Well, although I wasn’t planning to write a computer game review today, I thought that I’d take a quick look at a rather interesting topical browser game called “Can You Save The World?” after reading this BBC News article about it and being vaguely curious about actually playing it.
Unlike older browser games, this one actually uses Unity and has 3D graphics too. Although the loading time will obviously depend on your internet speed, I’m guessing that this game will probably run on almost any vaguely modern computer. Not to mention that the game itself also only has to load when you start it up for the first time too 🙂
So, let’s take a look at “Can You Save The World?”:
“Can You Save The World?” (2020) is a social distancing themed game created by a small team of four people (Prof. Richard Wiseman, Martin Jacob, Julia Martinez Baiardi and Charlene Hedreville) in the space of about two weeks. Although it is primarily meant to be an educational game for younger players, the topical subject matter and the enjoyable gameplay meant that I ended up playing it more times than I’d initially expected to.
The main reason for this is that, although this game does make a point about social distancing in a number of clever ways, it actually works well as a game too 🙂
It’s a bit like a more realistic and non-violent version of those old scrolling space shooter games like “Tyrian 2000” or possibly an old obstacle course game like “Frogger” or “SkyRoads“, where the screen moves along at a constant speed and you have to dodge oncoming pedestrians and cyclists whilst picking up power-ups.
The gameplay is simple enough for pretty much anyone to jump into (especially since there is an optional tutorial segment) and yet also skill-based and fast-paced enough to give you enough of a challenge to make you want to have another go.
As you would expect from a game of this style, there is also a good difficulty curve too – with the street becoming more crowded and also featuring a good variety of dangers too.
Not only are there ordinary pedestrians (with a 2-metre exclusion zone around them) who can easily be dodged in lower numbers – but turn the game into a fast-paced maze when more of them appear on screen, but there are also turret-like sneezing pedestrians and faster-moving cyclists that help to add some variety to the gameplay too.
Like the monsters in old-school games, both of these dangers will clearly telegraph their “attacks” a second or two in advance, which helps to keep the game fair.
Plus, to my delight, the cyclists also have a 2-metre exclusion zone around them too. Seriously, it was so refreshing to see the game actually showing the fact that sitting on a bicycle doesn’t magically exempt you from the 2-metre rule. And, in a wildly unrealistic display of game logic and artistic licence, the cyclists in the game also actually ring their bells to alert pedestrians to their presence too!
In addition to all of this, you still have to watch out for obstacles like trees and benches – which can stagger/slow you down for a few seconds if you collide with them.
The distribution of dangers is also good enough that there isn’t really a way to “cheat”. For example, whilst the edges of the street are slightly safer, other pedestrians will occasionally get the same idea as you and this part of the street also offers no protection from sneezes either.
The gameplay is also kept interesting thanks to the fact that there are a variety of power-ups you can find too [Edit: Playing the game some more, I noticed a couple of power-ups that I missed in this list, such as a power up that slows everyone else down and a carrot that increases your speed].
There is protective equipment that increases your score (when you drop it off at a checkpoint), apples that give you extra health, egg cartons that increase the amount of PPE you can carry and – most hilariously of all – toilet roll. When you find this rare and precious item, it functions a bit like the stars from the old “Mario” games – playing jaunty music as you fly across the screen more quickly, picking up extra bonuses in complete safety for a few seconds.
Another interesting thing about this game is it’s scoring and health system. Unlike many games, the scoring system represents the number of transmissions avoided by keeping your distance from people and – since viruses spread exponentially – your score also increases exponentially over time too. And, whilst the goal of the game is to “save the world” by getting a score of seven billion – the extreme difficulty of this (my highest score so far is about 7000) makes a very valid point about how, even with social distancing, going out too much can still be dangerous.
The game’s health system is also interesting too – in classic fashion, there are a small number of hearts in the top corner of the screen which decrease whenever you get too close to someone. Although this is probably mostly there for gameplay reasons, it also makes a rather interesting point about risk too.
It makes a subtle real-life point about how, although a near-miss whilst walking (with, for example, someone cycling too close to the kerb or someone suddenly walking out of a blind corner) may or may not be “safe” on any one occasion (depending if anyone has the virus or not), the risk of getting ill increases the more often these types of things happen. So, this game’s health system teaches a valuable lesson about staying alert and being aware of any possible dangers in the vicinity.
One other interesting element of this game is that fact that, every time you play it, you play as a different character. This not only subtly makes the point that everyone has to be vigilant about social distancing (and hints that all of the game’s pedestrians – including you – are basically playing the same “game”), but it also adds some seriousness and dramatic weight to every “game over” too, since you can’t just restart as the same character.
In terms of graphics, this game is fairly timeless. Not only does the bright and cartoony aesthetic (which reminded me a bit of old Nintendo Wii games) cover up a lot of the more basic 3D modelling needed to keep loading times down – but it also contrasts really well with the game’s more serious subject matter too.
All in all, for an educational browser game made by four people in two weeks, this was a lot better and more well-designed than I’d expected 🙂 Not only does it work really well as a game – but it also makes a lot of very good points through subtle gameplay design choices too. In addition to the fact that it was surprising to play a game that feels so realistic, this is also one of those games that – like a lot of classic games – may have initially been designed for younger audiences but is fun, challenging and complex enough to still be enjoyable for older players too.
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a five.