What is that? A gas station management game
Release date: November 14, 2022
Developer: Monkey Moon
Editor: raw fury
Reviewed on: Nvidia GeForce GTX-970, Intel i7-4790K, 16GB RAM
Link: Official site (opens in a new tab)
Many management games, whether as big as SimCity or as small as Two Point Hospital, often operate on the premise that the only thing holding back the capitalist system is efficiency. With the right direction (that’s you), everything can work out perfectly. It’s a seductive fantasy that overlooks the contradictions inherent in the pursuit of profit. The corners that need to be cut and the sacrifices that need to be made to ensure the numbers continue to rise. Flat Eye isn’t a particularly great management game, but it’s more interesting than many of its peers. It centers the tension between the desire for a perfect system and the conflicting needs of that system, producing something more than the sum of its parts.
As a remote manager working for the incumbent company Flat Eye, you will oversee the operation of a pit stop in Iceland. Customers come to refuel and do some shopping. Like the best/worst conglomerates, Flat Eye uses one company to support many others. They come for gas, they buy groceries. Maybe a coffee. Sooner or later, this small depot will offer everything imaginable, from instant meals to medical consultations. Why settle for a corner of the market when you can have it all? After all, Amazon started out selling books but became…well, everything. Businesses have bottomless appetites, and Flat Eye is constantly pushing you to seek out expansion, new ways to tap into customers, and new lines of business to grab.
It’s a lovely little place, sure. The cold of Iceland makes your depot a cozy little haven of peace. The lo-fi visual style presents an unassuming dystopia, with bright colors and a clean design. I enjoyed tinkering with the layouts, down to installing small partitions between the self-service checkouts or placing welcoming cardboard cut-out characters next to my self-help booths to vacuum up personal data. Even knowing that I was a lackey for what might as well have been Weyland-Yutani or Walmart, I still got satisfaction from expanding it.
Your pit stop is handled by a single clerk whom you micromanage, enqueuing tasks for them and making sure they keep the shelves stocked and all store pods running. At first, it’s a simple and frankly boring task. Still, once the services offered by your little pit stop expand, you still have a little more to think about. It is necessary to create devices and services that complement each other, while conserving three main resources: energy, biomatter and data. For example, you’ll use biomatter – feces – from a smart toilet to turn it into food. Something I’m sure won’t be in the ads. Both devices require power supplied by geothermal generators (an Icelandic exclusive), and the smart toilets can also provide data to the self-help cabin. Different modules have different needs, so you’ll need to overlap them to have a working station.
It’s not particularly difficult, but as space or money becomes limited, you need to prioritize. Do you innovate? Are you focusing on getting as many people as possible through checkouts, maximizing sales? Or are you branching out by dividing your store to generate revenue from dozens of different services?
No matter what you choose, it’s quickly apparent just how thin that employee is. Self-service checkouts break down at comical speed, and most other devices don’t fare much better. A simpler game would allow for smart placement to compensate for this. Flat Eye isn’t that game. Instead, no matter how sneaky you are, it’s just impossible to keep things from breaking or keeping customers happy. At least not without crushing your employee.
Exhaustion is not the only threat to your employee’s health. They will get hurt. They could die. Repairs come with increasing risk of accidents and your clerk may meet a sudden unhappy end. Which, in terms of game systems, doesn’t really matter. You can simply hire someone to replace them. Business is progressing. Humans are just the fuel for the engine of business. The whole sequence of events, from death to hiring, is conveyed through cute corporate pop-ups, because there’s nothing companies can’t repackage to clean up their image.
While the visuals and design convey Flat Eye’s themes well, the explicit narrative bits feel a lot clunkier. Throughout the game, the best customers – bespoke NPCs your clerk can talk to – will enter the station. During these meetings, you can continue to micromanage your employee or let them choose what to say. These moments largely consist of eccentric individuals giving their views on Flat Eye or the declining state of the (modestly) 2022 alternative where things are (slightly) worse than our world. The writing is a bit flat and none of the dialogue options are ever particularly exciting. Worse, while having throwaway clerks serves the larger themes of the game, it leaves those narrative sequences without any sort of anchor. The clerk isn’t much of a character – certainly not one you can invest in – and none of your interactions ever seem to really shape the results.
These clients may be somewhat interesting, but overall they’re too thin to be convincing: a variety of archetypes that you can read like a book. Their appearance and interactions are largely tied to the introduction of new services or items in the repository, seemingly intended to provide additional context for each device. Instead, they spell out information that would have been better off subtle and understated. The uneasy feeling of what’s really going on is far more moving than a disgruntled eco-artist coming in and telling you “corporations are bad.” He’s trading shades for…well, I’m not sure he’s gaining anything from this transaction. It’s a shame because the narrative segments to break the management monotony is a good idea, it’s just disappointing by the monotony of these sequences.
In addition to these human NPCs, you’ll have to deal with the AI that secretly rules Flat Eye as it tries to guide you towards its goals – big goals, involving the future of humanity. Not bad at all. The sequences where they monologue a presentation they use as a cover to talk to you were novel at first, but quickly became obstacles that I pressed the jump button to skip.
There is also a messaging service in your manager’s desktop interface where you can talk to other people within the company. These chats are a bit more interesting simply because there’s more at stake. You can hurt or upset people, with your limited dialogue choices portraying you as someone oblivious to the exploitation around them at best or worse, partner in crime. When a coworker expresses that they don’t understand how you quickly rose above them when you’re so new to the company, you can blame luck as a cause or simply state that it’s all wrong. is just a meritocracy. No matter what you choose, you can’t really help this colleague in his situation. You benefit from the power structure but have very little power yourself. Even then, these dialogues don’t have as much of an impact as the management part of the game because, again, they explain what’s much more effective when left unsaid.
In the long run, Flat Eye definitely has its issues. To motivate you (or give you the opportunity to rebel), quotas are assigned to you each day. Along with customer satisfaction and revenue, these quotas affect your daily performance review. The better you do, the faster you can acquire new technologies and upgrade your station. Even at my most focused level, progress was quite slow and new ideas weren’t introduced quickly enough to avoid boredom. In attempting to emulate similar games for satirical purposes, to lay bare the often excluded realities of these titles, Flat Eye fails to emulate the depths of their management systems.
Flat Eye’s systems serve its narrative well enough for a few hours, but eventually boredom wins out. All that hectic work made me feel like a clerk running a random store, but having done that kind of work for real, I wasn’t very keen on going back to all those tasks. by heart. Even though it advances its themes, with your deposit inevitably heading for profit-making calamities, Flat Eye fails to present an engaging hook beyond its initially effective commentary. It lacks much to say long before its story ends, leaving players with a fairly simple little management game that doesn’t offer enough customization or systems to tinker with to generate anything compelling on its own.
I absolutely sympathize with the narrative goals of Flat Eye, and in many ways it succeeds. It’s just a shame that these efficient devices are undermined by lackluster writing and NPC interactions, or its core gameplay loop decaying into a bit of monotony. For much of its length, however, Flat Eye kept me tinkering with my little gas station. The vibrations are strong enough that I can recommend it, with some notable caveats. Had there been more depth to its management systems, Flat Eye might have overcome its narrative shortcomings; and with more engaging dialogue sequences, it could have made up for its basic structure. With the two, it could have been something very special.
That said, I liked Flat Eye. Even with the potential unrealized, I still enjoyed creating my little pit stop in the middle of nowhere. There’s a fun and dark business simulator here, despite what it lacks in real storytelling. The daily routine will inevitably depress you.