Space Warlord Organ Trading Simulator is not a game that really messes around, as its title suggests. In fact, It’s one of the straightest shooters of the year, and all the better for that. It’s a fantastic, near-perfect distillation of systems grinding against each other laid mostly bare and filled in with flavor text that complements the game’s themes and earns its laughs while you frantically dart all over its screens buying and selling organs.
Strange Scaffold, the studio behind Space Warlord Organ Trading Simulator and An Airport for Aliens Currently Run by Dogs, has now built what I hope is the seedier side of the same game universe, where black market dealers sell the organs of aliens and some people in the service of reputation and wealth. That’s really about it. It’s a baffling honesty that I admire as it extends to every aspect of the game, communicating very plainly to the audience what it’s about and how to navigate it all.
Presented in a series of stylized but simple menus, Trading Simulator is exactly what it bills itself as. As a part of the simulation, you are not the only organ-trading space warlord, and before long you’re competing in a marketplace with all the other weirdos who fall into this kind of work. Trust me: there are a bunch. While you and a “kajillionaire” dog named Chad Shakespeare (who isn’t legally a dog, apparently) duke it out in the marketplace, you’re also lining up deals with buyers and scammers to make your profits go up. Nowhere will you see a more infuriating and tense confrontation in games this year than playing Trading Simulator on a day where you, a dog, a robot that seemingly killed its predecessor, and some dude named Marcus are all vying for the same five organs.
You can also use your wealth to buy off traders so that they don’t swoop in on your trading, buy cargo space to hold more organs, and also trade on the stock market, which doesn’t track companies but the value of organs. A rudimentary knowledge of stocks will provide everything you need to know to make it work in your favor, but the game is kind enough to gesture at you if you don’t. Dynamic “organ barges” occur every few days where one or two organs will absolutely flood the market, halting your progress on whatever demands you were looking to fulfill and causing their accompanying stock to plummet. Sometimes these are announced ahead of time, allowing you to plan, and other times you’re all caught off guard by the sudden rush of eyeballs or spleens everywhere. On other occasions, some cultists might get caught by the cops, jacking up the prices of robot shards in real time. It’s fun watching the world’s goofiest market react to things like they would in real life, and these wrenches that get thrown in help teach the game without over-tutorialization by encouraging a wider profile of investments rather than specializing in one or two organs. Now I’m just waiting with bated breath for the future CEO who reveals in a profile that he acquired his business acumen playing Space Warlord Organ Trading Simulator.
Can we talk about the whole organ trading part of this game? It’s remarkable how quickly I surrendered myself over to the premise of being a bad person, someone actively commodifying the deaths of countless others by hawking off their parts, when it was made so easy. All the game boils down to is clicking buttons that buy literal bits of people and sell them back to others, and yet for as immoral as that is… it feels good? It’s a testament not just to the strength of the designers but also the writers’ comedic chops that these aspects pair well enough to disarm you and lure you into what it’s selling. No part of the writing is cruel, instead leaning fully into the absurd. Characters are named things like Chad Shakespeare or HYPE EMPEROR GOLDSTAR, while clients scream about hating their feelings and request a new brain in order to stop feeling them, for example. This kind of satire works as a solid exploration of the game’s themes because when hasn’t capitalism outdone itself and sunk to a new low in order to justify itself? When isn’t it bordering on ridiculous? We have a metaverse now, for fuck’s sake. We eat these satires up too, from Arrested Development to Succession! The worst people imaginable engaging in the worst possible system, thereby revealing its flaws and giving us something to point at and mock is basically a widely cherished pastime by now. So why wouldn’t it work as a game where you are the cog in the worst possible version of our current broken system? That’s just good sci-fi right there.
What I loved about Trading Simulator and keep coming back to is how unflinching it is. In Trading Simulator, if you don’t have the money, you need to suck it up and take on shitty deals to work your way back up. You need to make risky stock investments and hope they pay off, or go through days where you’re generating basically nothing until something happens to shift your luck. It may be easier to take an obvious scam in order to push through to more lucrative jobs. In the meantime, though, you’re going to get shafted, and it’s going to feel really bad—in a good way!
What makes moments like this work in Trading Simulator over countless other games is that it’s all upfront here. It’s a game riddled with mechanical tension. Most anywhere else, a deal going south is a plot point or a line of dialogue that sets up the next beat of a continually unraveling narrative. It’s not actually important here and now, when it happens, because it only impacts what you’re going to do, not what you can do. In Trading Simulator, it is a direct result of the systems working as intended to screw you and make you play smartly, or at least try a different approach. In these moments where your back is against the wall, you’ll open up the market and dart between buyers and the organs they want and you’ll feel frustration at your inability to do much of anything, your powerlessness in the face of markets that you want to change but ultimately are victim to becoming evident.
That’s two things. The first is great understated emergent storytelling. The second is capitalism, baby! Woo…
What’s really doing my head in is how addictive the game is and how unwittingly I’ve thrown myself at Trading Simulator’s weirdo fantasy. For all intents and purposes, I do not wish to ever be a warlord or organ trader on any black markets, terrestrial or not. Nonetheless, I find myself coming back time and time again in the hopes of wringing more from Trading Simulator. Part of it is obviously the loop of successfully making tons of money in a few days time, a mild fantasy in or out of the game. A large part of it is also likely the music, which kicks all kinds of ass.
Sometimes, the stock market has a song playing under it that blares so hard, it sounds like it’s barely getting out of my speakers coherently, empowering me to make some good (and bad) investment choices. When you’re looking at which traders will be in the market the next day, the same song undergoes a Linkin Park and Mike Shinoda’s about to drop a bar over it. Other times, it’s a more sinister sounding plucking pattern on an electric guitar and accompanying drum that offers great background noise while you contemplate your next move. At its polar opposite are tracks that lean into spacier synths and in between is a mixture of both ends, hip-hop and more industrious sounds, producing a setting clearer than some concept art I’ve seen. I can see the grimy clubs these warlords conduct their seedy deals from. The putrid alleys behind them where the lowly up-and-comer starts out. The unhygienic sprawl of the city around them. It’s not a great picture, but an absolutely vivid one that comes to me like I’m looking right at it every time I play the game, even if there’s not a single visual to point to that would suggest any of it. The game is all character portraits, disgusting rendered organs, text and menus. That’s how well every aspect of this game pulls you under its layers.
With multiple endings to earn and only a few under my belt, I don’t really want to come up either. Instead, I want to go back to the market, snipe an organ out from under WOOHOO CHARLIE, and work through Trading Simulator’s absurd sense of humor, banger of a soundtrack, and mechanical twists on my journey to become the greatest organ-trading warlord in space.
Space Warlord Organ Trading Simulator was developed and published by Strange Scaffold. Our review is based on PC version. It’s also available for Xbox Series X|S and the Xbox One.
Moises Taveras is a former intern for Paste Magazine. He was that one kid who was really excited about Google+ and is still sad about how that turned out.