You know, being a games critic doesn’t entitle me to be the sole arbiter of what passes off for acceptable prolefeed. There are plenty of other games critics out there ready and willing to share their opinions to the world, and change the minds of millions of rational, reasonable gamers the world over on whether or not we should draw flat – chested characters with stonking great tits, and while they’re at it give chocolate to all the children in the land. So when I popped on over to the comments section of Aground, another survival – crafting – harvesting – 2D – pixel – art – Windows – only – Minecraft – ripoff – let’s – all – join – the – bandwagon indie game, I expected nothing more than the highest quality discourse from legions of discerning fans, because ten – year – old boys have only the highest standards for their discerning sensibilities.
Just take for example the laconic, Demosthenes – esque rhetoric of famed speechwriter “Catbugpig”: “So far its great”. Now hold on! Before you get too riled up in your seats, just take this scathing rebuttal from the Master of Debate himself: “DankLord”. “Honestly one of the WORST games I have ever played”. Great. Good conversation there. Oh, but the comments section also has some vicious wit from the developers of the game themselves! Look at the hubris of “batmobilly” for thinking they could come into the House of Fish and ask: “Will you be releasing a Steam version when the project is complete?”. And the call of the developers, the gatekeepers of rational thought, the last sane men in this insane world keeping few ideals, but holding them strongly, and evangelising the word of the LORD when they scathingly rebuke: “Yes”.
And with but one word I knew the true face of evil…
Grounded faster than Flight 93
You wake up on a deserted island after the third World War, and instead of bitching about it you pick up some wood and build a hut that’s nicer than most New York apartments. Along the way you let a strange, barely – clothed man into your house — no change there — and instead of immediately killing you, he helps you build some great amenities, which attracts some other nice men and women who you decide to cooperate with. You see, guys? It isn’t so hard to be nice to each other. If two men can be with a woman without forcibly repopulating the Earth, then why can’t we all be friends?
The paper – thin plot that you can miss entirely is just an excuse for some good old mining and crafting, because that’s all these damn games do anymore. Remember when video games weren’t just a bunch of unimaginative Minecraft ripoffs trying to make a quick buck on a dying trend, and were instead a bunch of unimaginative Half – Life ripoffs trying to make a quick buck on a dying trend? What happened to the good old days? Unlike Minecraft, this game is far more linear. On the one hand the obvious and unexciting upgrade paths means your only real incentive to keep going involves getting more items, as opposed to exploring new worlds and finding new lands to colonise in an imperialist power fantasy. On the other hand, it also vastly simplifies the gameplay by making it so you have clear directions and projects you aren’t forced to make yourself, making it feel more like a game rather than just another sandbox. It’s a deliberate design choice, and one which works well here.
In addition to the basic tenets of getting more swag, upgrades, and structures — of which there’s not much of and you can finish the game in under an hour —, you’re also encouraged to take an interest in the wildlife by bashing their heads in and capturing them for sick bloodletting experiments. The combat is so simple it could be seen as a metacommentary on the futility of gaming in general, if this game was any smart and not just slick. You walk up to an enemy, hold down the attack button, and whoever dies first loses. And because there are only four enemies you’ll normally encounter and they all die in a few hits, you will never feel any danger of dying from combat, making it feel like just an afterthought for more materials gathering. Even though Minecraft’s combat is the equivalent of a Counter – Strike knife fight without the right mouse button, the enemies still dealt enough damage in numbers to make it feel like a logistical challenge. I get it’s a 2D game with deliberately simple mechanics, but there’s no reason you can’t still have engaging combat. Just look at Terraria! No, wait, I better not give them any ideas. If they rip off a ripoff, there’s no telling how far the rabbit hole will go.
More A than the Scarlet Letter
In terms of how pitifully, shamelessly, and manipulatively awful this game could have been, let me just say that this game isn’t any of those adjectives and in fact is more of a game than any of the other crap I’ve played this week; except for Underhero, which could have gotten into an impromptu breeding spree with Aground and name their offspring “Underground” and “A Hero”. Like Underhero, this game appears to be some sort of demo for a full product, but instead of going with the old – school tactic of making the game a little bit at a time and making a demo out of whatever they got, Aground decides to make a pretty much complete game and keep adding and adding crap into it until it’s as bloated, impregnable, and begging – for – death as, well, Microsoft Windows ironically enough. And now that it’s going to be on Steam, which you cunts won’t stop patronising despite being owned by a company with the biggest, most insincere shit – eating grinning public persona since Atari was run out of the industry, there’s no telling just how many bad ideas are going to be involved. Listen, there’s no shame in quitting while you’re ahead. Or in your case, quitting while you’re adequate.
Because while the whole of the game works well enough, I never felt my engagement with the title was organic. It felt more like I was being railroaded along a series of material – gathering sessions for the sake of upgrading my equipment so I can gather my materials more effectively, and if one isn’t so obsessive as to want to, say, mine the entire map dry during an airplane flight, then you’re not going to be the type of person to really enjoy this title. Minecraft is enjoyable no matter who you are because of just how much it offers. The kids have the means to build anything they want, the nerds can tinker around with command blocks and redstone, the hippies can explore an infinite map and absorb the beautiful atmosphere, and the challenge gamers can put on Hardcore mode and see how much of an empire they can build before it all fades away from hubris.
Here, all the challenge comes from what the game tells you to do, not from what you make yourself. That would be fine if the challenges were, you know, challenging, like in Terraria having a shitload of items and enemies where the implication is to use one to remove the other from the mortal plane. Even in a stripped – down game such as Aground, it would still be possible to have some engagement if there were new places to explore and the combat wasn’t so darn simple. But even if this game changes for the better, it will still be just like every other survival crafting game out there: a few clever ideas, some more tightly designed than others, but still making their deity the God of Materials, and all games life and die by Her Grace. It would be fun if this game took its perfectly formidable base and continued to add in new content to separate it from the crowd, especially with the implication of a deeper world to get into. But the way things are going, it’s not looking like it’s gonna happen.
I was pleasantly surprised with this title and am happy to see just how well it simplified a traditionally dense and unnavigable experience, having a minimum of game mechanics and reducing much of the busywork around all the gathering it asks me to do — including having a market to just buy materials outright instead of going into the depths to mine some more hecking iron. But its strength is also its weakness, for with simplicity comes the realisation there’s not much to this game, and its future is uncertain with the Hand of Chaos looming over these developers. Especially since the developers use Discord despite it being spying proprietary service – as – a – shitware – substitute. Guys who use Discord? They’re not very smart.
There’s so much to worry about for this title, and it’s all because of what the game is. It was clearly made because the developers either wanted a pet project, an easy game to make for their first time, or were creatively – dead assholes looking for a fast dollar from the wallets of idiots, shipping off this beta to Itch so they can get free bug testing before they fuck over the fans who downloaded the free version in the early days by charging them out the ass later on. Not to say these developers are those types of developers. Given the game is only for Windows, meaning it would have to be developed using a proprietary crippleware engine, and they plan to release their game on Steam, the most malevolent and manipulative shitware to ever infect the video game industry, I’m betting these developers are either barely – competent idiots, or just assholes.
But the game was pretty fun, so I’m betting it’s the asshole bit. Now that I’ve weighed and measured the acceptable prolefeed that has come before me, I must now be off to discuss more important matters, like why the fuck ya’ll be putting bigass tiddies on kobolds. The bitches are reptiles! How the fuck a reptile gonna breastfeed their eggs!