There’s a lot of love out there for grim Britain, but not a lot of actual love letters to it. Thankfully we now have Landlord’s Super, a true homage to the true bleakness of northern 1980s England that’s also a weirdly addictive renovation-and-miserable-life simulator from Minskworks, the developer behind cult car-fixing sim Jalopy.
It’s in early access at the moment, so the scope’s a little limited – and the game’s pretty easily finished, taking about five hours or so for now – but what’s there is great. The premise is this: you wake up in a caravan to find that you’ve successfully exercised your right to buy – as a privileged southerner born in the 90s I’m unfamiliar, but that’s a Thatcherite scheme allowing you to buy your own council house, my butler tells me – but the problem is, your council house is a mess. It’s missing bricks, missing foundations, missing internal walls, windows, roofing, the works.
You’re also skint, which means it’s time to pull yourself up by the bootstraps and also time to get acquainted with the main premise of Landlord’s Super: you can graft, which is slow and repetitive and boring, or you can cut a few corners. At every milestone of your renovation there’s a little bit of temptation to bend the rules, like a tipoff from the local chancer that there’s some loose bricks from a crumbling wall just by the pub, or a load of free materials in someone’s back garden. The point being that a town stripped of its jobs from mine closures and completely dearth of investment isn’t exactly the land of opportunity.
Each day you’ll have to walk on foot (or pay for a bus) to the nearby town of Sheffingham, which like much of what I’m told about England in the early 80s feels like and as such is a sort of mundane, Python-esque interpretation of hell on Earth. The town features a total of one miserable pub, a job centre, two hardware shops, a row of terraced houses and a load of boarded up buildings. Early on you’ll get a job, but it’s a bit of a grind: pot washing at the pub for minimum wage. Earn enough from that, and selling the odd bit of scrap or “resourcefully found” materials, is what pays for the building materials and tools you need to fix up your house. You can learn how to do it yourself, or ask Scouse to scribble some diagrams in your notebook, and then it’s rinse (literally, in the shower, to keep your hygiene meter topped up) and repeat.
The work is hypnotically soothing, laying brick after brick, getting it wrong and having to bus it all the way back into town to do another shift at the pub, so you can buy a sledgehammer, so you can come back and hit your shoddy wall with it and start again. Maybe you’ll mix some weak mortar and pay the price for that later on. Maybe you’ll fall off the roof because it’s raining, again. Maybe you’ll look down at your pocket to get your notepad out but accidentally drop your zipper and start pissing all over your caravan, like me. Each day an opportunity, albeit one restricted by your energy (topped up with a pint, at the expense of your ability to actually do anything, or by sleeping), and also the actual weather and light. Wake up, wash dishes, sleep. Wake up, buy materials, sleep. Wake up, do some shoddy renovation, and so on.
It sounds grim and it is – but it’s great! The magic is the comedy of it all, ripping into British patriotism with, ironically, the kind of pathos the British are actually good at, a few Madness-esque jingles playing while you sit proud in the knowledge that we do boring better than anyone else. Masters of the manual and the mundane. The town’s dotted with bleak graffiti and miserable slogans, the weather’s almost always horrid, and the only thing to do with your time – other than work – is to while away the hours with a few sad old men in the pub. Drink Landlord’s or be a landlord. Not a great choice, but that’s the point.