Sunday, May 19, 2013

GAME A WEEK TOWNS



Have you ever played a game where you think to yourself, "Fuck I hate this game! Wait...why have I been hating this game for eight hours now and still cant put it down...?"



What were my expectations going in?
Hmm.  This game looks like someone said "Hey, I really like Minecraft, but I think itd be better if it were an RTS."  I actually briefly played this game a long time ago, when it was in a barely playable alpha phase.  It was terrible and broken, with a counterintuitive interface, and ridiculous AI.  Still, it was a decent concept, so I decided that I should wait until the final release build to give it a shot.



So how was it?
I dont think they fixed a damn thing. To amend my earlier statement, its like someone said, ""Lets make Minecraft into an old school God game," and then decided "Minecraft is too accessible.  Lets make it a lot more complicated, fuck up the controls, give it a confusing interface, and make it an isometric view that you cant zoom in or zoom out on, nor can you rotate to get a better idea of what theyre looking at.  Itll be fun watching them get completely lost in caves because they cant see what ledge is connected to what floor!"

Just about everything in this game feels broken.  I spent the majority of my time screaming at the little townspeople on my screen, who I had absolutely zero control over, because they wouldnt do what I asked them to do.  What is the point of playing a God game if the game takes all Godly power away from you?

You literally have no control over the townsfolk.  The most that you can do is set up a queue of tasks for them to achieve, but they will do those tasks only when they feel like it.  Even then, I could deal with the lack of direct control if there were better townsperson AI.  When you want them to do something, they fuck around and do nothing, but when theyre dying of hunger and you tell them to eat food, suddenly that building project you asked them to work on an hour ago looks like the perfect thing to do right this moment.  Ive had entire villages die because I told them to do one thing, and they decided to roam all the way across the map into enemy territories to do it, or they just roamed around for no fucking reason.  AND WHY THE FUCK DO YOU KEEP RUNNING ALL THE WAY ACROSS THE MAP TO PICK UP RANDOM ANIMAL BONES?!?



This blindingly stupid AI also comes in the form of defense and combat.  If you dont transform a villager into a soldier (thus making them incapable of working), then this sort of thing happens:

"Hey Frank, gettin murdered by goblins?"
 

"You know it, Bob!"
 

"Sounds great man, looks like you dont need any help. Have fun!"


The difficulty of the game is not only on the lack of control over a wantonly moronic AI, its also in the fact that someone decided to set the difficulty scaler to "roguelike".   Ive had entire civilizations wiped out quickly because the game said "Hey, lets set your spawn point right nestled snugly between this jungle full of wild animals and carnivorous plants, and this tribe of angry frog people!  What could go wrong?"   Admittedly, location doesnt even matter that much, given the townspeoples aforementioned penchant for traipsing through dangerous territory miles away just because they feel like picking up roadkill.  Im not kidding, either.  Halfway across the map, some goblin will kill a wild animal, and with some preternatural spider sense, one of my villagers will go "I NEED THAT CORPSE!" and beeline to pick up the bones and stash it in a chest.

As it turns out, the only way to stop them from doing this involves the batshit crazy UI system.  If I plunk down a storage chest or barrel, it is keyed to hold everything.  Townspeople will go out and gather anything that isnt nailed down just to cram it in there (unless you want them to, then it can just sit there a while).  I would actually have to go into the storage units settings, and tell the villagers that bones cant go into that unit.  Even then they might bring shit back home just for the hell of it.  Of course, you cant assign jobs to anyone, so theres no way of saying "Okay YOU can run around and collect shit, while these guys here build houses." 




The crafting system is borderline broken as well.  For one, most of the useful stuff cant be made without iron, which is, depending on the random generation of your world, fairly rare. Theres a wide variety of complicated and difficult to craft food items that are absolutely no better than simple fruit and bread that you can craft right away.  There are certain basic common necessity items that you can set values for "Always have X on hand" or "Make Y right now", but the townspeople pretty much ignore those.  Of course, theres no indicator or icon as to which of those two indicators is which, you just have to remember from the tutorial which is which.  This holds true with most of how the game works.  It tells you once in the tutorial, and you never get another explanation, icon, or tooltip to remind you if you happen to forget.



The graphics of the game are serviceable.  Theyre not bad, theyre not good, theyre just there.  Absolutely nothing stands out as "Oh wow, thats really cool looking", but youre almost never left wondering what the hell that thing is.  The biggest and most infuriating downfall of the game, graphically, is that you cant rotate the world.  Youre stuck in one isometric angle.  This becomes a huge problem when trying to dig down into the ground, because you cant tell what is where.  Ive lost people because I dug too far down, couldnt tell what level the stairs to get out were at, and was unable to get them back up to the surface.  I lost several hours to trying to reassemble a broken ladder, because I couldnt see where I was placing the bottom block; I would wind up placing blocks beside it, or too far down.  All you can do is sift through the block levels, layer by layer.  The game does this half-assed mouseover cutaway that does absolutely nothing to help you.

The sound is completely unremarkable.  I think it had music?  If it did, it was so bland that I didnt even notice it.  The sound effects range from adequate to annoying, with one exception.  The sound of a villager dying is about 10x louder than any other sound, and it is the single most horrific, inhuman, ear-piercing sounds I have ever heard come out of a video game.  Ive recorded it just for you, and it can be heard here. 

Oh and that ridiculous vibrating the characters are doing?  Thats what passes for combat.



The weird thing is?  I played the shit out of this game.  For all of its faults, I think they actually made it more compelling, in some sort of twisted "Im determined to conquer" kind of way.  A part of it is that I think this game is designed to be more of a long haul than a race to the finish.  After many false starts and dead villages due to me trying to rush, I finally wound up making a halfway decent little town.  I got heroes to come, I got immigrants moving in, and I got merchants visiting my marketplace.  I got a little sense of pride in seeing my town grow, and making new buildings. 


Still, for all the awful UI, counter-intuitive game mechanics, and the most bafflingly dumb AI Ive ever seen in a video game, overcoming the challenges of this game is kind of like winning a gold medal in the Paralympics.  Its a hard-won achievement that fills you with a sense of accomplishment and victory.  But you know whats even better than winning a medal at the Paralympics?

Not being crippled in the first place.

(Yep.  Totally going to Hell for that one.)

Play time:  20 hours
Finished:  N/A
Recommended:  Highly recommend that you avoid it
Available For:  PC

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