A time long ago, the world was in turmoil (some things never change huh?), until heroes emerged from amidst the plebeians. These champions paved a way towards a golden age for humanity. Sadly, even in these prosperous times greed and envy flourished. A false prophet rose to power and turned the populace against its own kin, inciting hatred toward the heroes, who were then exiled. Heroes (Troy, Achilles and Hector) would return from exile and go on a pilgrimage to find the gods of the forlorn, and triumph over the the trials set for them. If successful they would be granted the power to form a new society in which everyone could live free of pain and struggle. These god-like champions emerged after many millennia, but when they did… they looked like a half-eaten meatball with eyes?
That completely unnecessary load of old bollocks is the nonsensical mythology behind Struggling. Why anyone at Chasing Rats Games thought their physics-based platformer featuring a hideous mutant needed that I'm not sure, but it certainly doesn't add anything to the game - other than a pretentious, painfully long, totally irrelevant, unskippable intro that is.
My oh my this is a strange one… I'm gonna start by trying to describe what you are in Struggling. You're a yucky, vaguely obscene, 3-eyed, 2-faced, 3-mouthed, 2-armed, squishy, muscly, horrific mutant abomination. Yeah that'll do it! Tragically, when they finally emerge, Achilles and Hector have become melded into each other (a bit like those transporter accidents in Star Trek or The Fly, only more hideous, and become Troy.
Struggling has you trying to navigate each level by crawling, dragging and swinging your way to the next checkpoint – a hole in the ground that looks like a trap, but thankfully saves your progress. It plays a bit like a few other games, the best known of which are probably Human Fall Flat and Gang Beasts, only you seem to have even less control over your arms and it all takes place on a 2D plane rather than in a 3D world.
You control an arm with each stick, and grab on to a surface, object, switch or lever by holding the corresponding trigger. Initially you just have to escape the laboratory full of other mutants that you find yourself in, avoid bottomless drop-offs and acid pools and navigate other relatively simple obstacles, but the game soon ramps up the difficulty and it won't be long and you'll find yourself constantly just praying for the next checkpoint. If you like old-school rock-hard games that kill you mercilessly, hurl you right back to the start if you miss a platform jump and make you feel like you have two left hands then you'll love Struggling, if you hate games that kill you a lot and make you play the same section over and over (and over and over and over) again then I'd stop reading now.
There's a section early on (we'll just say it involves a few rats) that I simply couldn't get past after 20 or more attempts! I feared I'd break my controller – and not in frustration (although that's a definite possibility with some gamers) but just by the amount of strain you put on the sticks as you desperately struggle your way through a level. There are moments of hilarity, sadness and bizarre surrealism in the game, but also indisputably moments of sheer genius tucked away in some of the levels, it's just a shame that so few players will see them because of the incessant, unforgiving difficulty. The hardest sections of the game expect you coordinate the two arms, performing actions simultaneously and in totally opposite directions, and although most gamers are quite dexterous, this sort of two-brained movement is a big problem for almost all of us.
As you progress you'll unlock Abomination God Blessings, like being able to detach your arms and use them remotely or slow down time. There are also dozens of hats (I mean, what else would these guys wear?) to collect, this is probably the funniest part of a game that tries hard to amuse you while it simultaneously tortures you, as some hats are in extremely difficult to reach areas which are indicated by voices that whisper "secret"…
If you want to share the pain (literally), you can try the co-op 2 player mode, and in what is probably a first for me, the co-op mode is actually harder than playing solo. This is because you each control an arm - Achilles and Hector - and all that entails. It's local co-op only, as I suspect merely a hint of lag would render even the early levels unplayable, and a basic understanding of the game's weird physics, precise co-ordination and instant communication is absolutely vital.
So here are some blatant problems we've found with the game; every now and then the collision detection is shockingly inaccurate, this can both help and hinder as you sometimes grab hold of things you're not even close to touching, and conversely sometimes hit or get hit by hazards that you should have missed. We also found that your arms get rolled up under your body or even tangled with each other, we've even got hands stuck in scenery, and if this happens early on all you can do is self-destruct and go back to the last checkpoint. Later on you can just press LB or RB to spawn a new arm, but it can still be a pain and result in a death.
When considering purchasing Struggling, factoring the cost of a new controller into the price of the game might be wise. I'm just thankful it didn't arrive during the Wii era, or family, small pets, furniture and the TV would have been at risk. was released over a year ago on PC and may well be a lot easier with a mouse & keyboard (though I doubt it) and I don't feel the game has been optimised very well for controllers, unless the wobbly sloppiness is intentional.
I'm not at all sure that Struggling won't just alienate, nah, let's not mix words here: piss off the average player so much in their first play that they'd never want to struggle again. I mean, haven't we ALL been struggling enough for the last year and a half? Don't we all like games that empower you, make you feel powerful and agile?
Kudos to Chasing Rats Games for trying something different and making a repulsive yet funny game – although I don't have a clue who it's aimed at. Maybe if they toned down the struggle, made your arms a tad stronger, a bit more controllable, or even added a difficulty option and called it 'Novice', ''Easy', 'Wimp', 'I Can't Afford Another Controller' or 'This Game Makes My Hands Feel Like I've Got Arthritis So Gimme a Flippin' Break' mode I'd be happier, but as it stands I just don't think Struggling will be very popular. It's simply too difficult and requires a level of skill, determination and perseverance that I'm not sure many gamers have any more.
There are too many insta-deaths™ and too far between checkpoints, which makes progress painful and means you'll be replaying sections a lot. I'd also like to see one of the development team play the game for an hour or two, and see what sort of physical and emotional state they're in at the end, because Struggling has frustrated me more than any other game this year.
So despite really liking the basic gameplay, the craziness of the plot and the visuals, a game that made my hands ache, the veins bulge and a tension headache start to build in my neck after prolonged sessions is hard to recommend – unless you're a masochist of course. But, y'know how you can't help wanting that girl/bloke/thing that you know is bad for you? I kept going back and back until I finished it, and it's probably up there (or should it be down there?) in the top 3 hardest games I've ever played. Struggling may just be the most aptly titled game ever, because that's exactly what you'll be doing from the first screen to the last.