This week, Yahtzee reviews both Chasm and This Is the Police 2.
Yep, it's still drought season, in both gaming and California; sorry to keep mentioning it, but you might need context if you're watching this video on the sex-teenth of Fun-vember or something. So in lieu of having saved up enough morphine tablets, here are two more indie games on Steam, and I'll even think of a connection between them if you give me a mo-- Oh! They're both about some kind of peacekeeping official having to rescue some things and murder some other things... Oh, fuck it; let's just go with, they both bored the tits off me.
Let's start with Chasm: it's pixel art, it's procedural, it's Metroidvania, and of course, it's fucking Kickstarted. Hey, Kickstarter backers! Don't insulate the inside of that comfort zone too much; there'll be no room for your fat, spotty arse! We are a rookie knight dispatched to an abandoned mining town to figure out what's gone wrong, and upon taking a look at the mine, he goes, "Well, there's your problem: you've got a Metroidvania game down there! Five distinct zones opened up in stages by new abilities, boss fights, more backtracking than a mistakenly-laid-out railway; that's Metroidvania, all right. Hope you've been maintaining that save point in your town square, 'cos this is going to cost you, madam!"
Castlevania seems like the main influence; rescuing individual villagers is straight out of Order of Ecclesia, and there's a friendly animate sword NPC you can get that made the 60% of my brain devoted to remembering things from Symphony of the Night light up like Blackpool Pier. But while Alucard could reasonably be expected to take on Dracula's minions 'cos he ate asses for breakfast, the spotty gimp we control here doesn't inspire the same confidence, and the only thing that's changed by the time we fight the formless, unstoppable Demon King of the Underworld at the end is that he found a nicer sword and some running shoes. Also, Chasm is procedurally generated, or at least, that's the claim; it seems like the boss fights, the warp rooms, and the upgrades are all roughly in fixed order and it's just all the filler rooms in between that change, but I'm not even 100% on that. I started a second game with a new seed to see if I could figure out what had changed and discovered a short ways in that I didn't actually give a shit.
Mind you, Castlevania and randomization has a precedent; I played Aria of Sorrow so many times, I've tried using fan-made ROM randomizers to swap all the pickups around and inject a little variety into my next playthrough, but what usually ended up happening was that a starting skeleton would drop the fucking Claimh Solais or something, and I'd spend the rest of the game effortlessly handing out wedgies. Maybe that's why Chasm's gameplay challenge seems painfully unbalanced, but I think it was mainly because of the magic daggers. See, magic attacks are upgradeable and you can equip whichever one you want, and once fully upgraded, the magic daggers were doing between 60 and shitloads of damage a pop, and still only cost one point to use, so I ended up spamming them like it was fucking Gradius and killed every boss in the game's second half on my first go, often without getting hit.
I did, at least, finish the game, but only because it took basically no effort and I had some podcasts to listen to. But while procedural generation theoretically adds replay value, I'd far rather replay a game that carefully crafts its layout for maximum entertainment than a game like Chasm, which rearranges its dull, generic hallways full of repeated enemies in a way that has all the practical impact of rearranging the contents of a bag of frozen oven chips. I can state that Chasm is the very best game I've played named "Chasm"; it is, at least, better than Chasm: The Rift, because, in contrast, it's a generic Castlevania ripoff with some nice pixel art rather than a generic Quake ripoff with the color spectrum of a turd convention.
So let's move on to our second game, which I didn't actually finish, but I'm going to offer a definitive opinion on anyway, because I'm a busy man with a lot of uneaten crisps in the house: This Is the Police 2. I haven't played This Is the Police 1, so I had no idea what I was in for, but I was drawn to the fact that the acronym was "TITP". This Is the Police 2, it turned out, was a game structured like XCOM, with isometric turn-based cover combat missions interspersed with a management game where you equip and dispatch named officers to deal with situations as they come up, all of whom were referred to by male pronouns, even the ones that were obviously women, which is either abject laziness or a relevant indictment of small-town authorities, because the plot is about an inexperienced female deputy in a small-town department having to take over when the sheriff is killed and who just can't seem to get respect in a man's world. Fortunately, her officers arrest a drifter who turns out to be a former police chief wanted on federal corruption charges, but more importantly, he's a man, with a big manly beard, so she puts him in charge instead.
Hey, This Is the Police 2, did you see what I did there? I got the premise of your story across in about half a paragraph; perhaps you could show that to your cutscene writer the next time you get a word in edgeways. Yes, TITP has pretensions to cinematic storytelling, but, well... Here's my impression of a This Is the Police 2 cutscene. I mean, I mean, this is me doing an impression of a This Is the Police 2 cutscene, right now. I'm doing it now. Can't you see I'm doing an impression of a This Is the Police 2 cutscene, viewers? Viewers? Viewers? Are you listening, viewers? You need to be listening to understand my impression of a This Is the Police 2 cutscene! I think they're going for an ultra-naturalistic dialogue style, but if realism was the intent, it fell flat, because, realistically, if I were stuck in a conversation like this, I'd stick my head in the nearest bread-slicing machine. Imagine they remade Fargo, but every scene was extended by the ten minutes before the relevant thing happens and the ten minutes after it, as well.
It's particularly cruel, because the first thing you do is a tutorial for the turn-based XCOM-style combat, and then approximately 94 billion years elapse before you get to do it for real, and not just because the cutscenes roll like an argument broke out at the old folks' home between the hearing loss wing and the Alzheimer's ward. Turns out the bulk of the gameplay is dispatching officers to petty crimes and making snap FTL-style text-based decisions, which isn't unenjoyable, but it is a bit of a lurch when the combat does come back and we get into a pitched battle with armed bank robbers immediately after solving the case of the schoolboys supergluing their bum cheeks to a bus shelter.
But that's everyday police work for you, I guess, and after the first combat mission, I was feeling positive; I stealthily brought all the baddies in alive with my XCOM chops. But when I was picking my dudes for the second combat mission, the game went, "Oh, by the way, some of these officers hate you, and also, being alive, so they're not going to do anything you tell them to do." Huh. Could you point out in some obvious way which officers have this characteristic? "No! Now assemble your team!" Sure enough, I inadvertently picked one of these "loose cannon" dudes, who immediately ran off, shot the first bad guy they saw, and caused the nearby building to disgorge about twenty gang members like a drug-fueled clown car, and all my dudes got dead.
And that's when I decided I'd had enough of TITP 2. It's one thing to bore my tits off; it's quite another to then kick my tits around the garden with a gameplay system I'd usually kind of enjoy. Feels like a betrayal, like getting cut off in traffic by a character from Sesame Street.
- The big man upstairs: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- This Is the Police 2 is one of those management games where you long for a Dungeon Keeper-esque "slap minion very hard in the face" button
- But is it better than "Chasm" the 2004 Ryuichi Sakamoto album