I love games like Mr Prepper. Sheltered, for example, is one of my favourite survival games, and only recently I reviewed Endzone (which shares a post-apocalyptic theme) and found it to be broadly fantastic. Mr Prepper has some really interesting features and ideas, but sadly the console port feels like less than the ideal way to play it.
Mr Prepper is a two-dimensional (almost platform-ish) game that features relatively minimal visual flair and very basic animation, and feels as if it would be more at home on a mobile device than on a next-generation console. That said, Mr Prepper does have a few visual elements that offer character, and as a result it somehow gets away with it.
The majority of your time in Mr Prepper will be spent in the titular character’s home — where he lives an apparently normal life above ground whilst maintaining a seemingly normal number of cups, pans and, erm, sofas. Yes, you read that right — because in Mr Prepper, something really bad has happened and America has been taken over by an ultra-facist organisation that mandates that houses are kept in a certain way.
Being a prepper, and following a recent failed attempt to escape his oppressors, Mr Prepper is under very close watch. As such, the player must adhere to the rules of the world in which he lives, whilst simultaneously building an underground bunker in which he can grow and manufacture supplies to use in his grand escape plan — which may or may not involve launching a well-stocked rocket.
Mr Prepper teaches the player a lot of what is needed via a fairly decent tutorial — it explains how to dismantle items and to use them in crafting new ones. It teaches us how to dig rooms beneath the house and plant vegetables in them — and then it teaches us that every few days, an inspection will happen — but it also promptly fails to tell us that we need to cover up our secret floor hatch, or how to do it. Hey ho.
This is just one of many minor interface issues that proliferate throughout Mr Prepper. The joypad-based control system on Xbox One Series (and presumably PlayStation) is basically a nightmare. Moving Prepper is fine; you just click to move or double click to run. You can use a menu of options to interact with things, or you can just click on them to do the most basic interaction.
The problems come when you try to do more complicated things. Inventory management and crafting for example, just never seem to feel natural. Using the face buttons to open the relevant menu is fine, but then you’re skipping from inventory to crafting options with buttons that make no sense, shifting through different tabs by accident and so on. It’s all just a bit amateurish.
When Prepper does venture out into one of several external locations, he may face an enemy — causing an even more ridiculous calamity of button presses. Most fights are simplistic and arbitrary anyway, offering little to the experience and almost never being fun. Again though, I could see how they would work on a phone (bashing the screen springs to mind) but on a console, I just didn’t enjoy the experience as much as I might have.
If I were to put the control issues aside (which sadly I can’t completely) I have to say, Mr Prepper is pretty cool. On the one hand, you’re attempting to maintain a “normal” life above ground (albeit with the conspicuous absence of a proper job) whilst also building a new life below it. This isn’t subsistence though — it’s purposeful. Where Sheltered is all about simply staying alive, Mr Prepper is about getting the hell out of there.
This gives Mr Prepper real impetus. Will you break down your office chair in order to use the plastic to make a control lever? Fine, but if you don’t have the regulation number of chairs, you’ll be in trouble — so you’ll have to make a new one out of wood instead. There’s always a bit of tension when making these decisions, and Mr Prepper has a great way of making you think that you need just one more thing so that you can make your escape (which might make you rush) and then twisting the knife to leave you in real trouble come the next inspection.
Trading with neighbours and other NPCs, as well as completing pseudo-missions and side objectives for them changes the pace slightly, but ultimately everything you do in Mr Prepper contributes towards the overall goal of escaping the oppressive utopia that America has become. It can be nice to change the pace though, and building trust among the community can often lead to rare and useful components.
Overall then, I wish Mr Prepper were a smoother console experience and that it had perhaps had a bit more spit and polish from the outset. Neither of these things detracts too far from what is a solid and interesting experience though, and Mr Prepper is a game that I felt compelled to keep playing right until the very end.