Earlier this year Perfectly ParaNormal's Manual Samuel was announced for PC, PS4 and Xbox One and now it is finally with us, introducing players to the misfortunes of the titular Samuel as he loses all automatic control of his bodily functions, like breathing and blinking, and the player is then tasked with manually controlling all of this as Samuel goes on an adventure with Death himself, encountering even more craziness as he goes.
This core concept is very interesting, and certainly to Perfectly ParaNormal's credit, as we often don't realise how much we do without thinking, like standing and walking. It worked in a similar way and with great success in Octodad, which also tasked you with doing day to day tasks with added difficulty, so we were certainly intrigued to give it a go in Manual Samuel.
The issue with Manual Samuel, an issue that is evident from the beginning of the game, is that the concept doesn't make for entertaining gameplay, and Manual Samuel as a whole suffers as a result. The game is split into chapters, each of which contains a series of challenges or QTEs related to Samuel's inability to control himself automatically. For instance, most of the time you have to move each leg, keep him standing, blink and breathe as you move from place to place, but this becomes more frustrating than fun, especially when the buttons for leg movements aren't assigned to a specific leg but instead to which leg is where in relation to the screen (so the back leg will always be one button, regardless of if it's the right or left leg). We often found ourselves tearing our hair out just getting from place to place as a result, rather than relishing the challenge it offered us.
Quick Time Events are often not very captivating in the game either, being either simple button presses without challenge or mini-games without substance. Some of these were a little entertaining, such as getting Samuel to urinate on target, but for the most part they didn't offer much to bolster the gameplay. The last boss has to be mentioned here, as it was some of the most frustrating gameplay we have ever experienced, combining mini-games with the awkward gameplay and resetting you each time you messed it up. We had to try it multiple times to finally complete it, feeling more relieved than elated when it was done.
The narrative of the game revolves around the fact that Samuel is a rich and spoiled man who mistreats people, especially his girlfriend, and when he gets hit by a lorry when chasing after her, he goes to Hell and is given a second chance on Earth, with the catch that he must operate his body manually. As said, this concept works well and the story isn't bad, the plot resolving itself nicely and giving Samuel a chance to realise his hubris and make amends, even if he is mostly silent for the whole game... because he can't speak automatically.
Humour plays a key role in the story, but the execution here is poor as well. Death accompanies Samuel throughout his journey, but his awkward attempts at comedy don't land a lot of the time, and his focus on doing kickflips seems outdated and better suited to the early nineties. "Holy Feces" and other such phrases are also thrown out there, but none of them are particularly funny, nor is the narrator who goes for a The Stanley Parable style of commentating, who has the same lack of success.
What also stands out in the campaign are punctuation and spelling errors in the subtitles, as well as when they don't match up to what the characters are saying. These are quite obvious and happen quite often, so they stand out if you are reading them alongside the game, and are a bit disappointing to see.
Visually, the game isn't bad either, but the cartoon style certainly isn't remarkable and some of the movements look a little jagged and awkward. Some of the environments had a lot of detail, granted, but in general the game's cartoonish look was functional as opposed to anything else.
Overall, though, despite having an interesting concept as a foundation, Manual Samuel disappoints as a whole. The gameplay is repetitive and incredibly irritating at times and the humour that the campaign bases itself on is weak and the jokes don't land as well as Perfectly ParaNormal would have hoped. Some nice environments and an interesting concept unfortunately can't stop Manual Samuel being a short-lived and oftentimes frustrating experience.