Monday, 3 February 2014

We have Moved.

Hello dear Reader,

You may have noticed that this blog has not been updated since last year.  This is because I have been busy making a shiny new website which isn't brown or named after an obscure character from a 25 year old game.

This website is www.peoplesrepublicofgaming.com.  Go and have a look at it now, why don't you?  There's a review of the Banner Saga on it and everything.

I will leave this stuff here for now as, and I think we can all agree on this, things like the article about the Anus Monster are of genuine historical importance.

But come and join us over at the new site as well.  There's a twitter account for it @info_prog and we welcome all contributions from anybody, just get in touch.

Everybody is equal in the People's Republic.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

The Room


Do you know what? Sometimes this procession of roguelikes can get a bit wearing, even for me. Sometimes it can seem that every man and his dog are making a 'procedurally generated dungeon-crawler with a twist' and so recently I have been making a conscious effort to find something new to keep me occupied. This hasn't always been successful (badger-simulator Shelter springs to mind) but when you try new things then sometimes you strike gold, and when you find something like this then all of that endless panhandling suddenly seems worthwhile.

The Room is a beautiful puzzle game in which players are tasked with gaining access to a series of ornate safes and complicated puzzle boxes. There is some kind of story to explain why you are doing this, which involves investigating a friend’s disappearance, but this doesn’t really distract from the main activity of poring over beautifully constructed objects in order to find clues on how to get into the damn things. Your friend leaves you a few notes dotted around the place to guide you, and your first task is to reconstruct an amazing eyepiece which will help you to follow his progress, but in the main you are given a device to examine and then left to get on with it.


The boxes themselves are lovely to look at; all brass plates and clockwork gears they seem like they could jump right out of the screen and into your hand. There is a real sense of being given something physical to manipulate and unlock, which is quite an achievement for a game that you play on your phone or tablet, and this is reinforced even further by the excellent touch controls. You can rotate the view through 360° and pull handles or turn dials simply by making the appropriate movements. Puzzles are tricky, without ever feeling unfair, and are satisfying to solve (even getting a couple of 'ahs' from me when something particularly nice happened). The game will also give you hints if you can't see how to progress and these point you in the right direction without laying the solution on a plate. The difficulty level is extremely well-judged and, even though the whole thing is over in a few hours, I found that I needed to take regular breaks in order to refresh my concentration.

The Room is wonderful to look at, challenging without being impossible and genuinely spooky in parts (yes Mr Scratched-out-face Victorian man I'm looking at you). What's more you can get this well-designed little piece of loveliness for just £1.49. If you don't already own it then I would rush out to your local platform-specific internet store and get it now. It's wonderful.



The Room is available on iOS or Android.  I played it on a Nexus 7.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Darkest Dungeon - Shit gets real.


"Darkest Dungeon focuses on the humanity and psychological vulnerability of the heroes and asks: What emotional toll does a life of adventure take?"

As we all know, dungeons are nasty places.  They're smelly, dirty, pestilence-filled shitholes infested with traps and slobbering monsters; full of horror and danger and fear.  So why do most games portray them as consequence-free playgrounds for their cast of shiny heroes to beat up and destroy?  And, more to the point, why does all this death, destruction and unadulterated terror have absolutely no long term effect on anybody involved?  Dark Souls is the only game that springs to mind where the actual environments themselves are thoroughly unpleasant and where all the characters show clear signs of impending insanity but, in general, heroes prance in, slaughter whole communities of monsters and then retire to some tavern somewhere to swap stories and carry on like nothing has happened.

Well.  It appears that this is about to change.


Darkest Dungeon is an upcoming game from Red Hook studios and it promises to make its heroes fallible human beings; subject to all the same anxieties and neuroses as the rest of us but just a bit more willing to leave the house. This is a world where your brave warrior has turned to drink, your priest bolts at the first sign of skeletons and the bard is still sat in the tavern muttering to himself and rocking back and forth.  Events will affect your characters, they'll develop paranoias and phobias and end up not being able to work with other party members or, conversely, they could get more determined, more fanatical and more confident.  Your job is to work out how best to cope with the bad stuff and magnify the good, which adds another dimension to the usual process of allocating points to skills and ruthlessly killing endless hordes of monsters.

