As a first time god overseeing a small band of beings in the cradle of humanity, I was benevolent and wise. I instructed my people to gather food, to multiply, and to colonize their land from sea to blue polygonal sea. My ideals were lofty, my instructions were simple, and my people tragically ate themselves into extinction. By that I mean they actually took part in cannibalism until there was literally no one left alive. It was a tragic and unexpected introduction to Crest, a crowdfunded game by Eat Create Sleep, which explores the challenges of communications between gods and men.
Each game begins as the player awakes as a newly conscious god with the desire to protect and guide a small civilization. The tutorial provides gods, both new and old alike, with the basic tools they will need use in order to communicate with their would-be worshipers. The map and resource for each game are randomly generated, and even after several playthroughs, very trip into this colorful and highly stylized world felt unique, each civilization had its own story.
The basic tools of communication are primitive at the start of the game, and simple at their best. Commandments are given using a series of symbols in a noun-verb-noun format, similar to Google’s Blockly coding system. You begin each game with a limited vocabulary, and as your civilization grows, this vocabulary expands and advances, unlocking more words and allowing you to better communicate with your people. Verbs are limited to simple phrases like “Should eat,” “Should explore,” “Should break,” and “Should make.” This system requires no small amount of imagination as to how your people will interpret these commandments. Once enacted, a tool tip explains exactly how the tribesmen understood your commands, and these were often very different from what I thought I was saying. What I believed was a clever method of population control by ordering “If someone dies, you should make a baby” turned out to be understood as “Those who about to die should make a baby,” a commandment which sharply curbed population growth, as those near death did not live long enough to produce and raise a baby.
This very simple system of communication is challenging enough on its own, but Crest adds a fascinating and endlessly frustrating twist, wherein you followers can, over time, misunderstand or reinterpret your commandments. It was a truly bizarre interpretation of my words which led my first people to turn to cannibalism. My command of “Young people” “Should make” “Farms” was somehow twisted and corrupted to the point where my people believed that I had ordered that “Young people” “Should eat” “Babies.”This bizarre twisting of commandments is pretty commonplace in Crest, and requires that players remain vigilant at all times, closely watching their people in order to step in and counteract corruptions to their doctrine. Through a series of playthroughs, I watched “Happy people” “Should make” “Social” become “Happy people” “Should make” “Death,” resulting in a high suicide rate, “Desert people” “Should make” “Trade” become “Ostriches” “Should make” “Trade,” which admittedly resulted in nothing more than a chuckle on my part, and “Desert people” “Should eat” “Ostrich” morphing into “Savannah people” “Should eat” “Desert people,” which resulted in civil war, cannibalism, and a very dark and bloody end to the human race.
Crest is heavily stylized, slightly blocky, beautiful, and impressively detailed. The characters within the game have unique and even creepy designs, and the world, while small, is very complex. Weather systems cause the desert to expand and recede in real-time, and climate change caused the jungle wither away entirely during one playthrough, an extended drought turning my entire island into a barren desert. Zooming into settlements shows incredible detail, from tribe members partaking in fertility dances, to farmland being harvested, to decorative gardens and intricate statues.
During my first few playthroughs, I issued commands as quickly as I could dream them up, but I found my people had a much greater survival rate when I simply set up a social structure, then took a more hands-off approach. There is a balance that gods must find; if you issue too few commands and your people will begin to doubt that you even exist, but if you issue too many commands, your followers will view you fickle and demanding, and will be less likely to listen to you. Time within Crest unfolds in a spiral, which passes through numerous cycles. These cycles serve as the ultimate measurement of time. During my best game, I was able to keep my people alive for six cycles, through due to the challenging nature of Crest, my legacy usually ended after only two.
Perhaps the most disappointing part of Crest is that while your people may expand and prosper in terms of number, vocabulary, and religious sects, they do not advance technologically. People who survived six cycles felt no different from those who had survived for merely two; both were using spears and swords to fight lions and each other, dancing to produce babies, and using simple tools to farm the land. After helping them survive so long, I had hoped to see my people create new tools, better weapons, real cities, to see their civilization advance. The lack of these kinds of features, combined with my adopting a mostly hands-off approach, made the game slightly less inspiring and exciting than I would have liked. Of course, Crest is still in early access, and if the impressive complexities of the weather and climate systems are any indication, this game is a still a seedling, and simply bursting with potential. I would not be at all surprised to see a few more exciting advancements before its official launch.
Crest is a deceptively challenging game where you must step into the role of god and use the limited communication tools at your disposal to overcome nature and human nature alike in order to help your civilization prosper. Will you be a beloved shepherd to your people, or a fickle and mistrusted godhead? Will your people heed your commandments or twist your words and corrupt your doctrine? Crest is still under development, and while its gameplay may feel slightly slow, it is already proving to be nuanced and fascinating experience. With simple yet surprisingly challenging gameplay, beautiful graphics, and complex randomly generated worlds, it will be exciting to see what the future holds for both gods and the men they watch over.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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