. 

Missions are accepted via email. In this case, Sara’s vastly underselling her boyfriend’s revenge. 

Upon arriving at the house, which serves as a tutorial of sorts, I’d suggest my client gets a restraining order based on the ex-boyfriend’s definition of revenge. Beyond just stealing a radiator, which is insane enough in itself, this man has clearly emptied the contents of several industrial-sized bins in the living room, left some extremely questionable stains on the mattress and generally left the property looking like a set from Trainspotting. I’m hoping this laughably over-the-top episode of How Clean Is Your House on steroids continues throughout because I’m instantly sold. 

I will say that while the core mechanics of clicking on rubbish and stains to tidy up are enjoyable to begin with, I’m not sure how much staying power they will have. I hope to find further variety as I progress.

Thirty Minutes In

Since the first house, I’ve been given a list of tasks I can complete as a contractor. This will help me build up cash before I have enough capital to purchase my own house to flip. Initially, at least, these tasks seem to amount to either what I learnt in the ex-boyfriend fiasco (cleaning up stains and trash) or painting walls and installing household appliances (including an abundance of radiators).

Might need a coat of paint.

I’ve also now taken on a gardening contract, which involves swapping out weeds for trash and grass for stains. I’m worried I might have already seen the full extent of what the game offers, so decide to delve into more (hopefully) hilarious scenarios in my inbox. 

Three Hours In

The absurdity only grows. I can’t quite tell whether it’s intentional or not, but the distinct lack of radiators in this town is becoming farcical. It seems every contract I pick up I’m either replacing stolen radiators or adding them to a house that has every other appliance but radiators. Maybe the creators really liked the mini-game of screwing in nuts and bolts that installing these metal heaters provides? By the sixth or seventh, I sure don’t. It’s become too much like real work to install them.

Unfortunately, my initial fears have proved to be true, and I’m growing fatigued on most of the other mechanics as well. I appreciate these sorts of games are meant for a slower, more melodic pace, but in the majority there’s also a sense of challenge. If I’m ploughing a field or driving up the M1 to Sheffield, something can go wrong if I stop concentrating; I can career into a cow or another motorist. In House Flipper, I’m primarily just pointing at things — whether it’s a stain, a wall or another goddamn radiator blueprint — and clicking. There’s no real potential failure other than knocking down the wrong wall (which is easily fixed by just a few further clicks), so I don’t particularly feel like I’m achieving anything. 

My enjoyment of these games is usually born from maintaining focus over a long period and ensuring nothing goes wrong. In House Flipper, I watch walls change from white to yellow at the mercy of a loading bar which progresses ever so slowly. 

I don’t think these students will be getting their deposit back. 

Still, the insane scenarios have thankfully continued. One memorable contract had me cleaning up a student property after the landlord discovered he hadn’t ‘made the best decision’ in choosing his tenants. That’s putting it lightly. I was greeted with a scene from Se7en and spent a good ten minutes hoovering up cockroaches and, you guessed it, installing new radiators to replace the stolen ones. 

Seven Hours In

Finally, with enough cash earned from fitting endless (I can’t even bring myself to type the R-word again) and cleaning filthy couches, I bought my first property. Standing outside, it looked okay. Overgrown garden, sure, but the house looked sturdy enough. Inside, however, was a whole different story. Cockroaches all over the place. Piles and piles of rubbish. I groaned, knowing what would follow would be another hour of clicking and watching loading bars. And it was here I knew that House Flipper had overstayed its welcome for me.

Final verdict

While initially charming, before long, the lack of variety in tasks and skill required to play unfortunately becomes a chore. I suppose the challenge is supposed to be found in making a profit on flipping houses. Yet even here, after powering through the cleanup, I made a profit with minimal extra effort in buying furniture or painting the walls. 

Knocking in walls is pretty prescriptive and not nearly as chaotic as I would have liked.

This isn’t to say I think the game is particularly bad. For someone who’s really into renovation and wants something to switch off to for an hour or two, House Flipper should absolutely scratch that itch. The charm of how ridiculous the scenarios were also continued to hold up for the seven hours of playtime. I’d almost suggest not bothering with flipping your own home and just enjoy how silly the contracts are. Just don’t expect much in the way of engaging gameplay, and that’s coming from someone who’s quite content in driving virtually from Scotland to Dover. 

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Worth playing? MAYBE - if there's nothing better on your shelf.
Harry Schofield

I've been obsessed with gaming since my dad sat me down to play QBasic Gorillas. Being a games writer, I tend to lean towards anything with an evocative sense of space, such as immersive sims or horrors. I'm still waiting for a Lovecraftian American Civil War game.