It also makes you wonder why this hasn't been done before.  Call of Cthulhu does it, but even that took the easy way out when trying to translate insanity into a videogame.  The aforementioned Dark Souls does it to the player, rather than the character, and there was also the rather excellent Eternal Darkness, but really the mental effects of a character's experiences are very rarely tackled.


It's still extremely early stages as the game was only announced a few days ago but signs are good.  I like the art style, especially the plague mask on the doctor, and it looks like it could be a gritty take on a rather tired genre, if done right.  Red Hook are planning on a release in Autumn next year but will almost definitely have a Kickstarter before then.  You can find the website here and sign up to the mailing list to get updates on their progress, or you can follow them on twitter @darkestdungeon

Be careful out there.




Saturday, 19 October 2013

Back to the future with Chainsaw Warrior

Chainsaw warrior was originally released as a board game in 1987 by Games Workshop. The rules were pretty simple, players had 60 minutes to fight their way through a New York building in order to defeat uber-villain Darkness, but this was a very difficult task to achieve and if the Meat Machine didn't get you then the endless traps would. I played this game a lot as a 14 year old and now, 26 years later, you can die repeatedly whilst travelling to work or sitting on the toilet as Auroch Digital have brought all of the frustration of the original to your phone or tablet. Isn't technology wonderful?

The player starts by rolling some dice in order to create their very own version of our plucky, taciturn hero. Attributes are pretty basic and cover things like overall health, the amount of radiation or venom you can withstand and your skill with guns or stabby things. They are set by rolling dice (on the computer, not actual dice, this is 2013) and the number used depends on the difficulty level that you have chosen. I was actually thinking about picking easy or medium as I remember this game being particularly tricky to complete but it says that hard is the same as the original game, so that really only left me with one option. You can play on easy if you like, nobody's judging.

It is at this point that you also determine how much equipment you can take with you and get to choose the categories that it comes from. This bit is a little like Countdown "I'll have one hand to hand weapon, a heavy weapon and two from the clothing pile please Rachel." In fact the whole equipment thing is a bit weird. You are humanity's last hope, the fate of the world rests upon your broad, broad shoulders and if you're unlucky you can be sent to almost certain death with a small knife, some wire cutters and a pair of glasses. You'd think that the shadowy general who guilt trips you into this whole mess would at least give you the bloody chainsaw that you're named after but no, apparently that’s not part of the deal.

Anyway you are soon equipped with your pitiful collection and sent off into a huge building containing the living embodiment of pure evil. I imagine everybody else gives you a hearty slap on the back and wishes you well, but nobody comes with you, which might have helped to be honest. The way the game works is that you have 108 cards split into 2 decks. Darkness, the baddie, is always in the 2nd deck and so you have to get through to that in order to fight him. Cards contain various things; zombies and other monsters to fight, traps to avoid and the very rare supply drop (which makes you to fall to your knees and thank the Lord above for His great mercy). Combat is commonplace and uses dice rolls to determine who wins and enemies range from the ever-present zombies to the fearsome and pretty gruesome Meat Machine. Your equipment helps you to overcome obstacles and kill monsters but you will never be able to get past everything and you are sometimes even forced to backtrack out of the building in order to find another way forward, which is particularly galling.

And I'm not casting aspersions here, but you should probably prepare yourself for frequent failure as there are lots of ways to die in Chainsaw Warrior. For a start there's a time limit because, obviously, Ultimate Evil runs on a schedule. You have 60 minutes to save the world and each turn of a card uses up 30 seconds. This means that it will take at least 27 minutes to get through the first deck even if everything goes great (it won't) and once the 60 minutes are up then the world is destroyed.  Of course there are also more traditional ways to die - too much chomping from zombies, too much venom from zombies and too much radiation from everything else - and then, of course,there are the traps. Some just delay you, some hurt you and some hurt you, delay you and then destroy your precious equipment. Being a Chainsaw Warrior is no life.

