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Some games hide mystery in their titles, practically begging for every narrative thread to be pulled on to discover the secrets behind those words. PowerWash Simulator is not like this. Its direct name reveals that it is exactly what you think it is: the chance to live out your fantasy(?) as a water gun for hire, moving from job to job until all the dirt is blasted into oblivion. There’s not a great deal of variety in such a career, and monotony can sink in, but a fundamentally simple yet satisfying style of gameplay provides a great way to chill out across numerous generously sized levels. Yes, it is just simulating the usually mundane act of hosing down your patio once a year, but PowerWash Simulator elevates itself above what could so easily become tedium by subtly gamifying the chore and shoving the most annoying parts under the rug. Anyway, let’s try not to get too philosophical about it: Here’s my review, in which I analyse a game about washing a 30-foot high shoe.
There’s something therapeutic about PowerWash Simulator. Maybe it’s because, at the time of writing, I’m sweltering in 39 °C (102°F) weather and incapable of moving without sweat clouding my vision, but the sheer amount of water being blasted onto the screen is borderline intoxicating. It’s like a form of visual white noise, and I’ve lost hours on end to this meditative sim about nothing more than taking your time to clean the hell out of whatever is put in front of you. It removes all the irritations of real-life power washing – lugging a bulky machine around, tripping over extension cables etc. – focusing instead of the act of sending water screaming into a wall. The complete lack of music and voice acting only adds to the calm, with only the sound of water breaking the silence – aside from the ‘ding’ noise that sounds each time an object is fully clean which adds a real Pavlovian edge to proceedings.
PowerWash Simulator Screens (Xbox version)
Each job starts the same way: a scene resembling the aftermath of a Splatoon round where the brown team won faces you, and your mission is to clean the mess and return it to its original spotless state. If you’re feeling a bit obtuse you could even call it a first-person shooter – if the aliens or army men were replaced with inanimate plastic flower pots and delicate wooden trellises, that is. During the surprisingly lengthy career mode of more than 20 hours you’re faced with building your small business up as you take request after request, cleaning up buildings and vehicles before reinvesting your earnings into better power washers and their accompanying attachments and soaps.
You repeat the same routine no matter the job at hand, equipping the widest angle of the five available nozzle types to blast away large swathes of dirt on bigger surfaces before dialling in a more aggressive, narrow nozzle to deal with the finer details. A more concentrated burst of water is needed to get rid of those extra-stubborn materials – lichen, moss, rust – you know the stuff. You do have to change your angle in order clean gunk out from various grooves, nooks, and crannies, but that’s about it. It really is the definition of a rinse-and-repeat job – low on challenge, but reliant on sound methodology. It’s a highly satisfying loop though, as a daunting 100-square-foot roof gradually becomes a clean slate to be proud of – not before leaving a second-rate Jackson Pollock and childlike messages in the dirt, that is.
A majority of the levels are extensive, often taking well over an hour to scrub to 100% and gain that valuable five-star rating. And with 38 jobs in total, there’s a significant amount to keep you busy. The more stars you collect in career mode, the more complex the levels you unlock. Earning both stars and cash is how you progress, allowing you to splash your earnings on better power washer equipment to make future jobs that much easier. Progression may be limited to only a few options over the course of the whole campaign, but the tangible improvements to each tool can be felt – with each, more expensive, power washer increasing in power.
That being said, there’s not a great deal of experimentation needed and I soon settled on my loadout of choice, complete with a long extension that maximised the washer’s range, and the second-widest angle nozzle, which offers a satisfying balance between pressure and area of effect. I enjoyed it so much that I even found myself blurting out the phrase “25-degree nozzle OP!” as I hosed down the side of a fire station, like I was on a rampant Call of Duty killstreak. I must have looked like an idiot.
Cleaning liquids – one for each relevant surface such as metal, wood etc. – can be applied, but come in fairly short supply, so have to be used smartly to maximise their effect. While they do make some challenges a bit simpler, in truth I neglected them for the most part, favouring a sharp burst of water instead as it just felt more enjoyable due to the satisfying nature of the blasts and the base level of skill it encourages. Tools, such as ladders and scaffolding, can be moved around each area to help reach dirt in high places and get a new blasting angle, which adds a light puzzle element but nothing that strays too far into challenging territory.
Very occasionally, the levels themselves throw something different into the mix as well to keep things moderately fresh. Examples include a mansion that tests your sniping skills as you clean it from a distance behind a gated wall, and a carousel which requires you to turn it on and off – making it rotate – in order to scrub every inch of dirt. These challenges are few and far between though, and require spending only a little more brain power than usual. In truth, PowerWash Simulator is not a game that’s worried about difficulty spikes or introducing complex mechanics, but much more at home treating us to a relaxing, casual affair. In this endeavour, it often found a sweet spot that kept me coming back for more.
Every so often, frustration can set in when trying to find the smallest speck in quite a large area, though. I found myself scouring the seemingly endless floor of a skatepark looking for smudges of dirt with a highlighting tool in a manner not dissimilar from using a UV light to uncover the more unsavoury stains at a crime scene. However, it’s a bit less exciting than that because the only crimes being committed here are unforgivable levels of uncleanliness on show from whoever owns these properties.
Maps range from the mundane to the fantastical, with riffs on fairytale homes, a suitably red-dusted Mars rover, and a statue from an ancient civilization. There’s a very loose plot to trace, but PowerWash Simulator clearly isn’t too worried about telling a great story – it’s all about getting you cleaning as varied and interesting a set of buildings and vehicles as possible. It’s not taking itself too seriously, and it would be frankly bizarre if it did, with some genuinely amusing moments coming from the texts you receive from clients and their oddball messages. There’s no voice acting to interrupt the silence.
Outside of the single-player campaign, there’s the option to play the whole of career mode with a friend in co-op, or any job unlocked in free-play with up to five other players. There are no competitive options aside from racing against the clock to clean like the wind in the challenge mode, but it does serve as a relaxing space to treat as a chat room while you subconsciously hose down a carousel inexplicably covered in a field’s worth of mud.