BarnFinders is a game that I am deeply conflicted about. It’s the exact sort of mindless, meditative gaming experience that I love so much, most of which involves you finding, repairing and selling various flotsam and jetsam at your own junk shop. It also is a game that is tremendously unfunny and at incredibly problematic in the way it represents various ethnicities and cultures.
Clearly aping the likes of reality television shows like Storage Wars and American Pickers, BarnFinders puts you in charge of your very own, rundown junk shop somewhere in the southeast portion of a fictionalized America. Your establishment is pretty miserable at first, boasting nothing more than a dingy storefront and a beat-up truck. Eventually you can upgrade just about everything, but it still retains that unkempt feel.
Just like real life, your computer in BarnFinders is the heart of the operation allowing you to accept various jobs and travel to different locales. Jobs boil down to a borderline incomprehensible email asking you to retrieve a specific item from a location and mail it back to the sender. After accepting the job, you need to front the cash to drive your truck to any new location you wish to go to, but that’s only necessary when you first go to a destination.
You arrive at the location which can range wildly from barns, houses, bunkers and more, and are reminded of what item you’re there for, as well as a progress bar that ticks down as you collect other items you can resell currently in the dwelling. It’s just enough information to let you know there’s something you missed without explicitly telling you what it was, ultimately making it a fun little puzzle that can get pretty tedious after enough meandering through the level.
Chairs, hard hats, traffic cones, laptops and other notable items are usually prime for resale, while the deluge of cardboard boxes and hay bales that litter the area can be broken down into repairing components that you can use to fix certain broken big ticket items like televisions and microwaves. Aside from fixing things, you’ll also find items that can’t be sold, but can be combined with other items to make more rare and expensive products to sell like motorcycles and what definitely is an Atari 2600. Finally there’s just dirty items that need to be hosed off before they can sold which can be anything, but the first one you’ll come across is a blow-up sex doll.
Once you load all of that stuff into your truck, you head back home and prepare your merchandise to put on sale the next day. This includes the aforementioned cleaning, fixing and building of components that you’ll find throughout levels. But you won’t be able to just do those things because you need to buy the various stations that allow you to perform those actions. You also need to buy tools like an ax, a shovel and some lock picks, as well as a price gun that allows you to upgrade the interior of your store.
The store has a few spots for wall shelves, display cases and free standing displays, all of which hold different sized items. A washing machine needs a free standing display, while a guitar is hung on the wall. Where you put things doesn’t matter, because this whole section of the game is incredibly underwhelming but extremely necessary to progressing. You also can change the flooring and wall coverings, but despite how much they cost they’re all varying degrees of filthy.
Once you have your shelves packed with the garbage you rescued from various dumps, you get to open up shop and meet the very small cast of characters in BarnFinders. This is where things go from uninteresting, to aggressively bad. The characters in this game are all different stereotypes, including the co-owner of your store, your uncle. Being set in the southeast, BarnFinders leans into a lot of the stereotypes about the people from those areas, portraying your uncle as an uneducated, scraggly-haired redneck. Also in this cast of characters is an Asian woman named Lady Dragon and an African-American man dressed in Rastafarian garb, constantly smoking a blunt.
It’s all part of that aggressively unfunny “sense of humor” I mentioned up top. In addition to that, the characters all speak in noises and grunts while text bubbles appear near them, some of which are problematic as well. You’ll hear and see a lot of these things during the tremendously mundane retail portion of the game, where customers appear in your shop in front of objects they want to buy. You being the employee of the month, go up to them and can either elect to sell at the default price or haggle with them. Haggling in this case means to play a bad timing based mini-game that sometimes just doesn’t work.
Speaking of bad mini-games and terrible “humor,” the parts of BarnFinders where you have to bid on properties is hilariously thin as well. Some barns or houses will require you to own them before you can actually pick through them, which means you’ll have to enter an auction for it. The only people who ever show up to these auctions are the same characters as I mentioned earlier, but this time their text bubbles will shout various insults at you whenever you outbid them. These too are written in an insanely problematic way that I won’t go into, but you can imagine what they are like.
Outside of having terrible writing being hurled at you, in an auction you’re allowed to raise the price by a modest amount or a large amount, both of which change depending on the item itself. I’m fairly certain that none of this matters however, and the auction ends once you’ve hit a certain price threshold. It feels like the game decided that a certain house was worth ten-thousand dollars, started the bidding at five thousand, and would keep the auction going till you made it past the ten grand price tag. This is evidenced by the fact that no matter how long you wait to put in a bid, the auction timer won’t start to count down nor even reveal itself until you’ve made it to a certain point. It’s this smokescreen that very quickly dissipated and revealed nothing more than another time wasting mini-game in its place.
What I do like about some of the properties you acquire however, is how expansive they can be. Some levels are multi-layered and require some light puzzle-solving and platforming to find mission critical items. There’s also the fact that some of these levels are spookier than others, but BarnFinders is courteous enough to ask you upon starting said level if you’d like to be scared or not. I wish that kind of courtesy extended to other aspects of the game, but this was a pleasant surprise that accounted for my low threshold for fear, or as others might call it, “cowardice.”
There’s also this gigantic alien sub-plot that I can’t even get into because of how absurd it was, but just know that aliens play a large part in BarnFinders. It’s bizarre and ends up becoming a weird focal point of the game, but I don’t think it’s any worse for including these story beats.
It’s hard to feel good about playing BarnFinders when there’s just some really unnecessary bullshit that are just hurtful and tone deaf. Even from a purely gameplay focused standpoint BarnFinders makes it seem like there’s a lot to do and consider, but there really isn’t much new to do as you play for a few hours. Outside of level design and maybe one level specific item, there’s really nothing mechanically engaging to do after the first 3 hours of play and that’s probably for the best.