It's got to be said that Auroch digital have done a great job of transferring this old board game to modern equipment. The cards are exactly the same as they were back in the day, with 80s gems like the Laser Lance all still there and effects have also been added for when you are infected with venom or use items like the flash bombs. The interface can be a little bit clunky sometimes, especially when you are asked to choose the same weapon over and over again for every round of combat but I'm not sure how else this could have been done. The game itself works in exactly the same way as it always did and, as far as I can see, this hasn't been changed at all. I'm not sure whether that is a testament to the original or to Auroch digital but whatever, more power to them.
This game is harsh and hugely random, with the initial rolls essentially determining whether you have any chance of success. You might be able to get by if you have one decent attribute, but if you roll low for everything then you have no chance at all. The temptation to bin a rubbish character and try again is always there but high scores are still no guarantee of victory and it only takes a few traps to ruin even the best character's play through. However, I should probably say now that I did manage to destroy Darkness with a suicide vest on my 2nd go (which technically counts as a draw) but that's obviously down to my l33t gamer skillz (and a large dose of luck). So be prepared for repeated frustration, victory does not come easy.  In fact it could be argued that Chainsaw Warrior is an early example of that now trendy genre, the roguelike. It has perma-death, it's very explicitly turn-based and the cards create a new random building every game. Just goes to show that the more things change the more they stay the same.

Chainsaw Warrior is a great recreation of a cult classic. It works really well on mobile devices, is perfectly suited to being played in short bursts and offers a range of difficulty levels for the easily discouraged. What's more it only costs £2.99 and there are no in-app purchases of any kind, which is good for my blood pressure. You should remember that I did play this a lot in my room as a 14 year old (probably whilst listening to Janet Jackson) so my views are always going to be tinged with a certain amount of nostalgia, but I would heartily recommend this to anybody who fancies something a bit different. It may be very difficult and very random but it is also a highly polished version of a great game and, most of all, it's fun.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Dungeon Hunter 4 and the Death of Innocence


When I was a young child my dad brought home a games console. This was before the days of the Atari 2600 and, to be honest he'd probably picked it up at a market, knowing him, but it played different varieties of pong and I loved it. My brother and I would spend hours laid out in front of our black and white telly, with rhythmic beeping and shouts of triumph providing a backdrop to many a Saturday afternoon. 

Fast forward 30+ years and, yes, I may have kids of my own and more responsibilities than I ever thought possible but I still play games whenever I can. I've championed them to my friends, defended them against their detractors and encouraged others to play them.  Games are joyous things in my opinion.  So much more involving than TV or film; they encourage participation, lay down challenges for their players to overcome
 and the best ones draw you in and make you a part of their story in a way that no other medium can achieve. 

And this, really, is why I get so supremely pissed off with things like Dungeon Hunter 4.



Dungeon Hunter 4 is an example of a genre which seems to occur in mobile gaming most of all - free to play. I have no idea why this is the case (although examples do appear on PC at times) but if I had to guess I would say that this payment model is seen as the perfect fit for an audience which tends to play in short bursts over extended periods, whilst travelling or during breaks at work. Free to play, as the name implies, means that you can play the game for free, usually with optional upgrades or equipment available to buy from an in-game shop for real life cash. This means that you can try it and then invest money in it later if you like - that's your choice. Sounds good, doesn't it?

The game itself is a top down action RPG. It reminds me a bit of Gauntlet, if you remember that. There are 4 classes - heavy warrior, light bouncy martial artist “son of the east” type warrior, a mage warrior and an archer... warrior. You are some kind of chosen one, obviously, and it's your job to fight the demons and save the world and all that usual stuff. You do this by travelling about killing things and getting gold and occasionally going to towns and having conversations with a series of stock fantasy game type characters. You can buy new equipment from local shopkeepers, as well as from a kind of over-arching ever-present cosmic uber shop which we'll talk about later; and you can craft new items or improve the ones you have by embedding charms in them. Similarly you can improve your character by gaining experience, levelling up and allocating points to skills in pretty standard RPG fashion.

