Riddle me this: name that game with a little bit of character customisation, where completing a repetitive series of mundane tasks lets you unlock a dizzying array of weapon modifications, and where you can use dazzling and daring acts of parkour to reach your target and accomplish your mission. That’s right, it’s Powerwash Simulator: my favourite Far Cry game of the last 10 years.
Oh, okay, there are some slight differences. Powerwash Simulator doesn’t have any of the Far Cry series’ grandiosity. You’re just a guy with a rubber suit, a hose that shoots water really hard, and the determination to use both. You aren’t the absconded child of a tyrant, set out to cleanse their soul and their van through a Bushido-like ‘Powerwashers’ Code’, and it seems very unlikely that anyone is going to turn up at my next swimming pool cleaning gig and shout at me about Nietzsche (but I haven’t unlocked all the levels yet).
But in all the ways that matter, Powerwash Simulator lights up the same dumb, animal regions of my brain that a Ubisoft open world does. The nicotine thrill of collecting all the roosters in definitely-not-Cuba is basically indistinguishable from what I feel when I finally, finally hunt down that last stubborn patch of filth on the backyard barbecue and watch the area’s ‘Cleanliness’ meter tick over to 100%. The only difference is the former probably unlocks some kind of rocket launcher and the latter unlocks the satisfaction of having a very clean barbecue. Either way, it’s time to move on to the next list of repeatable chores.
How to get filthy rich
Like all great stories about powerwashing businesses, Powerwash Simulator starts you off in humble surroundings. Your bank account blinks $0.00, you own a paltry four nozzles for your paltrier single washer gun, and your van—the nerve centre of your business—was literally pulled from the bottom of a lake. Cleaning it is your first job. Then you clean a dirt bike, then someone’s backyard, then a bungalow, then a playground, and so on and so forth until your head is heavy beneath the crown of a powerwashing empire.
The actual mechanics of that transition are very familiar: point your gun at the things you want to destroy and click until they are gone. The strangely thrilling part—and the part that makes it so much more satisfying than doing the same thing in Far Cry—is watching the layers of filth peel back beneath the jet of water. Have you ever watched those guys who restore old paintings on YouTube? They bring in some neglected old masterpiece, barely recognisable beneath a yellowed layer of scummy varnish, and work at it with special tools for days, weeks, months, until the painting they’re left with looks like Rembrandt could have thrown it together yesterday. That’s the satisfaction of Powerwash Simulator that nothing else can match, except instead of Rembrandts you’re annihilating lawn furniture at 2000 PSI.
And oh, the tools it gives you to do it. Your collection of four nozzles and a washer gun will eventually blossom into an armoury of equipment and attachments. I have more powerful guns, more intense soaps, and a collection of ‘turbo’ nozzles that rotate as they fire a high-pressure jet of water, unlocking the tantalising prospect of cursive powerwashing.
Don’t be fooled, you’re not just trudging from spot to spot and hosing down walls. You are an artist, an acrobat, a superstar. In my time with the game I’ve committed some of the most daring and avant-garde acts of powerwashing that the artform has yet seen. I’ve performed swan dives from the roofs of houses to get at hard-to-reach patches of dirt. I’ve jetéd from ladder to stepladder in a desperate bid to clean ceilings. I’ve made full use of the bizarrely tactical, ARMA-like stance system (you can be standing, crouched, or prone) to aim my washer at nooks and crannies that haven’t seen light in decades. Who needs a wingsuit? I’m operating at the limits of the human body’s potential as-is. Admittedly, I’m probably not meant to play this way, but the beauty of a small business is being your own boss.
So why is it that Powerwash Simulator feels so much more compelling to me than your standard open-world checklist even if it offers basically the same thrill? There’s an obvious reason: I have blown off a lot of people’s heads in my years playing videogames, but cleaned relatively few garden gnomes. I think the real reason is more horribly sincere, though. The world is a baffling and uncontrollable place, and both these games offer fantasies of escape and control. But where Far Cry’s fantasy revolves around disintegrating things with advanced military weaponry and men monologuing at me about the books I didn’t read at university, Powerwash Simulator lets me restore, repair, and renew at wildly inadvisable PSI. That just feels better, somehow.