The art of a great crash-landing AKA the Launchpad McQuack principle

By Neil Merrett

“If it’s got wings, I can crash it!”Launchpad McQuack: professional pilot and duck

Totally Reliable Delivery Service, released on Nintendo Switch in 2020, developed by We’re Five Games

Videogames, almost since their inception, have provided a range of different approaches to try and convey the complexities, majesty and basic peril of soaring and falling through the skies.

Virtual flight can come in any number of flavours.

There are complex flight simulators at one end of the spectrum, and other games that eschew realism and procedure to provide arcade-style dogfighting that allows a player to pretend they are piloting a jet through the air at sonic speeds with just a couple of well timed button presses.

Totally Reliable Delivery Service is a game that falls somewhere in between these two approaches – attempting to balance the unforgiving physics and limits of real-world aviation, with more insane stunt flying.

The game is not a flight-sim itself and can be almost entirely played by manipulating vehicles on land and sea without a player having to leave the ground – except for the odd leap or when tripping over or diving headfirst into a vehicle or wheelie bin at high speeds.

As the name suggests, a key focus of the title is for a player, or a team of gamers working together online via local or online co-op, to simply deliver fragile boxes, durable crates, explosive gas cannisters and temperature-sensitive ice cubes to a set location.  Ideally, this mission will be done with the cargo at least partially intact and within a decent amount of time.

These delivery points are littered across the multi-island game world that requires players to find a way to get packages across cities, atop skyscrapers, ancient ruins or hidden in perilous mountain conditions, leading to more creative approaches as a courier.

Part of the open world appeal of Totally Reliable Delivery Service is leaving it largely to individual players to decide if it is best to send a package via golf cart, forklift truck, speed boat, hand glider or otherwise attached to a human fired from a canon.

However, the minute the player begins to unlock and make use of the game’s helicopters, hot air balloons, airplanes and volatile rocket shuttles, the sky suddenly becomes the limit for how you get around.  Airmail is not without its risks as a means of shipping cargo though.

Totally Reliable Delivery Service has a similar approach to control and interaction with the game world as the physics-based multiplayer game Human Fall Flat. 

Separate buttons are assigned for the game character’s right and land hands, with two other buttons used to grab or hold onto objects, levels, vehicles or even fellow players – an important strategy in the case of a small helicopter with just about space for a parcel and one pilot.

Every piece of technology and vehicle in the game is operated this way, with a player required to grab on and somehow work out how to operate sailboats, forklift trucks and air planes via the motion of their not always reliable in-game arms.

Like with Human Fall Flat, Totally Reliable Delivery Service makes use of a somewhat cumbersome and difficult controls that can seem impossible to master or even gain some basic level of proficiency. However, it is hugely rewarding when your gangly in-game character that can barely walk in a straight line is suddenly attempting a loop for loop with a space shuttle.

A matter of preference

Some high-profile reviews of the game have been critical about the imprecision of the game’s controls and the challenge of trying to pilot extremely explodable aircraft in a game where it can at times be difficult just to lift up a simple box and put in in a van without major damage occurring.

Writing in a text and video review for IGN, Tristan Ogilvie was critical of the game’s rough edges in terms of controls.

He said, “An inherently tipsy sense of equilibrium and a blobby body shape means that even the most straightforward tasks quickly spiral into silliness as you struggle to shunt a fragile box into the back of a delivery van without inadvertently reducing it into a pile of packing peanuts.”

It is a control system that is not for everyone. Yet, when attempting a seemingly basic drive down a mountainside road becomes a chaotic mixture of chaos, instinct and intense precision controls, the impact of surviving a cross ocean flight can then seem positively Herculean in its scope and ambition.

Flying in particular is built on a complex balance of controls that can quickly collapse seemingly into tailspins and a total loss of control hundreds, if not thousands of metres in the game’s skies.

True mastery of aerial travel in Totally Reliable is a highly difficult thing.  As such, missions to try and land a parcel from a copter or other vehicle on a constantly moving air blimp will often reward daredevil stunts and targeted crash landings.

Afterall, why would you painstakingly try and land a propeller airplane on the ground at great difficulty? You could instead attempt to wedge it in between two adjacent cliff edges or a building, potentially without exploding yourself, your fellow passengers and some precious, largely combustible cargo.

As opposed to threating over trying to be a great pilot and postal worker, the game allows you to instead play out the game as a cartoonish daredevil worried about nothing but getting a parcel from point A to B in the most

This ain’t a task for precise, reasoned navigation of the skies, but a pilot with an exceptional, almost cartoonish lack of interest in understanding why aircraft do what they do as opposed to marvelling at what they can do.

Totally Delivery Service lets you embrace the sheer joy of a chaotic landing without any major consequences behind a failed delivery request.  It encourages a player to aim high not just in a literal sense, but to attempt to pilot craft beyond any basic ability they may have built up in the game.

While so many games satisfyingly seek to simulate a sense of control and skill in a player well beyond the average abilities of a common person, whether as an elite athlete, racing car driver or human, there is a different fantasy to be embraced by pushing back against limits and trying something extraordinary. If the extraordinary is still a little out of reach when cruising in a digital world at thousands of feet in the air, then why not take a shot at something extraordinarily stupid?

Much like the game’s somewhat absurd approach to controls, its ability to provide ample opportunity for just about any form of crash landing can quickly become a kind of art-form in of itself that makes you appreciate the most ridiculous of pilots.

As one of popular fiction’s most renowned anthropomorphic duck pilots once said, “Any crash you can walk away from is a good crash!”

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