Thursday, November 12, 2009

Game Demo: Sacraboar

sacraboar Good old game demos, always around when you need them.

Given that the holiday season is fast approaching, I figured there would be tons of new demos around for me to explore – a quick look at Steam and Xbox Live confirmed that I was right, but that most of them were (of course) first-person shooters. More like first-person BORINGS, am I right?!

Outside of that genre, pickings were slim, and I nearly despaired before a real-time strategy game caught my eye. It has been awhile since I’ve really fallen in love with a representative of the genre, so to revisit the RTS would be a nice break between Borderlands last week and Left 4 Dead 2 next week.

Enter Sacraboar, developed by Makivision Games. On the one hand, this is a relentlessly traditional RTS game in the mold of Age of Empires – on the other, it mixes things up just enough to be interesting.

Sacraboar is a self-described “capture-the-pig” strategy game – games are won not by obliterating your enemy, his holdings and everything he stands for (indeed, each team’s essential buildings cannot be destroyed), but by getting your units to your opponent’s “pig stand",” absconding with his pig and bringing it back to your base. Oh, yeah, and you’ll also want to guard your own pig. It’s basically Capture the Flag meets RTS.

Here’s what Sacraboar does the same as nearly every other RTS in history: Its interface is nearly identical to any given Age of Empires game, and if you’ve ever controlled a camera or moved a unit in any RTS everything in Sacraboar will seem extremely familiar to you. In fact, graphically, it even looks a lot like Empires’ spiritual sequel Age of Mythology with a very slight graphical upgrade. A boon for my aging laptop and its hoary old graphics card, but nothing that will take home any awards.

The rock-paper-scissors style of gameplay indigenous to the RTS is also present. Some units beat other units easily, but are easily beaten by other units. Some destroy buildings. Some are airborne but can’t capture the pig. Each has its own set of weaknesses and strengths that you’ll have to harness to win the game.

Sacraboar is also eerily familiar in its use of annoying soundbites. Every time a unit is created, every time a unit is moved or attacks another unit, every time you capture a pig or win a match, basically anytime anything does anything, a recorded voice feels the need to say something, and Sacraboar’s indie roots mean that these voices were provided by programmers, not voice actors. Hearing “where’s the battle?” from my axe throwers every time I moved them fifteen feet grated on me after an hour; I don’t know how the development staff kept from going crazy.

Even the game’s main gameplay hook is sort of cribbed from another game – in many RTS games, you choose to play as a particular “side” or nationality, each of which can make its own special units. Sacraboar does away with this in the favor of “towers” with different attributes – speed, power, and so on. Building a Speed tower will give you “spells” that can speed up your units and slow down enemies, and building two Speed towers will give you additional spells in the same vein. You can only build four towers, and you can only build two towers of any given type. While an interesting gameplay mechanic, it’s got a lot in common with the God Powers from Age of Mythology, which gave the player a different power depending on the specific gods they chose to worship. There are differences (God Powers in Mythology could only be used once per play session, spells in Sacraboar recharge), but the core concept is the same.

Where Sacraboar really tries to differentiate itself is in the area of resource management – most RTS games make you work the land for resources, be it money, wood, food, or what have you. Sacraboar gives you a set amount of money to spend on units and buildings. The destruction of that unit or building will credit the money back to your account. If you have 25 gold and build four Hunter units with it, and those Hunters all die because they proved ill-suited for the task at hand, you’ll get the 100 gold back and can use it to build a different kind of unit. This takes a lot of the waiting endemic to RTS games and throws it out the window, and rarely will you be fighting an enemy who has been completely neutered by your invading army.

I can’t talk much about the story because the demo didn’t have one to speak of – it did have spelling and grammar problems, but until we here at Charge Shot!!! hire some dedicated copy editors I hardly feel qualified to judge them on that account.

So, that’s Sacraboar. It’s a solid but mostly by-the-numbers RTS game that you’ll enjoy if you’re a fan of the genre, but you won’t be able to turn any RTS haters onto it unless what the hate about a normal RTS is the waiting.

Makivision Games’ Sacraboar is currently available for the PC via Steam for $19.99.