Jaws dropped when Hard Time 2D appeared in the App Store. The cult PC classic, with poor graphics, typos and cliched missions, landed on iOS rather quietly. In the week after its launch, it rocketed to the top of the App Store charts, attracting two very different types of review: those who recognised its genius, and those who had no idea what they had experienced.
The game’s developer MDickie is somewhat of a legendary figure in the video game world. His low-budget simulator games are often described as “cult classics” and “so bad they’re good”. For the record, he resents that second description. MDickie prefers to style himself as “The world’s greatest solo game developer”. Mat Dickie’s games are usually re-skins of an overly-complicated wrestling simulator that he built in 2001. Since then, he has gone on to produce games such as The You Testament – a Jesus simulator, Talksport: Clash of the Titans – a football pundit debate simulator and the infamous Hard Time – a prison life simulator.
Hard Time 2D, free for iOS and Android and available from mdickie.com
Instead of creating my own inmate, I decided to use the first character Hard Time 2D suggested: A Michael Jackson clone named “Quincey Jaxx”. I was hauled in front of a judge and charged with cruelty to animals. After receiving my 95-day sentence and learning the rules of the prison, it was time to explore.
Immediately, I discovered why Hard Time 2D is free. There is a constant scrolling, animated advertisement banner in the top right of the screen. To say this is distracting is an understatement. Animated adverts flash and wiggle constantly when playing the game unless you purchase a license.
Unperturbed, I tried to find my jail cell to go to sleep. The maddeningly complicated control scheme meant that instead of waving at another prisoner, Quincey Jaxx grabbed him and kicked him in the face. A crowd gathered as I extricated myself from the bleeding mess. As I slept, the game’s token Muslim inmate patrolled outside my cell with a knife. An animated advert for dating site Zoosk flashed on screen as the prison’s intercom system accused me of rape.
After spending my second day in virtual prison being harassed by my fellow inmates and attacked by vicious wardens, I tried to be a little smarter. Styling myself as Michael Jackson crossed with the character Red from The Shawshank Redemption, I took to bartering to make friends. One prison guard paid me to ferry drugs around the prison. I stole cigarettes from the chapel and sold them for a few dollars in another cell block. I punched a disabled inmate, stole his crutches, and sold them back to him for $64. My reputation increased as I kicked guards in the face, but decreased when I attacked my fellow prisoners.
Day three was not good for Quincey Jaxx. After a night spent sleeping on the floor because a tattooed man stole my bed, I was running dangerously low on whatever the yellow line next to the brain icon means. I visited the game’s toilets, but my character was out of brain power. No longer under my control, Quincey Jaxx took on a life of his own, grabbing a toilet roll and repeatedly attacking another inmate with it. Eventually I regained control, but Quincey was so tired that he collapsed on the floor sobbing next to the man he had attacked. A scrolling advert for the Amazon Mobile app flashed on the screen as the attacked inmate bled and cried on the floor of the shower.
Days passed in prison and Quincey largely kept himself out of trouble. I started to gain a vague idea of what the coloured letter buttons on screen meant thanks to the random elderly inmates who sprinted up to me to tell me about them during the game’s lockdown period.
I developed a close relationship with another inmate. He visited my cell and hugged me at night. After that he climbed into my bed. I tried to get in with him. Perhaps mindful of his damaging rape accusation, my fake-Michael Jackson character instead opted to sleep on the floor next to his bed. An advert for the Amazon Mobile app advertised their selection of bedsheets, mocking me as I slept on the ground beneath my prison friend.
After an unfortunate incident involving some dynamite, a sword, another inmate and my character’s toilet meter emptying, I was arrested for terrorism by famed rapper Rick Ross.
A scrolling advertisement for an English firm of solicitors flashed as Jaxx’s terrorism trial was held. It was an unexpected triumph, with the prison’s court ruling in my favour. I returned to my cell, only to be confronted by several guards and inmates while I slept. They kicked and stabbed Quincey to death and the game faded to black. When I started a new character – a female with facial hair sentenced to 76 days for impersonating the Messiah – the prison’s intercom system announced the murder, sending the facility’s condolences to Quincey’s family.
As you can probably tell, Hard Time 2D is one of the strangest games ever made. The fact that it was approved for the App Store is a triumph for MDickie. Sure, the constant advertising banner is annoying. But it does add to the game’s comical nature. Yes, the controls are utterly horrendous, offering a wide range of wrestling moves but a dangerously similar method for emptying your bowels and triggering dynamite. Despite its flaws, Hard Time 2D is one of the best games available on iOS, and one of the only games that has made me laugh out loud.