Mini Review : “Can You Save The World?” (Computer Game)

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.

Plus, although it isn’t mentioned in the tutorial, you can also play using WSAD too 🙂

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.

This is from an earlier part of the game. Later on, the street gets a bit more crowded (although, interestingly, all of the other pedestrians still follow the 2 metre rule with each other 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.

The sneezes also happen at regular intervals too, allowing you to work out when to dash past.

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!

Now, if only someone could invent a way to place glowing blue warning lines in front of bicycles in real life…

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.

Seriously, this made me laugh out loud the first time I saw it.

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.

Who would have thought that spending lots of time in the middle of a busy street might be a bad idea?

And, yes, the game also gives a brief explanation about how viruses spread exponentially too.

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.

I’m not sure if the characters are randomised or whether there is a fixed order, but having a new character after every “Game Over” is a really brilliant – if somewhat chilling – way of making a point.

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.

Review: “Rachel” (Free ‘Blade Runner’ Fan Game/Parody Game)

2017-artwork-rachel-game-review-sketch

Well, I was in something of a “Blade Runner” mood yet again and, during an idle Google search (whilst trying to decide whether or not to replay the classic Westwood “Blade Runner” game, or to continue playing another 1990s game I plan to review in the future), I ended up stumbling across a free “Blade Runner” fan game/parody game called “Rachel[NOTE: The site starts playing music automatically].

(Oh, if anyone is interested in how I created the image at the top of this article – I drew the line art on paper, then I scanned it and added the colours digitally before using a simplified version of this technique to convert it into pixel art. After this, I used various other digital effects for the background).

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Rachel”:

rachel-game-titlescreen

“Rachel” is a short browser game by JeromBD that was made for an event in 2015 called AltJam. It’s intended to be a combination between a “Blade Runner” parody and an interactive version of the famous interview scene between Deckard and Rachel. However, instead of talking to Deckard, you talk to another Blade Runner called M.Graham Palmer:

Obviously, Palmer hasn't used a Voight-Kampff machine before, because Deckard clearly states that the equipment isn't affected by cigarette smoke. Seriously, it's there in the film.

Obviously, Palmer hasn’t used a Voight-Kampff machine before, because Deckard clearly states that the equipment isn’t affected by cigarette smoke. Seriously, it’s there in the film.

As you can probably see, the game itself uses 1980s-style blocky, limited-palette graphics. Whilst I can understand this decision from a creative perspective, I think that the game’s palette would have probably looked better if it was blue/green/red/yellow/black instead. I don’t know, all of the bright pink in the game tends to detract slightly from the gloomy, gothic noir atmosphere of the film.

Likewise, there is also an optional “scanline” filter that re-creates a low-quality CRT monitor from the 80s. As cool as this looks, it can get in the way of the game slightly and you’ll probably end up deactivating it fairly quickly:

The scanlines look cool, but the game is more playable without them.

The scanlines look cool, but the game is more playable without them.

As for the gameplay, you just answer sixteen multiple choice questions using the “x”, “c” and/or “v” keys. My guess is that these keyboard controls are meant to simulate the early personal computers of the 1980s. Although they’re somewhat before my time, from what I’ve read and seen, many games back then used slightly unusual letter keys for the controls. Even so, these controls take a bit of getting used to.

The animations and text in the game are also slowed down quite considerably too (to simulate using an old computer). Whilst this looks suitably authentic and helps to pad out what is a very short game, it can get slightly frustrating at times.

The writing in this game is something of a mixed bag too. Like in the film, the questions are an interesting mixture of silly questions, philosophical questions and intentionally disturbing questions.

Are you testing whether I'm a cannibal or a replicant, Mr.Deckard ?

Are you testing whether I’m a cannibal or a replicant, Mr.Deckard ?

Most of the comedy comes from the possible answers that you are presented with. However, although some of the answers are quite funny, the sarcastic answers tend to get a little bit repetitive after a while. Still, there’s at least one piece of brilliantly funny meta humour here:

Not to mention a very sneaky reference to Philip K.Dick's "Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?" too :)

Not to mention a very sneaky reference to Philip K.Dick’s “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?” too 🙂

Likewise, although the fact that someone has re-created this scene from “Blade Runner” is really cool, the fact that it was made in a short space of time is fairly obvious from the English translations in some of the text screens.

Writing something in another language is difficult enough, let alone writing well – so, I have to give the game’s creator credit for including English text during the limited time frame. However, the grammar and English translations in this game can be a bit clunky – but probably ten times better than if I tried to write something in my second language(eg: rusty GCSE-level French). Whilst you can usually tell what the text is supposed to say, it can be a little confusing sometimes:

Er..... I'll choose answer one.

Er….. I’ll choose answer one.

As for the music, it’s authentic 1980s-style computer game music. Not the souped-up modern equivalent, but actual 1980s-style game music. In other words, the music only plays one tone at a time and has a rather ominous dirge-like sound to it (reminscent of a dial-up modem after an extra-hot vindaloo). It gets top marks for authenticity, although it can get a little bit annoying after a while.