And this, really, is my first problem with this game. It's like the designers had a checklist. "Crafting? Yeah, yeah, we got the crafting. Gems? Yeah man, gems are there. OK then, basic RPG mechanics? Don't insult me man! Who the hell doesn't have basic RPG mechanics these days? Sheesh! Basic RPG mechanics! What do you think I am, some kind of idiot?” To be honest my attitude to this may be coloured by my feelings about other parts of the game but it comes across as fantasy by numbers, as if they could just change a few variables and it would be set in the future, or any other milieu.

There are also some basic control issues. I played as a Sentinel (which is the archer warrior type) and my arrows would often fly out in exactly the opposite direction to what I intended. The game gives you two virtual thumbsticks with which to control your character and the movement works fine but attacking didn't for me - especially when things got a bit frantic.


However, my main problem with Dungeon Hunter 4 is the free to pay model that it uses. There are 2 types of currency in the game - gold and gems. You get gold in the usual way, by killing monsters and looting chests but gems must be bought with actual real money, or earned by completing challenges or advertising the game on social media.

Gaming.
Now I fully understand that people want to be paid for their work and I have absolutely no problem with that, but I find the free to pay (or freemium) thing problematic in lots of ways. I mean, it may be there as a response to piracy (in which case maybe think about this horror of a game the next time you look at your favourite torrent site), but it's quite obvious that lots of horrible people have done lots of horrible research and decided that this is the best way to market their horrible game. They wouldn't do it otherwise. People have said that gamers who object to freemium are being snobby, that 'casual gamers' (which is a pretty depressing term) are seen as mindless sheep being led to the next credit card transaction while the hardcore remain gloriously aloof. My mum plays Candy Crush and all I will say is that you have obviously never met her if you think that this model rings true. Anyway, it's not about 'casual' and 'hardcore', it's about a game being built entirely around advertising, it's about a game being bare-facedly after your cash, it's about the end of that glorious childhood obsession with fun and the sad realisation that this is what's left.

Here's an example. When you start up Dungeon Hunter 4 you see an advert for an item to buy which will 'make your life easier'. Skip past that and choose 'continue' from the map and you see a loading screen, with another advert for another item. When that has finished loading the game tells you to 'touch the screen to continue' and THE ADVERT STARTS TO FLASH. As if that is the icon you need to press. Hours and hours of playing games, all of your conditioning, tells you that you need to press the flashing icon but you don't, it's just an advert. In fact you need to press anywhere else and this continues throughout. Every time you see a loading screen there's an advert. Every time you try to buy anything there are massively powerful items there on sale in exchange for real money and you can access the shop at any time, it has its own button. It's like trying to play Monopoly while a weird dog who has been fully trained in "closing out opportunities" and "maintaining his pipeline" is dry humping your leg. It even tells you you're missing out if you don't take it up on its fabulous offers. It's your loss! Buy this shit you fucking loser! Jesus Christ, I don’t play games to get told off.

I just want to be your friend.  And sell you stuff.
And it's not just the advertising. This need to get money from you even permeates the game's structure itself. This ranges from the incidental (taking charms out of equipment or merging them takes time and this can be skipped by paying some cash) through the important (healing potions replenish over time but can also, of course, be bought) to the absolutely fundamental (how can you, as a developer, optimise the difficulty of your game when half of your players will be using normal equipment and the other half will have spent money in order to get the best stuff?). A game shouldn't be designed like this, the way it actually works shouldn't be aimed specifically at parting the player from their cash and this is why freemium is so annoying. Games like this are not real. They're just a framework on which to hang a generic, formulaic skin with the sole target of making as much money as possible. Fun isn't the most important thing anymore; achievement, story, emotional engagement... all of these things aren't the prime focus of creating this game, this is all about taking your money from you as efficiently as possible.

