REVIEW: 2012

I really should have seen this coming, another game cashing in on all the apocalyptic and Mayan hysteria, with the usually-can’t-miss addition of zombies, in 2012 (240 MSP). And no, faithful reader, this isn’t the puzzler I played earlier in the month. This 2012 is a completely different entity, blending Legend of Zelda-style overworld exploration and dungeon crawling in an occasionally effective, often obscure, manner.

Frank Mors is a disillusioned archaeologist that finds himself at ground zero (Guatemala) on December 21st for the Mayan zombie apocalypse, cut off from the rest of whatever civilization is left by the plodding undead. Dragged back to town, both the residents and stranded tourists bestow Frank with savior-status and ask him to single-handedly solve the mystery of what’s happened, take down a cult, and save everyone he comes across in the zombie-infested countryside. No sweat.

And Frank is a ladies man, or so we’re to believe, as all of the women he rescues are eager to ‘repay’ him. Pro tip: Archaeology is where it’s at, fellas, the panties drop almost instantaneously. Joking aside, progression is sometimes vague, and the quests are anything but clear-cut. Take the first one, which asks you to find a missing girl (there’s a lot of that to come). The game says to head North, but North is vague and quite a bit of ground to cover. If I hadn’t wandered into a temple and stumbled onto the girl about to be sacrificed, I’d have looked in vain forever. Exploration is nice, dumb luck isn’t.

But my bigger question to the developer is, how do you manage to make a game where you’re shooting zombies this boring? That I’d run out on the undead, not from fear or moral ambiguity, but boredom? Even a reasonably-written design document could have allotted more sense than to drop dozens of recurring enemies on each screen that slowly box you in, then laugh in your face at three shotgun blasts per zombie. Math time! Say I encounter 300 zombies between any one temple dungeon and the town, which could easily be the truth. Am I really going to enjoy slow-firing a 1000+ rounds? Not likely. Even after you get a machine gun, they’re still sponges and combat becomes this little circular dance you have to perform every few seconds.

Ladies, feel free to swoon while I dispatch these zombies and fanatical cult types. We can talk repayment later.’

The game world is huge. There’s plenty to see, and ancillary side quests are available, but they too, fall prey to bouts of wandering. Pay attention to the starter conversations, kids, as they’re usually your first and last mention of an important location or element in your mission. Your journal (somewhat) tracks the current main event, and the helpful mini-map fills in as you explore, but more should have been done to prevent the inevitable head-scratching.

That’s not to say that the core game is rotten in 2012, it just needs weapon / enemy balancing and the occasional hint or objective marker. I like the basic idea. It’s got a little bit of everything. As it’s put together currently, though, it’s a diluted sort of fun that’s a tad more trouble than its $3 worth; not broken, but not quite how you want your zombie apocalypse about the Mayan apocalypse to play out.

8 thoughts on “REVIEW: 2012”

  1. It may be deliberate. It does feel like something which might have been ‘challenged’ during play testing. On a line, somewhere between ‘Too easy’ and ‘Too frustrating’ there is a ‘Fun’ sweet spot. I would site “I Made a Game with Zombies in It!” as an example of hitting that sweet spot. You can finish it and enjoy it, yet it is highly rewarding to play through I felt.

    1. Yeah, that pretty well nails my sentiments. I know I’ve said that much before, and it bears repeating. That line is so thin, and it varies from game to game, and depending on genre.

      It’s definitely cool that you guys are working on ‘Astralis’ as games like this come out. I hate to see others’ games used as examples of how certain elements can go wrong in design, but at the same time, it’s good for you to be able to play these games and get a sense of what will and won’t work, particularly in an open world setting like what 2012 does.

    2. With examples, yes it is always a shame if things go wrong in games. Unlike Fallen Angel, I haven’t played 2012 yet, but the recurring enemies has me scared. I feel persistence is more rewarding for players – kill something, have it stay dead, change the ‘ecosystem’ so to speak. This was something Vince impressed on us from the beginning, dead creatures would not respawn, corpses would remain. It can be empowering to the player to permanently eradicate hostile creatures from the world.

    3. I like that idea as well. Probably taxes the game engine a bit, having all those bodies remain in the world 🙂 Besides the visual progress, it also works as a map to show where you’ve been, simply follow the trail of the dead, as it were.

    4. Dead body performance cost is an interesting topic. Assuming that the dead bodies don’t generally animate (Gears being the exception here), we can extrapolate that they should be cheaper to compute and draw than live ones. Bodies (Schrodinger’s cat aside) cannot be both alive and dead simultaneously, so dead bodies are cheaper than live ones. Of course fading the body away is even cheaper, but if your game can run at 60fps with lots of live entities, then it’s a fair bet that you can maintain this with lots of dead ones. But what about waves of enemies, won’t the dead pile up and choke the engine performance? Well yes at a certain point this would start to happen. But if the dead bodies aren’t animating or interacting with the physics, then you can cunningly avoid this issue by virtue of their decreased computational cost.

    5. You know, Vince, I do honestly want to thank you for answering that question, as I was curious about it. Knowing next to nothing about programming, I had a hunch nonetheless, that it’s not as taxing as having a bunch of animated enemies in play at one time.

      Just in terms of conversation, though, that has to be the greatest comment at this site so far. I’d pay money to see someone’s reaction to reading some of the stuff here without knowing the context. 🙂 …’What? Dead body performance? What kind of website is this?’

  2. Interesting – I think Tim’s making some compelling points here. Points which I suspect he’d have been happy to make prior to release, had he been given the opportunity to preview 2012. Previews are good! It is like when the waiter gives you an opportunity to taste the wine before pouring it. I’m not saying Devs have to do this, but the option is there as shown with Aeternum.

    1. You know, I wonder how that went. I read a little bit on their site that they took the game to a convention and had other people playing it, though I question how much criticism there was, or how in-depth the playtimes were. The combat is just too slow, each zombie a mini-boss. This might be a deliberate intention, to make it more challenging, but does it ruin the pacing? Yes. Is it fun? No, not over time. And while you never want to hold the hand of a player, you do need to -clearly- define an objective or puzzle. You don’t want to trial and error your way through something. It’s not a bad game, it does need some work though.

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