Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Curious Expedition game

Adventure awaits!

Well now, here is a game that got my attention. Curious Expedition is an interesting low graphics game based on exploration, roleplaying, resource management and turn based combat. It's not about to win game of the year, but I find it to be quite charming. The extremely low graphics harken back to the early days of gaming where your pixels were quite limited and you had to make the best with what you had. Although the graphics are low, the detail is really quite astonishing. They are able to set a dark mysterious mood, evoke Lost Ark sensations and make you feel quite lonely, and the music helps out too. This feels like a good example of making the most of what you have. And as of this writing it's still in Alpha stages! That's pretty darned good.


Now, a lot of you kids will likely have trouble getting over the low graphics, but they've honestly never been a problem for me. I don't know why precisely, but they never really caught me the way it did most others. I can look past all sorts of graphics if the gameplay is solid. And is the gameplay solid here? I think so, but that brings me to my next point. This is perhaps one of the most masochistic games I've ever seen.

It's one of those games that knows how to torment you by installing more pitfalls and traps than an Indiana Jones-themed amusement park, and yet I find myself coming back for more. Now, most gamers are familiar with games that treat them rough, but that only makes them try that much harder to beat it and show it who's boss. This isn't quite like that. The game is genuinely fun, and when you do get cacked by something it doesn't really feel unfair. No, it's more like Russian roulette where the chamber is loaded with different types of bullets instead of five empty chambers. I almost guarantee that you'll lose your first attempts at completing this game. It took me 11 hours to win this thing just once!

And that's not because it's really long, no. You can win a single expedition in 20 minutes. It's because there are just so many ways that you can fail. See, you start off choosing one of a multitude of famous historical figures from the Victorian era. It let's you play as amazing people such as Courtney Selous, Harriet Tubman, Nikola Tesla, and plenty of others. Each is started out with a set of equipment, helpers and abilities. Every selection has something different to offer.

Your overall goal is to complete six expeditions to unexplored regions, discover the golden pyramid, and collect more fame than your five randomly selected competitors. You have to gather items of importance and either donate them to a museum for fame, or sell them for money. And you will need the money.

You see, this is less like an Indiana Jones game, and more like a real world expedition simulator for that era. I've described it to others as Oregon Trails designed by a sadist with a love for the Victorian era. Remember how I said that this is like Russian roulette? That's not an exaggeration. For example, one of the best ways to find valuable items is to visit shrines. They are guaranteed to have good loot that you can make a lot of money or fame off of. Except that anytime you do something bad will happen. The variety of ways how this will screw you are amazing.

If you're lucky a giant chasm will open up and threaten to swallow up your little caravan of guys. That's the best case scenario. The worst I ever found actually opened up a void that began sucking up the entire map, dragging all sorts of denizens in and leaving me isolated and frantically running around for help. Usually some sort of famine will sweep the land and ravage the landscape. You might think, no big deal, the landscape doesn't bother me. But it will! Cuz guess what? Travelling costs you.

But it doesn't cost you in food, it costs you in sanity. See, this game is going for the realistic portrayal of expeditions from the old days, where if things went really bad, your subordinates might start doing freaking horrifying things. I'm talking Donner Party type horror, and you're invited to that party. Depending on who your companions are and what conditions they have, they might run screaming into the night, steal valuable equipment and try to escape to civilization on their own, or worse, take one of your other companions off into the bush and cannibalize them! Usually the natives behave best in this regard, because they'll just give you a parting gift and not attempt to murder your fellow teammates. And you really have to manage these guys, because you can only have four of them with you, maximum.

So almost anytime you go anywhere, you have to be careful. Jungle, desert, hills and swamp all slow you down dramatically, and if you aren't careful your group will be eating each other in no time. To help with this you can buy equipment, which negates the huge penalty. In addition you can drink whiskey or eat chocolate to regain some sanity. If you're lucky and you can stay in a local village, you can spend the night and recover. There are other places to do this, but they are few and far between. This is one reason having a cook along is a good idea. They can take raw meat, usually a trading item, and cook it to regain sanity! But you'd better have a good store along, because it won't last long.