And I find this so depressing. When my dad brought home that console this is not how I wanted things to turn out. I wanted endless Saturday afternoons laid in front of the telly, stretching away to infinity. Instead I've got this abomination masquerading as a game, thrusting its unmentionables at my leg whilst imploring me to take it up on its amazing deals. This isn’t gaming, this isn’t even a game – this is purely a marketing opportunity, a sales pitch, a soulless imitation of the real thing. And that is something pretty sad.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Knights of Pen and Paper +1



 Knights of Pen and Paper + 1 is a game about a game.  A traditional pen and paper role playing game more specifically, with a dungeon master (or games master or whatever you want to call him) and 5 players exploring a fantasy world.  You control the players (and to some extent the DM) and move through a story full of in-jokes and knowing references, doing battle with lots of monsters and completing lots of quests.  It has a very set format but is also quite innovative in its structure - but is this enough to keep your interest to the end?

In KOPAP you choose your characters from 6 initial classes and these are all pretty standard fare.  There's a warrior, a druid, a cleric, a rogue, a mage and a paladin.  Nothing too remarkable.  However, each character also has an associated player, and these choices are a bit more unusual.  You can pick a rocker, a local school teacher or your little brother; your dad, your sister or even a wolfman and the neighbourhood alien.  All of these players come with different bonuses, and combining them with the various classes vastly increases the number of options available to you.  I guess that they fulfil the same role as races in a more traditional RPG.  You start by being able to only add a couple of characters, but this increases to 5 as you get more gold, and you can also unlock more classes during your adventures.  Unfortunately your party will probably already be full when you do this, but you can swap your characters at a tavern if you want to.


 Each character has 4 skills which they can use during combat, and these usually consist of a passive skill (so the rogue can poison his dagger to increase damage, for example) and 3 that can be used in a fight, and their weapons and armour can be upgraded along a linear path by a blacksmith found in towns and villages.  This adds various bonuses as it is improved such as increasing the health of a character or the amount of hit points they regenerate in a turn.  Your options are quite limited as there is only one possible upgrade, but each character can also equip up to 4 other items such as rings or clothing - which gives you a few more possibilities.

So, once you've created your party you are ready to begin the game.  You can see the room in which you are playing, but also the world that the DM is describing and different monsters will appear in different settings as you proceed.  And you can also use the gold you earn in the game (or buy with real cash) to get things like furniture for the “real world” room or pets, snacks and drinks which all confer different bonuses to your characters in the actual game.  This is kind of central to the whole thing, you are playing 5 people playing a game, so there are 2 levels of reality which can both be influenced by you.  It's all a bit “meta” and this is referenced throughout - with the lines between the different worlds often being blurred or crossed by the story.

The world of pen and paper itself is made up of a series of locations, each containing a number of quests for the party to complete.  Travelling between locations costs gold and takes time and also opens the party up to that eternal favourite of old school RPGs - the random encounter.  Every time the party moves the game rolls a dice and, if the result is too low, then monsters appear and attack.  Combat is pretty simple - initiative is assigned and then characters and monsters take turns to attack, heal or use their different abilities.  You can pick which enemy to target, but there's no positioning or other tactics.  There's not even a chance to miss - every attack and spell hits - so it's very much a numbers game.


And, in fact, combat is one of the game's main problems, which is unfortunate as it is also one of its main activities.  It's just too simple.  I found that I was using the same abilities over and over again as it didn't make sense to do it any other way, and this made fights very boring very quickly.  I mean, yes, occasionally I might have to heal somebody and I found some stuff useful that I initially disregarded but, 9 times out of 10, I would work my way through my opponents one at a time until they were all gone.  It became a process, almost work and certainly a grind, which wasn't helped by how similar all the enemies were.  They might look different, they might even have different resistances to various attacks, but the process of actually defeating them was pretty much always exactly the same.  Oh and, while we're here, you can kill a phoenix with fire in this game.  Uhuh, a magical bird made entirely out of fire, who makes its nest in an effing volcano can be hurt by fire.  Go figure.

So, combat is annoying, and this is made worse by how often the game forces you to fight.  I'm going to give it the benefit of the doubt and say that the quests are an ironic nod to the inanity of traditional RPGs but there's a lot of fetching, escorting and killing x number of monsters.  And, quite apart from this, every time you travel whilst escorting or protecting you fight an encounter at each stage of the journey.  Every. Time.  And any fight cancels your selected quest, so you have to re-select your destination from the map (until it is cancelled again on the next move).  AND it does this even if you're massively overpowered for that area.  So you can be taking somebody back to their village or whatever and be constantly confronted by packs of 2 giant rats which you kill by breathing heavily on them.  It's ridiculous and annoying and unnecessary.