All in all, the actual gameplay in “Rachel” isn’t really that great. However, for what this game tries to be, it succeeds brilliantly! Seriously, I can’t imagine anything cooler than a game where you actually get to play as Rachel from “Blade Runner”. Not to mention that, although I’m more of a 90s gamer, the fact that someone has tried to re-create what a 1980s computer game actually plays like is astonishingly cool in it’s own right.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, I’d give it five for the idea and one and a half for the actual gameplay.

Review: “Halloween 2016 Google Doodle” (Casual Browser Game)

Edit: Thankfully, my fears about the game disappearing after Halloween turned out to be false, Google has archived it.

Edit: Thankfully, my fears about the game disappearing after Halloween turned out to be false, Google has archived it.

Well, I hadn’t planned to write a game review today but,when I looked at Google a while earlier, I decided to check out the Google Doodle – expecting it to be a funny animated movie or something like that.

However, it turned out to be an actual computer game… and one that is worthy of review, if only for posterity (since I don’t imagine that it’ll be available after Halloween). [Edit: (1/11/16): Luckily, I was wrong. The game has been archived here]

So, let’s take a quick look at the Halloween 2016 Google Doodle:

This is the introductory movie, but there's an actual game afterwards :)

This is the introductory movie, but there’s an actual game afterwards 🙂

The backstory of the game is fairly simple, you play as a magic cat whose spellbook has been stolen by ghosts. In order to get it back, you must banish wave after wave of ghosts (and five bosses) by casting spells with your wand. Yes, it’s basically a wave shooter – but with a really cool twist.

Yes, the game's controls actually reflect the main character's actions. THIS is good game design!

Yes, the game’s controls actually reflect the main character’s actions. THIS is good game design!

Yes, you actually have to draw with your mouse in order to cast spells. Seriously, it’ll make you feel like you’re in a “Harry Potter” movie!

In the first level, each ghost has a symbol above it’s head and you have to draw it before the ghost touches you. In later levels, ghosts will have groups of symbols that must be drawn in order.

This is a screenshot from an easy part of level one. I didn't take many, if any, other screenshots of the gameplay since it was just too fast-paced to do anything other than actually play!

This is a screenshot from an easy part of level one. I didn’t take many, if any, other screenshots of the gameplay since it was just too fast-paced to do anything other than actually play!

Yes, it’s like a cross between “The Typing Of The Dead” and “Asteroids” and…. it’s awesome! Seriously, it’s more fun than it looks!

One of the things that elevates this game to the level of greatness is the fact that when you draw a symbol, if more than one ghosts have that symbol at the end of their line up, then it will affect them all. What this means is that you have to make split-second tactical decisions repeatedly.

You have to work out which order to draw the symbols in order to keep multiple ghosts away, and you often have to do all of this within 3-5 seconds. In many ways, the gameplay is more like an ultra-challenging level for the classic “Doom” games than a simple casual browser game. It’s a fast, combat-based puzzle and it is exhilerating.

The first four level bosses are fairly average. They’ll have a long line of symbols and, like in old platform games, you’ll have to knock them back 2-3 times before they’ll go down. Plus, like in classic FPS games, you’ll also be fending off the occasional low-level monster whilst fighting the boss too. However, if you lose any health points during a boss battle, then you can sometimes reclaim them by quickly drawing a heart with the mouse.

And, yes, there's an epic boss battle at the end too.

And, yes, there’s an epic boss battle at the end too.

The most notable boss is probably the final boss – not only is he gigantic, but the low-level ghosts that attack you between duels with the boss are also significantly smaller than usual, meaning that you’ll have to pay extra-close attention to the tiny symbols above their heads. You’ll feel amazing when you finally beat the game though – seriously, it’ll feel like the longest 10-15 minutes you’ve ever spent.

I'm not sure if this is a high score or not, but it was fun :) I was able to become an expert at a totally new style of gameplay within just 10-15 minutes. Now, THAT is good game design!!!

I’m not sure if this is a high score or not, but it was fun 🙂 I was able to become an expert at a totally new style of gameplay within just 10-15 minutes. Now, THAT is good game design!!!

In short, the gameplay is fast, intuitive and extremely well-designed. It’s that rare thing, a genuinely innovative modern game! It may look like a cute casual browser game, but the actual gameplay is closer to an old-school FPS game, mixed with a fighting game, mixed with an arcade dancing game, mixed with a QTE game, mixed with “The Typing Of The Dead”, mixed with a Nintendo Wii game and a few other things. And… it works! It really does.

Likewise, I really like the art style in this game too. It has a cute, low-budget 1960s cartoon kind of look to it and many of the ghosts are absolutely adorable too. The animations in this game are all suitably fluid and dramatic-looking too. The music is, of course, classic “spooky” Halloween music.

All in all, it’s really fun and it probably isn’t going to be online for too much longer. So, play it! Now!

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a five. Happy Halloween everyone 🙂