I’m a self-confessed lover of both the strange and slightly offbeat in my games.
For every Call of Duty clone out there on the market, I think there should be a game like Dear Esther or Inside; games that makes the player ponder about life, turning a story and a narrative on its head. I’ve played a lot of games, and reviewed all manner of experiences, with some of the very best being those which don’t shy away from some really tough subjects, like alcoholism, abuse, and neglect. It’s always good to have these genre-breaking experiments running alongside the likes of FIFA and PUBG. But with Where the Bees Make Honey the experimentation has gone on a little too far for my liking, even though it has certainly managed to keep me intrigued and fascinated throughout.
There is a saying in my family – “don’t put peanuts in the birthday cake”. This strange motto is slightly apt for this off the world puzzler/walking sim/racer/adventure game. See, the developer behind Where the Bees Make Honey has thrown a hell of a lot of ingredients into the bowl, and whilst some are very tasty, others have gone off.
In Where the Bees Make Honey, you play as a woman in her thirties, stuck late at night in an office call centre where she works. She starts to wonder about her life and how she got to where she is at this point. She remembers her childhood and wearing a little bee outfit and how much happier she was then, rather than how she is now. You then play through her stories, memories, and reflections on her life.
But it isn’t as straightforward as you may think. See, you play as the little girl in her bee outfit across some neat puzzles and a Halloween themed running/platform section. But you also play as a rabbit looking for her lost child, and as a small remote control car… doing something or another. The story is good and the text can be both insightful and enigmatic on choices we make and how memories can get distorted and viewed through rose tinted glasses. It’s also told in a non-linear fashion with fragments of narrative and a collection of themes that come together nicely at the end. It’s an experiment in game narrative and as I mention in the opening to this piece, I personally always like it when a developer takes a risk.
Gameplay wise and Bees is a really mixed bag. There are some nice puzzle and platform sections to be played, where you guide the little girl in the bee costume along a route avoiding the baddies. Then you have a puzzle section where you rotate the map either left or right as you try to find the best route through to the honeycomb collectibles and finish the level. This is very clever indeed, and really makes you think, delivering a combination of perspective puzzles and environmental challenges. If the whole game would have been just this, then I would have been very happy. But there are two distinct elements that have been included, leaving me as the not so happy man.
The first of these sees you playing as a rabbit running through a landscape. The turning mechanism of the rabbit is shocking and seeing a rabbit reversing like an old Ford Escort which has just failed its MOT will bring tears to your eyes. Then there is the jumping which just doesn’t feel right – pretty much across all aspects. Further to this is a strange car section in which the physics and mechanics feel wrong – flipping the car over resets you and there have been times when I’ve been left behind the game path and hit by an invisible wall so I couldn’t get back on. In short, it’s a nightmare.
Where the Bees Make Honey on Xbox One looks really lovely at times, particularly when you find yourself in the puzzling sections. The brilliant use of a mixture of real footage in the cutscenes to create a mysterious dreamlike feel to the tone works great. I love the design of the Halloween section as well, and bits and bobs of the rabbit world. The remote-controlled car world looks like it was created for another game altogether though; one for an older generation of console.
Thankfully the soundtrack works well and the excellent voice over work from the lead actress gives weight and importance to every line she speaks. There is a brilliant Halloween penned song that I couldn’t stop humming for days after.
This is a game that really has split me down the middle. On one hand, this couple of hours journey through the memories of a bored, broken, female office worker intrigues and delights me in equal measure. I love the way the narrative is told in an experimental and different way from the usual method. I also appreciate the puzzle sections and wide collection of playing styles. But some of the other gameplay choices are terribly broken and dull.
That all said, I would still recommend that the curious among you give this game a go and delve deeply into the world of Where the Bees Make Honey, if only because you won’t experience much else like it.