However, this is not to say that the game is devoid of challenge, some of the dungeons in particular can be quite tricky until you (sob) grind for a bit to increase your level, but that the challenge is so uneven that it makes the Himalayas look like the Norfolk Broads.  Well, I say "challenge".  What I mean is "loads more hit points and a bit more damage" because this is the other really standard trap that this game falls into.  To be fair to the developers combat is so simple that I'm not sure what other options are available to them but the amount of damage that monsters can absorb increases exponentially throughout.  This is not an uncommon problem, it is even a bit understandable within the restrictions of this game but it makes an already tedious encounter system almost unbearable.


KOPAP manages to combine bad things from old style games (like random encounters) with bad things from the new (like an aggro system and rogues who have had all of their subtlety removed and are there purely as a damage outputter).  It limits your  characters to 4 set abilities and their armour and weapon choices to a purely linear upgrade path.  It sets you inane tasks and makes you jump through needless hoops to complete them and it made me question, seriously, what I was doing with my life as I sat there tapping a touchscreen repeatedly in order to kill a monster; knowing that I was going to have to do exactly the same thing again as soon as this one was dead.  There's not even any decent loot.

So why did I finish it?  I'm a grown man, I'm able to make my own decisions.. what happened?  To be honest I don't know.  The graphics are quite nice if, you know, you're not totally sick of that whole "retro 8 bit" thing by now.  It doesn't take itself very seriously, which is good.  The story is OK and there are lots of references to things which are important to geeks - they’re not especially funny but it's something I suppose.  I think that maybe it just appeals to the lizard part of your brain that appreciates repetitive tasks, or maybe I just wanted to see what happened at the end.  Whatever, I did finish it, but that isn't something I'm especially proud of.  It’s not a total disaster, and it has a certain charm, but it’s a pretty sad indictment that I just want to get this review done so I never have to think about it again. 



Knights of Pen & Paper is definitely available on PC and Android.  Probably on iOS too, but I can’t be bothered to check.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land


I got very excited when I heard about Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land, which is a game set firmly in the world of  HP Lovecraft - an American writer from the 1920s and 30s who wrote short stories about Old Gods, unspeakable horrors and lands beyond dreams.  He was obsessed with madness, with things living in the shadows of our perception which hate humanity with an intensity that is inconceivable to our mortal minds; powerful, ancient, horrific things determined to destroy our world and everything in it.  You can see why I was excited.

The game itself is a turn-based strategy game; much like Xcom (or, indeed, X-Com), Fire Emblem or Advance Wars.  Each side take turns moving all of their "pieces", and action points determine how much each character can do during those turns.  Moving, attacking or using items all costs a specified number of points and once your characters have used all of these up then it's time for the other side to have a go.  There are no time limits on how long you can take to plan out your moves, you can think for as long as you like, and so this kind of game is well suited to playing on the go.

You control a team of up to 6 characters, some of whom have to survive each mission whilst others are a bit more expendable, and they all have varied skills and attributes.  There are different weapon skills which determine how effective you are with the different weapon types (handguns, shotguns, rifles, machine guns and stabby things), there are skills which govern healing or being able to put a gas mask on properly and there's even a "psychotherapy" skill - because first world war trenches are apparently an ideal place for a bit of person-centred counselling.


In addition to this characters can also use different equipment such as weapons, armour or the ubiquitous first aid boxes.  All of these can also be upgraded later in the game, although there is only one stronger variant for each type of weapon which is a little bit disappointing.  On the other hand there are four different types of armour, various spells and the Sapper can even call in artillery – so there’s a fair amount of options available to you. 

