Monday, October 20, 2008

Hinterland

With my Mount & Blade review finally sent off to Bill, this weekend I turned my attention to Tilted Mill's Hinterland. (A Steam distributed game that you can get for $20.) It's not bad. I think it works very well as a short-lived crack cocaine-like addiction. That said, the game's basic formula plays out rather quickly and I don't think it's got the kind of legs to remain that addictive for more than a week or even just a few days.

In Hinterland you create a character and are tasked with building up a small frontier town by recruiting visitors to stay and fulfill needs like farming, crafting items or running a business. While all that's going on, though, you also need to venture out into said frontier and clear it of monsters. Clearing a section of monsters often nets you some kind of resource that you can use to improve your town's quality, like procuring stone or fresh water. Some of those resources improve the ability of your townies to do their job. Finding a source of wild game helps out your trapper or hunter, for example.

To win the game you need to defeat all the beasties out in the wilderness, which, pending the size of the game map you choose, can take just a couple hours or the better part of a day.

If you find yourself being overwhelmed when fighting monsters in the wilderness you can recruit members of your town to go adventuring with you. The catch is that if they're with you then they're not doing whatever their day job is. So if you bring the town healer with you into combat then they're not going to spend time in town making healing potions. If you bring a farmer along, he's no longer producing food. (If you don't have enough food to feed your town people will leave.)

I've got a draft review written already that I'll be shooting off to Bill soon that gets into more of the particulars. Ultimately, what makes Hinterland pretty neat (if not great) is its simplicity and diversity. You can pick this game up and figure it out without ever resorting to the manual. There's a cause and effect to just about every choice you make. Do you use the limited funds you have to hire a farmer to get your town producing more food or a soldier to help you protect it from monster raids? Do you hire a craftsman to make items of upgrade your existing hostel to an inn so that your town produces more money and can host more visitors? If you've got a craftsman in town making simple items do you upgrade him to a fletcher to help your hunter procure more food or a smith that can make better weapons and armor?

The downside to all this, and where I'm tagging it just a little in my review is that the fun in this game is very tied up in its sense of discovery. It's awesome learning what kinds of visitor can show up in the town and figuring out how they'll benefit you. And there's a degree of replayability the game offers with the many character types you can make for yourself and how those types affect your town building strategy. But, ultimately, once you've played the game for about 4-8 hours you've seen just about everything it's going to throw at you. The only thing to do to alleviate that is to increase the difficulty or the size of the wilderness and explore different strategies, but I think that only goes so far.

Like I said at this post's outset, I think this is the type of the game that's hyper-addictive for about a week and then you never play it again. That's okay, though. I mean how much gaming do you expect to get for $20? Hell, Sid Meier's latest iteration of Pirates, which I really enjoyed, was like that and that was a full-priced game.

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