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Reus

Looking back at the course of human history, it’s remarkable how much progress we’ve made. Sure, there have been some stumbles along the way, but to go from hunter-gatherers to having an international space station in about 10,000 years, is quite impressive. Reus, by debuting Abbey Games, puts the player in charge of supervising this development, from tiny hamlets to large cities, navigating the thin line between stagnation and chaos, poverty and greed. In Reus, the player literally assumes the role of a planet, and has to maintain a balance in the ecosystem of the planet. It could have been an interesting exploration of the evolution of civilization, but like Spore before it, it’s not distinctly bad, but just doesn’t hit the mark.

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“If you grant the humans too many resources they will become greedy and expansionist and begin to invade neighboring cities. It serves as a good visualization of human nature.”The player has command of four giants that are used to affect the environment by creating different biomes and placing resources that the inhabitants can use. If you grant the humans too many resources they become greedy and expansionist and begin to invade neighboring cities. It serves as a good visualization of human nature. Given the right circumstances, a peaceful community could turn on its neighbors. However, it appears to have been simplified a bit. Why would an affluent city care about its poorer neighbors? Poverty seems like a greater motivator for plundering the wealthy cities. The player doesn’t have full control of how the humans manage these resources, which is positive to see as it brings greater weight to the decisions the player makes.

The concept of symbiosis has a huge influence on the game, as the player can increase the output of a patch of ground by placing something beneficial next to it. For example, blueberries will increase their output if they’re placed near strawberries. It becomes more of a puzzle game in this sense as you experiment with various set-ups. As the space each settlement has available is quite small, you have to figure out the optimal combinations so you can increase their access to the resources that they need to construct their projects. Projects are constructions that increase the settlement’s prestige, and – in time – increases its size. Coupled with the giants’ abilities to increase the output of various resources, what at first seems simple is revealed to be far more complex. To help the player figure out how to combine different resources, Abbey Games have devised a wiki that’s accessible through the game. The Wiki is opened externally in a browser instead of having some way to access this in-game, a bit like the Encyclopedia in Civilization, which makes it much more cumbersome to deal with, and is best avoided.

The key difference between the two playable modes – Free-play and Era – is that Era is time-based, as the player has to reach a set of “developments” – essentially achievements – to unlock new resources and longer playtime in Era mode. At first, this seems like a positive thing, because it adds tension. The player can’t waste time figuring out how everything works. They need a solid plan right from the start, and that’s where the main problem appears. Since everything in the game takes time – the humans don’t collect the resources instantly – a whole era can be decided within the first ten minutes.

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“When you start a new era, you’re back to square one, starting with an empty planet and a timer ticking down.”This wouldn’t be too much of an issue if it didn’t feel so derivative and repetitive. At the end of each Era, the clock is basically rewound, as the giants fall asleep, and humanity is left to its own devices. When you start a new era, you’re back to square one, starting with an empty planet and a timer ticking down. There’s no explanation for where the humans have gone. Presumably they’ve eradicated each other in some way, but no mention is made of this. This feels extremely frustrating, as every playthrough is essentially two steps forward, and step backwards. By making you play the game over and over again to proceed, it seems like it’s hiding its true, repetitive nature. If the world didn’t reset every 30, 60 or 120 minutes, there would be little incentive to replay it. It wouldn’t be an issue at all, if there was some kind of overarching plot in the game. As it is, it feels more like a Skinner Box.

Although they might initially seem unrelated, I think Reus – on some levels – can be compared to Civilization. Although the genres are vastly different, the goal is the same. Bring a culture from the stone age into modernity. A relatively simple journey from point A to point B. But in Civilization this journey is unimpeded. You are always moving forward. Every turn is different. In Reus, it feels like you’re replaying the same turns over and over again, doing the same basic things.

“At the same time the animations seem a bit unfinished. The constructions seem like they’re not really attached to the ground.”Abbey Games have chosen to go with an art style that’s very distinct. The player sees the planet on a 2D-plane, and can zoom out to get a full perspective of it, or stay up close and watch the people live their lives. The hulking giants are drawn in a way that makes them imposing, but not threatening. They watch over the world, making sure the humans stay on the right path. Their eyes radiate curiosity and compassion. At the same time the animations seem a bit unfinished. The constructions seem like they’re not really attached to the ground. Occasionally, the giants will pick up ambassadors from the settlements and put them on their shoulders, but it looks like they’re glued on.

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It’s a shame there isn’t some sort of message integrated in the game, because as it is now, it seems unambitious. A plot of some sort would have helped here. It seems obvious when a key concept is symbiosis, to emphasize the importance of maintaining a balance on a planet. That when one tribe gets access to far too many resources, the balance breaks and chaos reigns. Especially in these times when it can seem like we’re both destroying civil society and nature. As it stands, the game feels inflated and you only need to play it for a few hours before it gets dull and repetitive.

6 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in April 2013.

Gentle persuasion

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