Steam Greenlight is a haven for independent developers to show their wares to the public and try to entice them into voting for an actual official release on Steam, giving them the joy of working with the best video game company in the world and the possibility of frankly embarrassing amounts of cash in the future. The first ten games from this list of possible games has recently been ‘Greenlit’, thus I shall spend the next few weeks highlighting these little internet darlings, starting with this week’s offering Kenshi by the little known LoFi Games.
Now it is important to note that the game currently available from their website (www.lofigames.com) as the alpha, and by God does it show. This ‘Open ended squad based RPG’ is based in some sort of desert populated entirely by samurai of various factions, your interaction with whom shall vary between ignoring each other and tricking each other into massive skirmishes. Your aim is to build up your own army and eventually your own town so that you can watch your character live a happy idyllic lifestyle threatening anyone who is a different colour. You may have noticed that there isn’t really much of a story to that brief synopsis, and that would be because I honestly haven’t found a hint of story in this game yet. So let’s just draw a line under the story and say that it evokes the feel of the Total War games more than anything else, where you try to take over the rest of the world out of a simple lack of anything else to do.
Let me state right off the bat that this game shows a lot of potential and is being almost constantly patched as we speak, hopefully in the 2 years or so it’ll take for it to finally get the Steam release it will have been polished to mirror the possibilities it presents. Here are some of the reasons I think there is a great game in here somewhere. The difficulty is utterly ridiculous; you start out being plonked in the game world with nothing but a sword and this season’s torn up rags, so if you’re like me, you will look at your katana and the expansive world before you and decide to go kill something. You’ll wander out the city gates, try picking a fight with a bandit and get the absolute bollock burgers beaten out of you. This may not sound like a happy welcome to the game but it quickly teaches you to be very careful about picking fights and encourages you to be a sneaky backstabbing dirtbag to get round situations. A favourite tactic with me was to piss off a group of bandits then run screaming past some imperial soldiers who will promptly turn the bandits into a powdery red mist surrounding some mysteriously unworn armour.
The damage system is also worth mentioning, as each of your units can suffer injury to specific parts of their bodies. Making them slow down with limps or less able in fights with broken arms etc. Heightening the wilderness battle for survival feel that gives the game a very charming quality and presents some very awkward situations, such as when your character has his head lashed to a splint made from his own shin bone to try and remain upright. There is nothing tenser than wandering the desert, hoping to find a city before bandits and wolves find you.
However, oh my is it a big ‘however’, in its current state it simply isn’t good enough. I realise that the finished product will amend many issues I have with the game (hopefully) but there are some things that I know for a fact won’t be mended. They will do lots of tinkering to ensure that the camera doesn’t lurch through the world geometry like a lemming on speed, and they may even improve the battle animations so that the epic samurai warriors look like they’re doing more than chopping at each other like a parking barrier, they may even give it a beautiful immersive soundtrack, but they will not fix some of the nagging little irks that are sadly core to the gameplay.
For example, the trailer for this game flashes up words for what the game essentially is, one of these words is ‘explore’. Now as I said above, the world map is enormous and to get anywhere you HAVE to spend ages wandering round the desert looting stuff, but here’s the thing. Apart from sand dunes, a few mountains and a couple of identical looking towns there is absolutely FUCK ALL HERE! Nothing interesting to look at whatsoever! If your idea of fun scenery is wandering through a samey looking desert all damn day then I would be well within my rights to dump you in the Sahara and wait for you to either die of thirst or choke yourself to death with camel shit out of boredom!
There is also the inventory system, which is essentially Leon’s briefcase from RE4, this is not a bad system to have in a game where you're frantically gunning down mutant midget Napoleons, however when you use it for a scavenger game you’ll quickly find that 60 percent of play time will be spent tediously swapping equipment and shopping, which is a shame because as I mentioned above, I quite like the immersion that needing to steal anything not nailed down just to ensure survival over the next dune provides.
Surely the fact that you’re in command of a trusty band of katana wielding mercenaries can make the downsides fade like pepper spray ruining a stalker's eyesight? Well early on when you have maybe 2 or 3 dudes to order about and you’re against one down on his luck hobo, yes it can be quite interesting. But more often than not your going to be caught up in massive skirmishes between guards and bandits and the sight is akin to watching ants scurrying over and apple core and trying to place bets on which of them finishes first. So, combat is somewhat hard to keep track of at the best of times, and I don’t see how better rendering or an improved camera could remedy it.
But you know what? I’m still sort of interested in seeing what the finished product will be. Hopefully Valve can beat LoFi over the head with the Truncheon of Sense and get some actual variety in the environment, and maybe limit the number of allies each faction can have so combat isn’t so utterly obscure. In short, a good game concept lies in here, but with oodles of potential being concealed by poor execution and too much emphasis on set up - it took me double the time of an actual fight to make sure that all my buddies had the right equipment. So in the two years or so it’ll take for this lump of potential to grace the Steam stores don’t get too excited but keep an eye out for it.