There has always been something about animatronic cartoon characters that I have found… creepy. As a kid, I cried the whole way through It’s a Small World when I was fortunate enough to visit Disneyworld. But it was the Five Nights at Freddy’s games that rekindled this fear of mine. But – occasional night terrors still occurring – I no longer cry in the face of those animatronic killers! Instead, I say, “Come at me, bro!” I’ve gorged many hours of lore videos of Poppy’s Playtime – and pray that an Xbox release is coming soon – and even bought The Banana Splits Movie and Willy’s Wonderland films. However, none of this prepared me for Happy’s Humble Burger Farm.
Set in the perpetually night-time city of New Elysian City, you are the latest employee at Happy’s Humble Burger Farm. Open up the restaurant, turn on the appliances, prepare the food and clean up the rubbish; at times, it feels like you are the only employee too.
Happy’s Humble Burger Farm is a cooking simulator first and foremost. Perform your duties and ensure all the orders are correct and you will have nothing to worry about. It is when you start getting the orders wrong where things start getting weird. Strange messages start appearing, the lights and appliances keep turning themselves off, and did that cartoon pig statue just move closer to the door? Spoiler alert: Yes, it did.
Of course, you could decide to play Happy’s Humble Burger Farm as a straight-up cooking simulator. Wake up in your apartment block, say hi to your neighbour Toe, catch the bus to work and fulfil customer orders all day. There is even an unlockable Endless Mode where you can complete orders until you’re blue in the face. But New Elysian City is an intriguing place to explore, with many secrets to uncover.
Step out from behind the grill and there is a world of mystery out there. As you progress, you will unlock a few crafting recipes that can unlock new areas for you to explore. In turn, these progress the story and your adventure. But the more you uncover, the more trippy Happy’s Humble Burger Farm gets.
To craft these items though, you need money. And you earn money by working your shifts at the restaurant. Things start off easily enough as you just have the grill to concentrate on. Yet each new shift then introduces a new element: working the fryers, dispensing drinks and even cooking hot dogs. Initially, this is all you will care to do, but as you start getting a taste for what is really occurring here in the wider world, you will want to know more about it.
The horror is almost Lynchian in its execution. Slow building tension, unexplained occurrences, dreamlike, ethereal and disturbing, but regularly done with a wry sense of humour. That comes from the fact that many of the scares come from cartoon farmyard animals, but the horror can be felt everywhere. NPCs you see around New Elysian City all portray the same vacant expression and outfits. Then there is Toe, the only other character who acknowledges you. He lives in the same apartment block and ‘works’ the same shifts as you. He never moves from his grill station though and much prefers to watch you do everything.
He attempts to talk to you, but it is incoherent babble at best. Now I’m not saying it isn’t a million miles away from the backwards talking of the Red Room, but it isn’t a million miles away from it.
Although you can never understand a word he says, it is reassuring to know you are not truly alone in this unfamiliar land. Despite his appearance, he is your closest ally. That is still alive at least.
In fact, the entire game has a weird appearance to it. Happy’s Humble Burger Farm looks like it comes from the late PS1/early PS2 era, but this is a compliment. It is a graphical throwback that only when looking back now do you feel this unease about the way everything looks. The expressionless faces, dingy colour palette and blocky textures; there is something unnerving about it.
On your journey around New Elysian City you can stop off at a coffee shop, see what new items are in the pawn shop or visit the museum once it opens. These locations may act as a façade for what is really going on, but offer a perfectly liveable existence too if you wish to remain ignorant. In these locations you will find cassettes to listen to that help fill in the backstory of the world. Without giving too much away, it sounds like you don’t live in New Elysian City through personal choice.
It won’t be long before you are off exploring abandoned warehouses and sewer systems to try and get to the bottom of what the hell is going on. Here, you will encounter some of the game’s bosses; they are based off the farmyard animals you see advertising the restaurant but are 100 times more horrific. They are also bloody tough. Most ‘fights’ revolve around you feeding them a variation of the burgers you spend your working day flipping, but it is the manner in which you have to do it that ramps up the difficulty. One battle has you making burgers whilst an army of exploding humanoid husks constantly follow you. Another has you stealthily finding the ingredients whilst avoiding screaming eggs and laser alarms.
Most annoying though is once you enter the respective arena, there is no escape. On one battle my health and stamina were both low, but I had no option to defeat the boss. You can save and quit but it will send you back to your apartment, which can sometimes be a long way away from where you just were.
Happy’s Humble Burger Farm is more than a simple Five Nights at Freddy’s clone. They share animatronic similarities, but that is it. Happy’s Humble Burger Farm has a massive conspiracy to solve; why are you where you are, and why aren’t you the first one to have been here? It is a horror game that isn’t reliant on jump scares but one that effectively creates this hugely unnerving environment. Part of you wants to just spend your days flipping burgers and ignoring the horrors elsewhere. But you are no safer there than anywhere else in New Elysian City.
Happy’s Humble Burger Farm is the cooking simulator that has just as much fun torturing you as the player, as you do actually playing it.
Experience the horrors of fast food management in Happy’s Humble Burger Farm on the Xbox Store