From the title of the game alone, you can already get a pretty good idea of how it’s going to play out. In Dirty Land, you step into the worn-out shoes of Frank Marsh, a real estate salesman against the backdrop of the harsh 80s and 90s. The subtitle reads, “Thrill of the Sale”, but in reality, the life of Frank Marsh is anything but thrilling, what with being on the run from the mob after losing his life savings in a sketchy poker game. He packs up his bags and makes a run for it with his wife and kids, hoping to start a new life in a new city, because what could go wrong, right?
The game then starts with you as a low-level salesman trying to close deals in a shady real estate office. You get lead cards with details about your prospects, from alcoholics you can take advantage of with a drink or two to straight-up jerks who think you’re the scum of the earth (but you have to sit through their insults if you really want to close the sale, anyway). You cold-call these people and essentially hope to take advantage of them, spending money to make money by buying them drinks and food and loosening them up for the big catch. Then, you hand over the pen and the contract and sell them land that likely isn’t worth much, just so you can get your name up in chalk on the office board.
Of course, it doesn’t help that your manager’s a total doofus, who has the nerve to pin the death of his stupid fish on you by dumping its corpse on your desk.
So, you can either play nice and be the spineless, brown nosing suck-up without a shred of dignity in his body, or actually call your boss out for being a Class A jerk and risk getting fired. It’s a tough world out there, and while you might want to stand up for yourself, your logbook tells you to do otherwise. The negative bottom line after expenses is a constant reminder that you need money to survive in this world, and keeping your dignity doesn’t pay the bills.
But closing sales does.
Canadian indie devs Naturally Intelligent does an amazing job of using the graphics and the background music to paint a picture of this bleak world run by greed. While the proof of concept demo is pretty short, what I did get to play intrigued me. It’s basically a test of how far you’d go to get up from the bottom of the food chain, so it’s all about closing sales even if it means going against your morals.
I also particularly enjoyed how there’s a great deal of strategy involved in closing sales more than just buying them drinks. Each lead card has some info on the prospect, and you really need to pay attention to them (for instance, I offered some nuts to this guy and it turned out he was allergic to peanuts, so there goes that sale). The good thing is you can buy hints from the dry cleaners and the hair salon next door, but nothing in this land is for free - you need to pay up to get any good dirt on your clientele.
To complicate matters, you not only have to work your butt off chasing those leads, but you also have to make sure that you keep the missus happy. She calls you from time to time, sometimes in the middle of a lead you’re chasing, and demands that you come home or she’ll be furious with you...or worse, ask for a divorce. You now have the choice to either stay in the office to close those leads before you get fired, or head home and spend time with your family, ending the day and eliminating any chance you might have to head up the corporate ladder.
I didn’t particularly like how the wife is portrayed here - she’s simply there to be a nuisance and she essentially acts as a hindrance to your success. But hey, it’s just the way it is. I’m looking forward to more fleshed out features in the future as promised by the devs, like actually being able to talk to your wife and play with your kids. That would be pretty neat.
Right now though, I actually really like what I see (the game is currently on Kickstarter, and I hope it gets its target funding). The proof of concept demo ends with a crime scene (someone murdered your good-for-nothing boss who may or may not have deserved it), but from what I’ve played, the choices you make define your whole gameplay experience. There are no do-overs - if you miss a sale, it’s gone, and when a day ends, you have no choice but to move on. It’s a great way to raise the stakes, and it makes you invest emotionally into the desperation of this cutthroat world even more.
Dirty Land makes you choose between selling your soul to get ahead or sticking to your moral principles and staying at the bottom rung of society. You can also borrow money from a seemingly well-meaning co-worker who will spot you $20 without you knowing if there’s a catch or not. Plus, there will supposedly be multiple endings, with a possible one where the mobsters you owe money to find you and murder you, and one where you lose your whole family. The possibilities are endless, and if Naturally Intelligent pulls it off, then we just might have a diamond in the rough in our hands.