Struggling is the most grotesque game I’ve ever played. Starring Troy, a gruesome blob trapped in an underground science laboratory, each player controls one of their limbs as they play through the couch co-op in a desperate bid for freedom.
Battling ravenous rats, pools of toxic waste, genetically-modified aberrations and gravity, the part physics-based puzzler, part rage game, is as frustrating as it is stomach-turning. I can’t stop playing it.
Alexis Gallant-Vigneault, the CEO and co-founder of Chasing Rats Games, laughs when he hears this. “That’s the whole point of the game. We want to keep that element of surprise and have the player desperate to see what the next crazy thing about the game is.”
Released last year on Steam and Nintendo Switch, Struggling is finally coming to Playstation and Xbox on September 8. Now even more people can test their patience with one of the most horribly unique games around.
Struggling is the first title Chasing Rats Games, an indie studio based in Montreal, ever made but Frontier Developments (Rollercoaster Tycoon, Jurassic World Evolution) are publishing the game as the debut release from their new label, Frontier Foundry. “Our journey into the world of self-publishing has always been underpinned by our passion to make memorable games that create legacies and break down boundaries,” said David Braben, Founder and CEO of Frontier, when the partnership was first announced.
At first the idea of working alongside a studio as big as Frontier was intimidating. “They were putting a lot of value in Struggling and we wanted to make sure we were able to deliver the best game possible,” says Gallant-Vigneault. “We didn’t want to fuck up, basically.” As soon as they started working with the production team though, “all those fears disappeared. We realised we just had all the resources we needed to build a better game.”
Chasing Rats Games was “started by accident,” according to Gallant-Vigneault. While at college, he and two friends would spend their evenings and weekends working on a game so they had something of a portfolio to show potential employers once they graduated. The project was centred around the idea of two players controlling one character and originally, it was going to star an ogre.
After programming just the arms though, they realised how much fun they could have with just two flailing limbs. “Simplicity is something that’s important. Because there are so many other challenges in the game, we knew we didn’t need a complex character controller. We just needed an interesting one.” Troy is certainly that.
Knowing they wanted to release a game on Steam (again, another accolade for their would-be CVs) and with all three dreaming of one day joining an indie label, they decided to just start their own. “Well, why not,” asks Gallant-Vigneault. “Worst-case scenario we hit a wall and end up back where we started. We had nothing to lose.”
Three years later and Chasing Rats Games now has a ten-person team alongside a clear identity and mission. “We do multiplayer games that are atypical at their core and always create a strong reaction. With Struggling, it’s the fact you’re playing as a screeching pile of flesh. With upcoming title Worship, we’re talking about weird cartoon cults and cute creatures being sacrificed.”
Inspired by the couch co-ops they’d play in college to blow off steam, Crawl, Stick Fight, the Chasing Rats team wanted to create a game that would inspire the same communal fun.
“Struggling is an identity crisis. The whole time we were developing the game, from the first line of code to two weeks before release, we were always questioning ourselves. Do we want to be a rage-based game or an adventure/party thing. We like something that feels rewarding when you beat it but we didn’t want people to miss out on the crazy stuff that comes later because they found the game too hard.
“We ended up in the middle because we didn’t want to commit.” He doubts anyone who’s played the game will believe him “but there are a lot of things that are easier now than they were a few weeks before launch.”
It was a smart decision because the adventure aspect is what shines the most in Struggling. “People remember the crazy encounters a lot more than when they were able to beat one hard part of the game.”
Chasing Rats Games’ website proudly states that their mission is to create games “that are as fun to play as they are to watch” and in its own unique way, Struggling is a beautiful game. With Adult Swim style animation, the developers “always knew the game was going to be divisive. People will either love it or not want to touch it with a ten-foot pole.”
They stuck to a couple of rules throughout the game. “There’s no blood because we wanted disgusting, not gore. And there’s no hair because that would cross a line where things could get too gross,” explains Gallant-Vigneault. In short, they didn’t want their protagonist Troy to look like a crawling testicle.
“With this absurd, grotesque art style, we want to reach Rick & Morty fans,” he continues. “If a show like that can shine, we know that Struggling has a place alongside that.”
Despite three years of growth and working with a AAA publisher like Frontier Foundry, Struggling still feels like a title dreamed up by three students drinking beer and playing games in their basement. “There’s a lot of authenticity in this game. Sure, there’s been a lot of development with the company and we’re learnt a lot but the college aspect of Struggling is still there. It’s a really great way of capturing the friendship we had when we were first developing the game.”
However their next game Worship is completely different. “People talk about how disgusting the character in Struggling is and with every game, we want to hit the sweet spot of it feeling a little edgy and like it’s pushing boundaries. With Struggling, that was this fleshy, screaming, in-your-face blob. With Worship, it looks far more cute but it leans into the grim and the macabre with the gameplay.”
Inspired by Pikmin, Worship is an open world, roguelike multiplayer, up to four-players can play as cultists. Their job is to recruit followers that are devoted to an ancient god that’s trying to cause the end of the world. “At first you use your own health to perform rituals but as the game goes on, you start sacrificing these cute, Fall Guys-esque creatures. It’s a little more subtle than Struggling but it will still cause strong reactions.”
As an indie studio, Chasing Rats Games are excited by the upcoming Steam Deck, “it’s a really great way to make PC gaming a lot more accessible. I’m expecting a lot from it,” but they know it’s important to keep releasing on consoles if they can. “Because of the simplicity of consoles, they’ll always be a market,” says Gallant-Vigneault. Whatever the platform though, “we always want to make sure we’re doing weird games.”
Struggling is available on Steam and Nintendo Switch now. It’s out on Xbox and Playstation from September 8.