Industry newbie Midge Potter has just been hired as an animator at Shovelworks Studios, a struggling developer which has never managed to produce a game scoring over 3/10. Her coworkers include ketchup-obsessed Pylon, constantly angry Viper, cheery but weirdly terrifying Joan, and the absolutely useless robot assistant Timothy 3000. Midge soon learns that working for a game development studio is not quite the dream job she imagined.
Shovelworks' latest project is Surfing with Sharks, marketed as an "endless runner - but with an ending". However, the development process is fraught with struggles, ranging from picky protestors to the shady goings-on at the local game design college, air-headed boss Jeb's obsession with "pivoting," the need to impress investors and keep the basement-dwelling engineers satisfied, and more. Will Shovelworks be able to finish the game on time? Will they be able to score something higher than their usual 3/10?
Described as a hybrid between a sitcom and a video game, 3 Out Of 10 currently consists of five episodes, each taking approximately one to two hours to complete. Gameplay consists of animated cut scenes alternating with short exploration systems and a wide variety of mini-games. All mini-games are completely skippable (even once they've been started,) meaning that players can customize their experience to challenge themselves or simply enjoy the story. You can watch, you can play, or you can do a little bit of both - it's all up to you!
The only objective is to complete each episode's story, but each one also features a secondary goal of collecting as many stars as possible. I was a bit bummed out to find that all star collection did was earn you a place on a leaderboard at the end of every episode, but it still provided a fun challenge. Focusing on star collection also allowed me to discover a number of hidden secrets during the game's exploration segments, ranging from collectible rubber ducks to less-than-delicious recipes to assorted pages of a hilarious fantasy novel about yaks. (Yes, you read that right. Yaks.)
Despite the game's exploration segments usually being fairly short, with one or two objectives such as talking to various characters, I was consistently impressed with the amount of detail included. Every line of the game was fully voiced, with the voice actors doing a consistently amazing job bringing their characters to life. Little references to other games were scattered around each episode, ranging from the subtle (a lecture on the deeper meaning of Pong in an optional classroom in Episode 2: Foundation 101) to the utterly blatant (a nameless, faceless protestor in Episode 1: Welcome to Shovelworks unfavorably comparing Surfing with Sharks to Witcher III). My favorite background element were the radio segments, hosted by two side characters named "Jade" and "Breeze," which parodied constantly unsatisfied gaming fans while also providing bits of foreshadowing regarding each episode's plot.
The mini-games were a bit more of a mixed bag, though this seemed to be an inevitable result of developer Terrible Posture Games' desire to make them as varied as possible and not repeat games between episodes. Some of my favorites included the Legend of Zelda-like "Infiltrate Canada" in Episode 5: The Rig Is Up and the boss battle against Jeb in Episode 3: Pivot Like a Champion, where Midge was forced to use her co-worker Pylon as ammunition. I found myself willingly replaying these games in order to get a 5-star scores. On the other hand, some games were frustrating or repetitive, in particular the driving segment in Foundation 101, which suffered from extremely awkward controls and a far-too-short time limit. However, because the games can all be skipped, I never got too annoyed with even the most difficult or "un-fun" offerings. Also, I especially loved that we got a new version of Surfing with Sharks to try out in each episode - it genuinely felt like Shovelworks' in-universe game was growing and improving as time went on.
As fun as the mini-games were, 3 Out Of 10's greatest strength was definitely its characters and plot. Every member of Shovelworks Studios was extremely fun to get to know - even perennial plot obstacle and "idea man" Jeb was more of a "love to hate" type than a truly despicable antagonist. In particular, the main trio of Midge, Pylon, and designer Kevin (who often played a 'straight man" role to the wackier members of the studio, but was not without his own quirks) had a really fun chemistry and were quite enjoyable central characters. I do wish that artist Ben (another "straight man" type) and HR manager Francine (a shopaholic dog lover who didn't seem to actually enjoy video games at all) had gotten a bit more focus, but, overall, the Shovelworks team made for a pretty great ensemble.
Plot-wise, the game drew from its sitcom inspirations with a mostly episodic format. Each of the five parts featured a mostly self-contained story, usually about a problem that came up in Surfing with Sharks' development and how the team members handled it. The episodes parodied various real-life elements of the game development process, such as persistent technical errors, the need to purchase cheap assets, and of course the dreaded "pivot" - Episode 3 revolves around Jeb suddenly deciding that their endless runner game would work better as a battle royale! You don't have to have worked in the gaming industry to understand 3/10's jokes - anyone who is a gaming fan will definitely find plenty of humor in the struggling studio's constant problems.
Unfortunately, the episodic plot meant that not all story segments were quite as strong. I found Foundation 101, with its brutal, no-holds-barred criticism of game design colleges and internship programs, to be the weakest of the five, while Episode 4: Thank You For Being an Asset to the Company, which saw Francine redecorating the office and Midge finally meeting the basement-dwelling Engineers, to be the strongest. However, I don't think any of them were truly bad, and all five episodes were ultimately quite enjoyable to play.
The game's first five episodes did introduce a bit of an overarching plot - hinting that Midge might have joined Shovelworks for less-than-altruistic reasons, and that some sort of shady conspiracy was the real reason behind the studio always producing such bad games. I would have liked to see a little bit more of this plot addressed in the first five episodes, as it was pretty much limited to small mentions throughout, but I understand that Terrible Posture plans to make more episodes in the series and probably felt the need to keep players hooked with a cliffhanger.
Ultimately, 3 Out Of 10 is a fun experience which is benefited by its play-at-your-own-pace capability and the fact that it is designed to be enjoyed in small, easily digestible chunks. I certainly look forward to playing more episodes in the series (and would be happy to review them as they come out - drop me a line, Terrible Posture!) I think anyone who enjoys humor and can see the comedy inherent in the video game community will enjoy this series of games as much as I did.