A promotional image from the game's website, featuring some of the characters.
When you think of a visual novel, you probably think of pursuing super sexy romantic interests (or pigeons). Most of the interactions in these games involve choosing which way to compliment your virtual crush. At first I thought Let's Meat Adam would be another dating simulator (only this time with goats). But it's actually a game that takes a complex look at issues within the gay community.
Let's Meat Adam is a puzzle-based visual novel in which social media celebrity Adam and his friend Vince visit an escape mansion (like an escape room, but larger). They, along along with seven other strangers, are pitted against a sadistic masked killer named "Goatman." Goatman gives them nine hours to solve all the house's puzzles or else they will be slaughtered.
All the characters are queer, but there are only two romantic options you can pursue. The game includes graphic depictions of gore, gay sex, and strong language, so it's definitely geared towards an adult audience. While it looks like a dating sim, dating isn't the game's main focus.
Screenshot of the characters (from left to right) Pierce, Kang, and Bart.
Adam is kind of a dick, which is fitting for the game's murder thriller vibe. Adam's friend Vince, an aspiring actor, has taken Adam to West Hollywood parties and helped him network, but despite all this Adam thinks at one point, "He thinks he's mentoring me, a new kid on the block, but I think he's lucky to have a friend like me."
At another point in the game, Adam expresses some racist sentiments that made me like him even less. Four of the game's characters — Vince, Earl, Kang, and Lucky — are people of colour. When Adam meets Earl, he comments that Earl is "...pretty cute for an Asian," contributing to the Asian-men-aren't-attractive stereotype. This is all within the game's opening moments. After 10 minutes, I thought, "Well, if there's a killer after Adam, he probably has it coming."
But once the player takes control of Adam, there's the chance to make him a decent human being. When Lucky — the jittery, frightened member of the group — says that he doesn't want to be paired up with creepy Steve, you can make the decision to comfort Lucky or to tell him to shrug it off. Throughout the game, you can either have Adam be nice or continue to be a jerk.
All the choices you make influence which of the game's multiple endings you get. I have played several visual novels where I have acted like a total jerk and made bad decisions, but still had a good or decent ending, but Let's Meat Adam doesn't let you get away with that. I played most of my game nicely: refusing to leave people behind, helping people who were trapped, and comforting upset characters. But at the end of my playthrough, I became suspicious of a certain character and chose to leave them behind.
At the end of the game, when I found myself pleading for my life, I found that no matter what combination of dialogue options I tried, I was doomed. I had to squeamishly sit through the bad ending over and over again. I only made one bad decision, but the one I made was the most unforgivable.
Puzzle solving is simple but fun. Each room in the game requires solving a puzzle in order to leave it. You can click and search through the rooms to obtain clues; you can also talk to your partner for help. When you've collected enough clues and decoded the numbers, you can input your answer into the keypad on the exit door. If the answer's correct, you move on to the next room. If it's wrong, you have to keep trying, though the game doesn't penalise you. The time doesn't actually matter, which detracts from the suspense the game builds.
The game's romantic options are less fun than the puzzles, unfortunately. You can either choose grumpy, muscular Bart or douchey frat boy Pierce. Both of their bad personalities turned me off. Bart harped on how I was desperate for attention because I was a celebrity. Pierce couldn't stop thinking about sex for five minutes to help me solve a puzzle. Why would I want to date a jerk? Who I really wanted was Earl.
Your two romantic options, Bart (left) and Pierce, (right), argue over how to save Thor — I mean, er, Lars.
Earl was confident and cute. I made him my partner (much to his annoyance), and took him into the first room. He lectured me on how he could take care of himself, but as we attempted to solve the room's puzzle, we bonded. After we exited the room he smiled at me. I fantasized an ending where Earl and Adam escape the mansion, hand in hand. Imagine my crushing disappointment when I realised, no, they would not.
While I hated the romantic options in the game, I understand the reasons behind them. Earl wasn't an option because Adam isn't attracted to Earl. Adam's attracted to muscular, masculine characters because he doesn't want to be perceived as queer, which other characters call him out on. Dating ultra-beefy dudes helps Adam reinforce his own sense of masculinity. I feel bad for Adam in that regard, but I am impressed with the developer's ability to explore such a complex topic within this game.
Screenshot (from left to right) of Lucky, Vince, and Earl.
Racism in the gay community comes up repeatedly through the game. Some characters make racist comments. At one point, the killer reveals everyone's dating profiles and you'll find that some characters won't date people of certain races. At the end of the game, when the motivation for the escape mansion is revealed, themes of race and masculinity in the gay community feature prominently. These are not the usual topics of visual novels, but Let's Meat Adam addresses them in a straightforward if occasionally less-than-nuanced way.
While it can be raunchy and gory like a campy horror film, Let's Meat Adam is an intelligent game that sets out to tackle challenging themes. Gruesome but always engaging, it challenges the idea of what a visual novel is supposed to be.