Thursday, October 22, 2009

Game Review: Eufloria

Eufloria If you’ve been with us for awhile, you might remember Craig writing a piece on a little indie RTS game called Dyson.

One trip to the 2009 Independent Games Festival, several revisions, a name change and an interview with us later, friends of the blog Rudolf Kremers and Alex May have released Dyson to (virtual) store shelves in the form of Eufloria.

So what do we think? How does this new product stack up to the original prototype? Does Eufloria bring enough to the table to be worth your money? We’ll just see, won’t we!

A Dyson. A recap, for those of you too lazy to go back and read Craig’s earlier review of The Game Formerly Known as Dyson: Eufloria is a real-time strategy game. You start with a single asteroid, upon which you grow trees. These trees grow Dyson, little bug-like creatures. You can send your Dyson out to neighboring asteroids – if the asteroid is empty, you can use ten Dyson seedlings to plant another tree and claim the asteroid as your own. As you plant more trees on more asteroids, they produce more Dyson, putting more of them at your disposal.

If your Dyson encounter other, differently-colored Dyson, conflict ensues. Your asteroids might also be attacked by these other Dyson – planting defensive trees with exploding seeds can help fend your enemies off. Your objective is normally to find and control all asteroids.

fly, my pretties! The levels in Eufloria are procedurally generated, meaning that each time you play a level, asteroid and enemy placement will be slightly different. Procedurally generated games are a double-edged sword of sorts – on the one hand, no two playthroughs are going to be exactly the same. On the other hand, the same basic building-blocks are always used, and as a result there is a bit of sameness to most of the game.

Fortunately, the game itself is good enough to ameliorate that shortcoming.

As Rob mentioned yesterday, Eufloria is pretty close to being a “pure” game – that is, cinematic trappings don’t weigh the proceedings down. New since the original Dyson is the faintest thread of a storyline – you are tasked with expanding your Seedling Empire using the Dyson, finding the source of the “Grey Sickness," and fighting off rival Seedling Empires. These narrative slivers are delivered in text bubbles before and after levels, and exist mostly to explain to the player why differently-colored Dyson can’t all just get along.

All of this happens in the new-to-Eufloria story mode, which consists of some 25 levels that vary in objective and ramp up in difficulty as the game goes along. The Skirmish mode of the game seems to be a response to requests for a “random map” feature in the original Dyson – eight maps with varying objectives that you can just click and play.

There have been quite a few tweaks to the game since Dyson, and I won’t go into them here – dammit, Jim, this is a review, not release notes – but most of them are for the better, and the game’s core appeal has not been lost. Little is more satisfying than dropping a massive swarm of Dyson on the head of an unsuspecting foe.

surroundedPart of said appeal stems from Eufloria’s minimalist art style, which is simple without being boring or indistinct or ugly. Its other trump card is its soundtrack, delivered by one Brian “Milieu” Grainger.

Some games use intense, bombastic music to emphasize skirmishes and conflicts and to heighten tension – Milieu’s ambient, spacey music is constant throughout. If you’re waiting for Dyson to spawn, it’s a nice backdrop, an awesome way to decompress after a Day at the Office. If you’re being attacked from all sides, the music soothes you and helps you keep your cool – “hey, friend,” it seems to say, “things will turn around. Relax.”

The music is truly a highlight of the game, and I can’t say enough good things about it.

Also new to the game since Dyson are custom levels, which I’m sure we’ll be seeing soon – user-generated content can keep a game going for long after its release, and I’m sure this one will be no different.

One minor gripe is that the game’s mouse-only controls take some getting used to – for example, to send some but not all of your Dyson from one asteroid to another, left click, hold, and drag the mouse slowly until the desired number of Dyson is shown, then let go of the mouse button and click the asteroid you’d like to send them to. Once you’re used to them, the controls are fairly intuitive, but this is definitely not a game you can play with your laptop’s trackpad.

The game’s one major shortcoming is the lack of a multiplayer component. I’ve said this before about certain Xbox Live games, and I’ll say it again here: in this Internet-connected age, no online multiplayer is an increasingly noticeable black mark.

In our talk with Alex and Rudolf, we talked a bit about the difficulties of programming multiplayer into a game – I’m willing to cut them some slack here, because they’re just two guys and otherwise their game is wonderful. It’s just that, man, the thought of a four- or eight- or sixteen-player Eufloria multiplayer match is almost enough to keep me up at night.

shine on you crazy dysonEufloria is one of the best indie games you’ll play this year – in fact, even if you removed “indie” from that statement, it’s still pretty much true. You owe it to yourself to play the demo, at the very least.

Rudolf Kremers’ and Alex May’s Eufloria is currently available for $19.99 from Steam, Direct2Drive, and the Eufloria Web site. Charge Shot!!! was given a review copy of the game.