After completing Life of Fly 2, we got curious and pulled up TheXboxHub’s original review of Life of Fly. We didn’t personally review it, so we were eager to see the verdict. It got a respectable 3/5, if you’re interested, and the reviewer said nice things: “If you’re after something different, then you can’t go wrong with a bit of Life of Fly.” Everyone deserves their own opinion, but having played Life of Fly 2 and then returned to Life of Fly 1, our (my personal) opinion is that is unmitigated pants. You can definitely go wrong with a bit of Life of Fly.
It’s not that we’ve got anything against walking simulators, which Life of Fly 2 essentially is. Some of our favourite games of the past five years have come from the genre: games like Firewatch, Everybody Goes to the Rapture and What Remains of Edith Finch? are all absolute gold, and deserve to be talked about for generations. We don’t need to question if something is a ‘game’ when it delivers something so enthralling and affecting.
While Life of Fly 2 casts you as a fly, and therefore isn’t ‘walking’ per se, it ticks all the other boxes. You are moving through an environment to a floating checkpoint, where a morsel of story is offered up, and then you’re moving to the next floating checkpoint. Half of the enjoyment supposedly comes from the scenery, which you are meant to admire as you travel round. There’s no conflict, high-score or ability to fail: just a story that has a beginning, middle and end.
In Life of Fly 2, that story is broken up into thirteen chapters, with your tiny Dalai Lama waxing philosophical about various topics. One takes place in a tacky hotel, for example, and ruminates about ‘love’. You will cover hygiene, heroism, creativity, hate and the nature of reality as you fly about renders of police stations, catwalks, gyms and office blocks. It’s all done in one hour, and you’ll be deleting it from your hard drive in the time it takes to say ‘what’s Microsoft’s refund policy?’.
You can probably tell that Life of Fly 2 wound us up. We knew something was up from the first level, set in a library. The controls were fine, once we’d hopped into menus to invert them. It was the gap between checkpoints, alongside a lack of boost or ‘speed up’ button that did us in. It took us roughly sixty seconds to get from checkpoint to checkpoint, and the speed is interminably slow. We know for a fact, sitting in our kitchen as we write, that flies are nippy buggers and will divebomb you for kicks. So why is this so glacial?
That would be fine if the journey required thought, but there aren’t any obstacles or strategies here. We suppose that some checkpoints are against walls, requiring a quick 180 so that you don’t bump into them, but that’s about the limit. Most of the time, it’s a direct line to the next checkpoint. We just couldn’t get excited about spotting a checkpoint across the room and then moving towards it at the speed of spilt treacle.
Again, that would be fine if Life of Fly 2 was a scenic trip. But these are ragged little environments. A fountain sits in the middle of a park, with an oblong of water clipping out of the short walls around it. A Spanish-style courtyard has buildings as a flat texture all around it. These are contourless, empty environments that feel a couple of decades old, and they have a tendency to repeat each other. A hotel foyer level is near identical to an executive office which is near identical to a hotel room level. There are two levels set in a police station. Only one room, some kind of medieval temple, which – lo and behold – is the best of the bunch, breaks the cycle of modern, human-built spaces.
Even the checkpoints are problematic. They’re tiny rings of light, which stand out well in the darker levels like the library and temple. But as soon as they’re strewn around bright levels like the hotel foyer and catwalk, they become hard to spot. If one happens to be in line-of-sight with a lamp or some sunlight, then you have no chance. There aren’t any clues, either: an animation plays as you hit a checkpoint and the ring spins away, but it doesn’t spin in the direction of the next checkpoint, which would have seemed like a no-brainer. You can spiral around in search of a checkpoint when you just want everything to end. It doesn’t make things difficult, but it does make the game unnecessarily obstructive at points.
Again, all of this would be fine, if the payoff was there. But your rewards for getting through checkpoints are snippets of excruciating cod-philosophy. They’re poorly edited, with text that’s full of typos or fails to match the voice-over, but it’s the content that’s irritating. Did you know that mobile phones make us antisocial? Or that death is the only certainty in life? Or that humans can be bad? Life of Fly 2 is sponsored by Captain Obvious, but you get the feeling that this Beginner’s Guide to Philosophy is meant to be insightful. Even a level that adapts a Chinese folktale reduces it to a conclusion that ‘greed is bad’. The level started so well, too.
As with real-life flies, Life of Fly 2 isn’t always about the crap. The flying controls in Life of Fly 2 are pretty good, with sharp turns possible with a jab on both analogue sticks. You just don’t need them. And the temple level shows what Life of Fly 2 might have been, should it have broken out of the office blocks. The temple is when Life of Fly 2 feels most like the Aery series, which does everything that Life of Fly does, but with more variety, more attractive environments, and a sense of satisfaction at the end. And there’s the rub: there isn’t a single reason why you should be choosing this over a modern Aery title.
Life of Fly 2 is like an incredibly slow bus journey through a bland neighborhood. To make it worse, a stranger sits next to you and spouts waffle that they think is insightful. It’s mercifully short at an hour, and Gamerscore pours out of it, but your time is worth so much more than this. Play an Aery game instead.
You can buy Life of Fly 2 for £8.39 from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S