Attack Of The Top Down Sci-Fi RPG-Ish Games

Life's funny.  One day you're puttering along unable to harness enough motivation to make your own Sci-Fi roguelike game, the next you're practically drowning in them.

I received an email advertising the release of The Pit, which is apparently a Sci-Fi Roguelike game made by the makers of Sword Of The Stars.   That immediately got me excited because I thought maybe this was going to be a roguelike where you explore the universe as a single member of a universe-spanning race as they vie for domination.  So I downloaded the Demo and found...

...The Pit is actually just a fairly vanilla roguelike game (turn-based, as they usually are) in that you're just working your way to the bottom of a single dungeon.  Its main distinction amongst the roguelike genre is having a Sci-Fi setting, having a crafting system, and having both graphics and sound - individually, these aspects are not hard to find, but having all three together in one package makes it relatively unique.  It also has a retro game motif that is evident throughout, especially in the title screen, and that's not a bad touch.

The Pit seems quite difficult, but gets a bit easier if you get your hands on some decent weaponry because ammo is not all that scarce (especially if you use your knife on anything you can safely engage).  Although, I will say that "disease" status effects are very dangerous in this game as, once diseased, it can progress through five levels of severity based on fickle random fate, and if it reaches the fifth level it is instant death!  Still, as punishing as The Pit is, I've played far harder roguelikes, and The Pit actually has three difficulty levels: I was playing on "normal."

(Crawl, on the other hand, only has one difficulty level: "as close to impossible without actually being impossible as possible."  I'm getting so sick of getting slapped down in Crawl I may just play the far-more-reasonable (and also possessing in multiple difficulty level settings) Dungeons of Dredmor the next time I decide to invest time in playing a roguelike.)

Soon after trying out The Pit's demo, I read on RockPaperShotgun there was a game called Teleglitch, which was a procedurally generated, top-down game with a touch of System Shock.  I was excited once again: here, too, was a part of that game concept I had dabbled with developing before before losing heart because making games solo is hard.  Well, as it turns out...

...Teleglitch is actually quite good.  It's a "survival horror" game, action-based instead of turn-based this time around.  Just like a roguelike, dead means dead, there will be no reloading outside of save scumming provided that was not coded against in this game.  The Pit's procedural generation method is quite brilliant, too, managing to combine chunks of prefabricated content in a manner that I think is a very nice medium.

Of course, the very first thing you'll probably notice about Teleglitch is its graphics, which are very crude.  Personally, I hold substance as infinitely more important than mere appearance, and Teleglitch is stellar in my book.  Go back to triple-A first person shooters if you only play games just because they're pretty!

Teleglitch actually manages to get ammo scarcity right, where many games which call themselves "survival horror" make the cardinal error of making ammo plentiful and instantly backslide into being not a survival game but rather an action game.  Triple-A games, in their desperate gambit to interest as many players as possible, make this error rather deliberately: the Dead Space series is currently receiving a lot of critical flak about that, but it's just the latest example of many such games (e.g. Bioshock).  So it's really quite notable that Teleglitch succeeds here where many triple-A games fail.

I had not even completed the Teleglitch demo before Steam offered me three more Sci-Fi action shooters in a single $4.59 bundle, 80% off.  Three games for less than $5, what a bargain!   Well, the three games in question are the somewhat-mediocre-rated-but-not-terrible Alien Breed trilogy by Team13...

...which are certainly a lot prettier than The Pit or Teleglitch.  Yes, Alien Breed was made in the Unreal Engine by an established game development house that could hire people who knew how to use it.

I seem to recall hating the demo of when it first came out, but now that I played through the first game, Alien Breed: Impact, I really can't complain.  As far as monster shooting games go, Alien Breed is a simple concept, elegantly executed.  You're a dude wot walks around carrying a gun, monsters pop out trying to kill you, so and you shoot them until they stop moving.  The entire happenings of the game are basically an excuse for you to gun down more monsters whilst roaming the level finding ammo, items, and weapons.

Perhaps the simplicity leads to my lead critique of the game.  Alien Breed: Impact is simply not as deep as The Pit or Teleglitch.  Sure, the game has six guns but, aside from the pistol (a wimpy but unlimited ammo sidearm) the only reason you really need to switch between them is ammo limitations, and I was pretty much topped out on ammo for most of my weapons through the later half of the game.  Sure, you can throw flash grenades and frag grenades but, for most encounters, I found holding down the trigger on my damage-upgraded assault rifle got the job done just fine.  Though I only played on "Normal" difficulty, these alien monsters are cannon fodder, and not nearly as challenging as the ones of Alien Swarm, instead withering accommodatingly under a short burst of fire no matter what weapon you might happen to be holding (except maybe that wimpy pistol). 

But then, Alien Breed really does not belong being compared to Alien Swarm.  Alien Swarm prioritized the cooperative play and has players running through maps designed around that idea, complete with randomly generated alien swarms.  While Alien Breed does have a co-op mode, its priority was much closer to Shadowgrounds in that Alien Breed is really more about telling a story while letting you pewpewpew your way to victory as a singular protagonist and if Alien Breed were more difficult it would only get in the way of its own priorities.

Along those lines, it's a pity Alien Breed: Impact's story is so minimal, Shadowgrounds had a lot more going on.  In Alien Breed, you play a grizzled engineer soldier who hates the obviously-megalomaniacal future mega-corporation that is obviously behind his wife's death and probably behind this alien outbreak, but the game does not bother to tell you any this of this directly.  Instead, whenever your robot-girl sidekick asks the grizzled engineer about his past, he simply shuts her down cold and gets to work.  Him cutting her off or being asked about his arm (which is apparently deformed, not that I can tell by looking at him) happens often during cutscenes, a running joke that nobody laughs at.  Perhaps the story picks up a bit in the second and third part of the series?

Another game I ended up buying along with Alien Breed, because it was similarly discounted to a mere $2.50, was Wanderlust: Rebirth, which is most certainly not a Sci-Fi game but is certainly a top-down RPG-ish thing.  I did not know much more about this game other than it was developed by some of the same people working on Starbound and that buying it would help support their efforts.

To be brutally honest, when I first started to play Wanderlust: Rebirth, I was somewhat disgusted.  The game looks and plays like a cheap JRPG knockoff.  It felt like a game created by talented pre-teens for pre-teens.  I could not see any merit in a game that sets the bar so low!

However, as I continued to play it, I became rather impressed with the detail the developers put into the scenarios and such.  There's actually quite a bit more to Wanderlust than meets the eye, and it comes together in a unique package.  I could see people getting into this game, especially if they have some friends to mess around with in the co-op mode.

That said, I probably will not play a whole lot more of Wanderlust simply because I fear there's not enough gameplay sophistication in a six-button attack interface to keep me for long.  That can work if it's really expertly balanced, and I think this game wants to be Secret Of Mana, but it's not, the balance isn't there, it feels more like Maple Story: just spam out attacks until everything's dead and move on.


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