This week, Yahtzee reviews Totally Accurate Battlegrounds and Moonlighter.
Ah, battle royale, the genre that is to video games what Chris Pratt is to movies these days: very, very popular, absolutely bloody everywhere, but probably doesn't have a whole lot going on upstairs. It's a great genre for officially relearning how crap I am at first-person shooters no less than forty times an hour, but when an obvious and simple idea takes off, imitators will swiftly follow; I mean, one big map and 100 randomly-placed players is not exactly a Cecil B. DeMille production.
So this week, I have been mostly playing Totally Accurate Battlegrounds, which is actually a hilarious parody of battle royale shooters; what it does is, instead of dropping 100 players onto a map full of randomly-spawned equipment and gradually shrinking in until only one remains, it drops about 50 players onto a map full of randomly-spawned equipment and gradually shrinks in until only one remains and everyone's got googly eyes. Yeah, that's some astringent satire you've got going on there, Totally Accurate Battlegrounds; truly, the spirit of Jonathan Swift lives on through thee. Oh, wait; what also makes it hilariously parodical is that everyone's at the mercy of a crazed physics engine that makes them wobble about like pipe cleaner figures on the floor of a moving vehicle with dodgy suspension. Did I mention it's by the Clustertruck people?
So, players poing merrily across the landscape like overexcited puppies in the long grass and hold guns out in front of them the way that lady from Jurassic Park: Trespasser did (although, thankfully, without the health meter tit). But Totally Accurate Battlegrounds falls into the not-underpopulated trap of the attempted satire that ends up becoming a viable alternative to the thing it's satirizing, if not just another example of it; classic "Scream Syndrome". The wobbly-bobbly physics mean that melee combat can actually overpower ranged weapons if you wobble-bobble your way up to a sniper as they pull the old Ramsay Bolton and continually miss your thrashing limbs until you get into range and knock all their teeth out with a loofah.
On that note, there's also an extensive range of weapons, more "weirdly" extensive than "sterically" extensive; you've got guns, rocket launchers, crossbows, grenades, axes, sticks, and slightly-sharper sticks, but no elastic band launchers or comedically-oversized sex toys. The large range of guns also makes it hard to find more of the specific ammo that each one takes, thus improving the odds that a gunfight will eventually devolve into loofah-dueling. The animation and uncluttered maps also makes it harder to hide or find cover, encouraging direct conflict, and I appreciate that the wall around the map is an actual literal wall, not a ring of fizzing Listerine.
So all in all, we'll put T.A.B. in the "Viable Alternative" category; it is a bit mired with bugs and cheaters, but they're diligently churning the patches out, which makes me wonder if any of the developers think that this has all gone a bit beyond a joke. "Ha ha! Let's make a battle royale mode of our silly physics game for April Fools'; it's not like we'll have to support it for the rest of our fucking lives!" It's like they served a trick rubber steak to their houseguests, and the idiots won't stop trying to eat the fucking thing. "Hey, I can't chew this steak!" "Yes, ha ha! It's a rubber steak! April Fools'!" "But I want to eat the steak! It smells of steak!" "Yes, we made it smell like steak because it needed to for the joke to work; I didn't expect you to get this into it." "Ow, my stomach hurts after I ate the steak!" "Look, you weren't supposed to-- ugh, just... fuck it! Here's a real steak, all right? Have fun with it." "Do I get a steak, too?" "Can I have a slightly larger steak?" "YES, FUCK IT! I'll cook steaks for everyone; this is my life now."
That's all I had to say, really, so let's have an indie game chaser. How about Moonlighter, a roguelike pixel art dungeon crawler on Steam? Now, if you're anything like me, your eyes probably glazed over and you started thinking about sticky buns halfway through that description. A roguelike pixel art dungeon crawler indie game on Steam is like a seagull on a pier: yes, you might have fun with it if it holds still long enough to let you take a funny picture, but there'll be another twelve along in a moment. And while Moonlighter, like many of its fellows, has some very well-animated pixel art, a seagull wearing lipstick is still a seagull, just as likely to brazenly steal your cheeseburger. As much as there have been some very lovely roguelikes, I can't help feeling that we see them a lot because making randomly-generated levels is slightly easier than meticulously designing a bunch of carefully-curated maps with tiered challenges and story elements. And I think these days, you have to do the Bloodborne thing, where random dungeons are there if you've got an hour to kill and are saving your higher brain functions for an upcoming speech or televised quiz show production, but it can't be the actual meat of the game anymore.
To that end, Moonlighter is also a shop management game; your job is to go into dungeons and collect a wide variety of vendor trash until your bag is full, then come home and load up your shelves. The interesting challenge, then, is figuring out how much to charge for the items with nothing to go on but a list of the items in descending order of value and whether the customers roll their eyes disgustedly at them or skip joyfully to the counter singing "Money Makes the World Go 'Round". You then spend the money on upgrading your shop, the town, and your dungeon-exploring gear, because there's an old bloke who's constantly telling you not to try to reach the end of the dungeons and kill all the bosses, so obviously, we're going to do that.
I think the problems with Moonlighter emerge as soon as you have figured out most of the prices of the current dungeon's items; once the deductive part is over, the game just turns into a slightly-anemic roguelike dungeon crawler with an overly elaborate loot-flogging system. The combat gets kind of rote; I gravitated to using a spear, 'cos it's no slower than any other weapon and had the advantage that all the dangerous stuff is going on at the far end of it, but besides that, your dodge-roll has more eye-frames than a maritime museum has jolly interesting facts about knot-tying.
After four dungeon types and a final boss that rolled over like a frightened armadillo in a skate park, I was feeling rather underserved by Moonlighter. The shop management element is a nice enough idea, but just isn't fleshed-out enough; more nuance might have been nice, like it mattering where you display what items or whether or not you solicited an endorsement from Commander Shepard. I would have said it was an original idea, but then someone drew my attention to a Japanese game from 2010 named Recettear - not to be confused with Wreckateer, which is spelled "Wreckateer" rather than "Recettear" like the first Recettear - which is a shop-management-cum-random-dungeon-crawler game with deeper haggling and salesmanship mechanics, which, on the whole, I recommend if you've got a higher-than-average tolerance for the "animes". But I digress.
The pieces only fell into place when Moonlighter's credits rolled and about 5,000 backers got name-dropped. Ah, yes; give me an "O" for "O-verfunded Kickstarter project". I've learned to recognize the telltale signs of the overfunded Kickstarter project; they're like Californian teenagers: overly proud of themselves, unpunctual, and severely underweight.
- Poinging in the moonlight: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- And I'd have liked to use my spear on those cunts who want to come in after closing just because I'm still ringing up a couple of guys
- Consider donating your surplus Kickstarter money to your local donkey sanctuary