The combat is actually pretty innovative I think, and it's not essential. You can totally choose to avoid combat, but you have to be careful about it, much like in real life. Depending on what types of units you have in your party and what level they are at, you can roll defensive, attack and intelligence dice. You can link these together for combos to defend or attack, or if you have a gun, you can use that with the perception dice to aim and deal uber damage. You can easily get screwed by this though. Sometimes the dice just plain won't be on your side, and your party might get messed up pretty badly.
Even so, it is fun and encourages you to make the most of what you have.

But what do you end up fighting? Thankfully fighting natives is extraordinarily rare. They'll only get their knickers in a twist if you completely exhaust their patience and might end up fighting you. Mostly it's animals you'll be fighting. You'll have to deal with anything from hyenas, leopards, tigers, crocodiles, elephants, to downright strange things like terror birds, theropods, or weird humanoid monsters that pop up from time to time, often your own mutated party members! Sometimes you'll encounter giant crabs, like something out of the Forbidden Island movie based on the Jules Verne book.

I should note that the map design is rather clever. Using a hex system each and every map is unique, because at the start of each expedition the entire thing is randomly generated in seconds. So you think you can just memorize the map and abuse that? Nope! Each time it's a new bag, so be prepared to treat it like the sim that it is.

Surprisingly, this game also introduces really good writing, particularly moral quandaries. How is that in a game this simple you ask? Well, quite often. Your followers have personalities and leanings and aren't afraid to make them known. Sometimes you'll have outright racist bigots in your ranks, and if you try staying in a native village overnight, they'll make their displeasure quite well known. Often you'll come across statues with offerings left by natives as tribute, which you can totally steal, often without any negative consequences. But not always. Normally you won't have to steal anything, as there is rarely anything of major value.

But you might feel differently when your party is on its last legs, starving and contemplating eating each other and you stumble upon this pile of sanity-giving fruit! So what if it's tribute by innocent natives? It's just some pagan fantasy and you need that food a heck of a lot more than they do! Or what about stealing a precious idol of theirs? Sure, you intend to immortalize it in a museum for all to study and appreciate, but you're frigging stealing it! Or what if you find a cash of mummies, thousands of years old? You can totally grab those, but then you're pretty much grave robbing! And there are times where the locals will make you very aware that they aren't pleased with your activities.

Sometimes you'll come across 'traders' and even slave camps! The traders are basically scavengers and will trade stuff they looted from other dead expeditions. The slave camps totally allow you to buy or sell people, which is pretty chilling, yet very realistic for that time period. Sometimes you'll come across church missions, giving you the merciful ability to rest overnight to regain sanity, and also awesome, you can stash stuff there for free and they'll send it back to civilization later!  It doesn't always work out well though. This game likes reminding you of that.

On rare occasions you'll have weird requests from your own party members. One that really stood out to me was one of my female followers had fallen in love with the native chief's daughter and asked for me to help smuggle her out so they could live together. Wow. Talk about putting you on the spot! I've only gotten that encounter once by the way.

So yeah, I really like the writing. The makers of the game are actually German, so for the English to come through so clearly and vividly is most appreciated. If I hadn't specifically looked it up I wouldn't have guessed!

Overall, this game is great if you love Victorian Era history or exploration. Most games get swept up into scifi or fantasy, and this is a tiny little pulp-flavored niche that is just begging to be exploited. It's a delightful little game that treats you rough, but not out of malice. It wants you to feel like you've worked hard to earn that victory. It's extremely charming and I find myself coming back to it constantly even amidst a lineup of all sorts of other games I have on my Steam account. The creators, a mere pair of programmers that left a bigger company to go indie, really seem to have their hearts into this game. The care and joy they poured into this really seems to shine through! And it's still getting updated!

So yeah, I'd recommend this game if you want a different flavor of game that really stands out from the crowd. I mean, in this day and age, how many games aren't MMO, zombie based, have space marines, aliens, orcs, magic, fully automatic weapons, or even vehicles? This little gem stands proudly by itself and I plan to keep playing! As of now I've racked up 42 hours of gameplay. And more are sure to come! You can purchase at the link below!


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