Harrison Abbott chats with Billy Goat Entertainment about Parcel Corps, satirizing the gig economy and hearkening back to Crazy Taxi…
A bicycle-courier sim might not sound like the most electrifying pitch for a video game, yet there’s more to Parcel Corps than just ferrying Amazon consignments around and loitering at fast food joints while they prepare someone’s takeout for delivery.
On the contrary, it’s a very heightened take on the occupation, with cartoony visuals, larger-than-life characters and a flagrant disregard for the laws of physics. Indeed, the experience isn’t about obeying the rules of the road or getting packages to customers in a leisurely 30 minutes or less, so much as it is about jumping on cars, riding along walls, performing daredevil stunts and evading the cops at breakneck speed.
During Gamescom 2023, we got to see all of this zaniness in action as we were treated to an extensive (albeit hands-off) demo of Parcel Corps. Here, we had a chance to experience its core gameplay loop and oddball sense of humour, while also chatting with the developers, Billy Goat Entertainment, about their idiosyncratic vision.
Incredibly arch, Director Will Barr answered every question with the kind of self-effacing irony that you’d expect from a studio that describes themselves as “purveyors of moderately amusing video games”. Yet despite the heavy-sarcasm, you could still tell that the Belfast native was incredibly passionate and enthusiastic about his project, and that the team had really thought things through. Here’s what we discussed…
Flickering Myth: Although this is obviously intended to be an arcadey experience — with gameplay being the top priority — there is a bit more going on from a story perspective isn’t there? Could you set that up for us?
Will Bar: We definitely took a lot of inspiration from these old-school, colourful Sega titles, like Jet Set Radio or Crazy Taxi. But there’s also a bit of Tony Hawk and Sunset Overdrive in there. And just like with those titles, the emphasis here is on getting around the city in a fun, stylish way.
As you said, however, we do have a bit more of a story unfolding in the background. The basic idea is that you are a bicycle courier trying to survive in a really oppressive gig economy and [as a result of these circumstances] you are living a proper hand-to-mouth existence. Making things worse, there are rival courier factions in the city all vying for the same clients as you, which means that there’s this competitive element to the business too.
Complicating matters even further still, there’s a megalomaniacal oil tycoon — by the name of Rich Villainé — who you’ll also have to deal with. Because of fairly contrived, nonsensical reasons he is trying to destroy the world by melting the polar ice caps. Which is of course a perfectly rational thing to do!
Part of his strategy here is to accelerate the environmental apocalypse by using his influence to lobby for the banning of green transportation. This naturally affects your bottom line as it leads to the authorities trying to clamp down on cyclists like yourself. So, you ultimately have to put your differences with the other courier firms aside, and work together to disrupt Villainé’s plan.
Speaking of those rival bicycle companies, there are three factions in the game for you to choose from. What can you tell us about them?
Yeah, so you get to choose between joining one of three corporations at the start of Parcel Corps, each with its own unique characters and abilities.
There’s the pan-European outfit, “Das-la Poste”, who are all super hardcore and ultra-professional. Then you’ve got the Anglo-Australian start-up, “Wallaby Wheelers”, who are not too dissimilar from the Just Eats of this world. And, last but not least, there’s the East Coast Couriers. They’re essentially our American faction, comprised of a bunch of hip New Yorkers.
Based on everything you’ve said so far, I think it’s safe to say that Parcel Corps is pretty tongue-in-cheek. Who are the targets of the satire here?
Oh yeah, the tone itself is supposed to be a little satirical. Between each of the levels, we have this live action news segment which we use to push the story along a bit, but it’s also where we take the mick out of certain people and trends. Things like influencers, social media and corporations.
Another conceit of the game is that you are livestreaming everything you do in an attempt to squeeze a bit of extra cash out of your job, which is itself kind of commenting on today’s gig economy. But it also means that we have the opportunity to sneak in even more satire through the things people say in the livestream chat in the corner of the screen. It’s really something that we’ve tried to implement throughout.
Moving on to the actual gameplay side of things now, how did you strike a balance between accurately depicting what it’s like to cycle and indulging in those more arcadey elements? How realistic of a simulator experience should we expect this to be?
With a lot of other cycling games on the market, there is usually a big emphasis on maintaining your balance, as that’s supposedly more realistic.
Yet we don’t bother with any of that here. Our rationale being that, in real life, you’re not really conscious of how you [distribute your weight] on a bike. It just sort of happens naturally.
So we don’t complicate the game with any of that balancing stuff. Instead, your character controls pretty much the same as they would in any other third-person title where you are on foot. Because of that streamlining, we’ve been able to free up all of the buttons on the controller to allow you to do properly mad things that would [otherwise] be quite difficult to pull off.
On the other hand, we have tried to be a bit more realistic when it comes to the braking system. In real life you’ve got two brakes [on the handlebars] right? So we just thought it made sense to replicate that on the controller with the use of triggers. We’ve made it so that the right trigger is your back brake, allowing you to do skids and stuff, while the front brake is mapped to the left trigger. It’s our way of trying to make it all feel a little more immersive.
For the most part, though, we’ve taken a very Sunset Overdrive approach. You’ll be bunny hopping on cars like they’re trampolines, grinding on rails, riding your bike along walls and making huge jumps without taking any fall damage. It’s all about doing insane tricks and being as stylish as possible.
That presumably comes to the fore in the game’s “Delivery Rush” mode. Could you explain how that works?
Absolutely, you will need to be doing lots of crazy stunts to get around the city with [the utmost] haste in Delivery Rush.
In a nutshell, as you recruit more businesses by completing missions in the main game, you’ll get an influx of random, optional delivery assignments that you can complete to increase your loyalty with them. As well as to get a little extra cash for upgrading your bike.
But increasing the business’ loyalty is supposed to be your main incentive, as that will get you increased time in Delivery Rush. Which is kind of like our Crazy Taxi, time-attack mode, wherein you’ve got to try and string deliveries together and keep the streak going for as long as possible.
To stop that mode from becoming repetitive, we’ve tried to make sure that every assignment you undertake has different parameters. Sometimes you will be delivering fragile cargo, and so will need to avoid busier routes and collisions, while other times you might go out of your way for a much bumpier ride. For example, you might need to shake up a milkshake.
In Delivery Rush, you can also deliver packages in any given order, which adds a strategic element as you try to figure out which pick-up and drop-off points are in close proximity. If you know the map layout, as well as all of the various detours, shortcuts and police [hotspots] then you can make real tactical decisions here.
You mentioned bike customisation just then. Is that going to be strictly cosmetic or will you be able to upgrade your ride?
No, the bike customisation is entirely cosmetic. That being said, the characters themselves can be levelled up as you progress throughout the game.
We were careful not to let you upgrade stats like speed or acceleration, because that would disrupt the balance of a lot of things. Case in point, a lot of the jump distances have been purposefully calculated so that you can only just make them. Being able to increase your speed would inevitably mess with that.
So, what we’ve done instead is give our characters upgradable abilities. For example, there’s one guy who has a stomp move that can get rid of police, while another has extra capacity for hauling more packages at once. That’s the stuff you can level up here, rather than your bike itself.
Published by Secret Mode, Parcel Corps will launch in 2024 on PC, PS5, and Xbox Series X|S.