The Wasted Land is split into 11 different tactical missions, with some basic exposition in between, and pits the player against an evil German cult determined to bring the Old Gods back to Earth so that they can destroy humanity and enable a new world to rise from the ashes (Mwuahaha!).  Not the greatest or wisest plan I've ever heard but you know, cultists gonna cult.  Your team, on the other hand, are a nice mix of down to earth Tommies "Crikey! That chap's already dead!" and more mysterious blighters like the extravagantly turbaned Professor Brightmeer.  The action is set across the trenches, no man's land and destroyed churches of First World War France but with Lovecraftian elements added in.  So your characters can cast spells, encounter nasty slobbering monsters or be driven stark raving mad by the horrors they experience.  Lovecraft was an amazingly creative writer and the story and setting is one of the best things about this game.  It uses this very well and it fits perfectly with the gritty realities of trench warfare.  If I wanted to be pretentious I could talk about how the lines of reality are already blurred when man can be so brutal to his fellow man - but it certainly allows for the supernatural to gradually take over the story in a way that might seem jarring elsewhere.  The difficulty level is reasonable, I didn't have many problems in completing it apart from one particular issue which I'll talk about later and money isn't plentiful to the point of being meaningless but still allows you to buy upgrades for your stuff.

It's a strong fashion statement

However it's not all ballgowns, tiaras and the reawakening of primordial forces who should have been left to their eternal slumber.  The game did, admittedly, stand up to some of my basic "is this a rubbish game?" tests (you can't call in artillery underground) but it also suffers from a number of actually quite important problems. To start with, let's look at the whole insanity thing.  In the original pen and paper RPG "Call of Cthulhu" your character had a Sanity attribute and every time they met up with something slimy they lost points from this until, eventually, they went irredeemably insane.  However, in Wasted Land madness is sometimes a good thing and while this may be striking a blow for mental health advocacy it also comes across as pretty contrived.  Here lots of things affect sanity - casting spells, attacking monsters, monsters attacking you etc. and once this gets to 0 you are either paralysed or go into a frenzy – during which you actually get lots more action points for a few turns before you collapse.  This is explained by Prof. Brightmeer teaching you some yoga or something which at least fits in with the milieu but still means that madness is just a temporary state of mind.  And, not only this, but you can be cured at any time by somebody psychoanalysing you - even in the middle of a gas-filled trench surrounded by the shambling dead.  Sanity is treated as just another health bar and it says a lot that in a game full of evil cultists, opponents from beyond the grave and indescribable horror this was the bit which stood out as unrealistic.

The tactics side of things also feels a bit light.  To start with, there are LOADS of enemies.  On some missions I was killing upwards of 60 opponents and this means that it all becomes a bit of a grind.  Most of them have to close to clawing range before doing any damage and so it can feel like you're shooting ducks at the fairground on occasion.  They shuffle towards you, you shoot the closest one, some more appear and repeat to fade.  That's not to say that it lacks challenge, you often have to think about how to manage the situation, but the endless array of attackers that pop up only to be quickly knocked back down can be wearing.  The enemy AI is also not great, and they will often walk straight through a gas cloud - killing themselves before you even get the chance to plunge a sharpened entrenching tool into their rotten chest. 

However the biggest, and almost game-breaking, problem I had with the Wasted Land was how enemies spawn.  There seem to be a number of trigger points on the map and once you reach those points then opponents appear.  The problem is that they appear at the start of their own turn, sometimes right next to you, and will often kill your characters without you being able to do anything about it.  This directly lead to me failing a couple of missions and was an immensely frustrating part of the game.  Eventually you come to expect it, and leave all your characters on opportunity fire to try and combat it, but it's still just really shoddy game design and shouldn't happen. 

So it's strange that, even though all of these problems undoubtedly exist and even though they were definitely really annoying I still quite enjoyed playing this game.   Now this may be because I was on public transport for a lot of it and the game's cast of shambling horrors and reanimated corpses were more enticing than what was actually around me.  It may also be that its turn-based, strategy-lite approach fitted perfectly with what I wanted from a game at that time but I admit that I had no strings attached, uncomplicated fun with it and that is something you should never, ever turn your nose up at.  I mean, the game costs £2.99 or something, the Professor's magnificent turban is worth that on its own.


The Wasted Land is available on iOS, Android and PC.  I played it on a Nexus 7.