Wednesday, October 3, 2012

2012 Review

2012 is one of those big years; the ones that come around every so often in which a larger-than-normal percentage of the population think we’re all going to die. I’ve heard the sun will go out, and I’ve also heard that earthquakes will shake the earth apart. I’ve now heard that zombies will come out of a seemingly random temple in the middle of the Amazon. 2012 seeks to titillate audiences with zombie-killing, puzzle-solving sprite action. Can it live up to the hype of its namesake, or will it too be debunked by people who make logos like this?:

2012 Scam

2012 follows archaeologist Frank Mors into the end of the world. Mors informs his colleagues that he believes a temple in South America holds the key to the doomsday prophesies about 2012. He is laughed at for being a loon, but decides to go to the temple anyway on New Year’s Eve. At midnight, the earth quakes and suddenly zombies are on the loose. The rest of the game is spent trying to solve puzzles in different temples and help your fellow survivors to save the world. The story in this game is rather light; the story arcs start and finish far too quickly to mean anything to the player. In the beginning, you’re tasked with finding a woman’s daughter outside of the encampment. You fight your way to the temple, rescue her, bring her back, and the mother thanks you. The only storytelling in this scenario comes from the dialogue, of which there is the bare minimum.  Generally speaking, this problem is not a big one, as the rest of the game should be enjoyable without a well-told story… but the game has deep issues.

Like most top-down sprite adventures, this game is based on grids. See, it’s most intuitive for a programmer to map areas in the game to specific squares on the field. You press right one time and you move one square to the right, and the background updates appropriately. Most games also allow you to hold right and dash across the screen without interruptions. Unfortunately, 2012 did not get that memo. Instead, holding right will take you to the next square, pause for a quarter of a second or so, and let you go again, breaking up movement. This problem absolutely took me out of the game. If movement feels jarring, that breaks the immersion in the game. In 2012’s case, the immersion never happened because I never felt like the environment was believable. Take a look at this video and see what I mean:

The weapons system in the game sits a little better with me than its movement. You can pick up a variety of weapons from melee to long range, each doing an amount of damage and having a fire rate. There are very few pros and cons to weigh between weapons and I enjoy that since it makes choosing a weapon quite easy. I also like the fact that ammo isn’t a worry. The one big problem with the combat system is that you can’t shoot and move. This problem is yet another that 2012 has with immersion. I constantly find myself asking “Why can’t I do that?” with this game. 

2012 Weapons

The art style is interesting, and the sprites look great. Though the zombies could use some more variations and the grass tiles could use blending, the art on the sprites look great, as so do the still image cut scenes. The character portraits, however, could use some work. It’s a radically different style from anything else in the game, which would be okay if the precedent hadn’t already been set up by the cut scene stills of a different styling choice. The cut scene stills also look better drawn than the portraits, so seeing them after seeing the cut scenes is striking.

2012 Sprite Art

Another problem with the art is scale. When going into a pyramid, you look too large, and when inside, some items, like levers and torches, look too small. I couldn’t figure out something in the first dungeon for a while because I just couldn’t see the lever, and that is always frustrating.

2012 Temple

 Once I did find it though, the puzzles were rather simple, though enjoyable. Think Legend of Zelda’s first two or three temples for the entire game. Not particularly difficult, but challenging enough to not be boring.
At its core, I think 2012 suffers from a platform shift problem. If this exact game had been released as a Flash title that I happened to play, I would have thought it was great. There’s just something about making the change from browser game to console title that bring a higher level of expectation. Perhaps it’s the combination of the $2.50 price tag and the demand of my undivided attention. I know if I were playing 2012 in Firefox with Notch’s Twitter open in another tab, I’d be far more forgiving.

Verdict: 2012 seems to be an unfinished game. The art assets, gameplay issues, and styling choices could have all been ironed out given more time, and maybe even made for a fun indie title.In its current state, however, it feels more like a pan of doughy fruit than a cobbler. Play this game if you like top-down adventure style games and are willing to look past its incredibly rough edges.

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