There is something that draws people to games where you get to play God. Probably human narcissism, but whatever the reason there’s something entertaining about the idea of having control over the natural order of things. Personally I prefer the games where your goal is to create order and beauty as opposed to anarchy and destruction. In my opinion, the best games give you the potential and ability to do both, but also give you some sort of motivation to try to be benevolent and helpful to those you have control over. This is exactly what REUS attempts to do.
REUS, by Abbey Games, is a fairly recent (10/11/2016) strategic development game that tasks you with taking the place of God. You are not in direct control though. You are given a barren planet and four giants to enact your will for creation and destruction. Your goal is to create an inhabitable planet that humans can thrive on for eternity. I was originally drawn to this game because of this grandiose goal it sets before you. But because of a number of complications with the gameplay, that goal is much easier said than done. While this is by no means a bad game, it’s far from what it probably should have been to appeal to a wider audience.
This game isn’t what I would call visually impressive, but it is visually appealing. The graphics are pretty simple, but in a good way. This is a world of nature, animals, humans, and elemental giants. They could have gone hyper realistic and that probably would have looked pretty cool. But instead they chose a cutesier look and I think that works here. The game takes place from the front view of a 2D circular world. You can zoom in or out and rotate around it. With such a limited set of movement options the simple yet lively setting works best with the more friendly style Abbey Games chose.
The menus and various HUDs in REUS are simple, which was definitely the correct choice with the amount of information and reading you need to keep track of. Simple opaque squares in just a few colors and white block text were the only sensible decision. Even with the highly readable font, it’s still a bit too small and there’s a lot of text to get through. The planet is broken into several patches, each of which has its own status HUD that appears in the top right corner of the screen with a lot of information. At the center bottom of the screen you have an ability bar that shows you all of the abilities, both active and locked, that each of your four giants has. In the bottom left corner you have avatars of all your currently awoken giants. In the top left you have you timer and prosperity bar. Hint boxes pop up just above the ability bar. The screen is very cluttered with information at basically all times and it can honestly get quite overwhelming in the time based scenario the game puts you in.
The giants are very pleasant looking creatures that walk in the background behind the planet’s surface. They each represent a different element (ocean, rock, forest, and swamp). Their animations are actually quite good, but always happen in slow motion which gets really annoying in a time based scenario. Though the Earth always starts out barren, it can be teeming with life in a matter of minutes if you do things right. Animals, villages, cities, plants, deserts, swamps, and so on are all part of the game if you choose to create your world that way. The colors used are very nice. They’re vibrant, but still reserved. It doesn’t get so flashy that you lose focus on the little details like the individual people in villages or the fruit growing on trees.
REUS runs very smoothly, but a large part of that is due to the fact that it runs very slowly. I don’t mean that as in the game lags because it doesn’t. What I mean is that the gameplay is incredibly slow intentionally. It’s meant to be a long, drawn out, but very calm gameplay experience, which it is. But personally it was just too slow for me. One thing I particularly liked about the graphics was the opening cinematic. This short film is hand drawn in something similar to well done cave drawings and it essentially tells the game’s story of creation and how man came to be and then came to attack the very giants that gave them life in their greed and arrogance as humans. It’s a powerful opening and may be my favorite part of the whole game. All in all, the graphics aren’t impressive as much as they are cute and pleasing.
The gameplay is a bit too far reaching. You play as God and the four giants are the direct instruments of your will. You can’t directly control humanity, but you can provide for them, help them grow, and take things away from them. You can even choose to destroy them if you want. Conceptually I really like REUS, but the execution isn’t very accessible. If anything it’s a bit too realistic. You use the four giants to create things and to enhance already created things. The four work symbiotically. When you use the right combination of abilities between the four giants your world can thrive and by extension the humans living in it can thrive.
Your goal is to help the human settlements develop. This happens when they amass a certain amount of the three resources: food, technology, and wealth. Each human development is different and has its own resource needs. You have a limited amount of time to help the settlement amass those resources, but it’s not that simple. Human settlements can only carry as much as the area allows for sustainable habitation. Meaning that if the area only has the potential for five food then the village can’t collect more than five food. If the current development goal is 10 food then you have to expand the village’s surrounding food supply to at least 10 for the village to acquire the needed resources to finish the development. You do this by using the four giants to create the most ideal conditions through combining abilities. The problem is that each giant has seven abilities, all of which do different things and work together with other abilities in different ways. This is extremely hard to keep track of and the results of abilities aren’t always exactly the same. Mixing abilities is an art form and it’s extremely hard to master.
The game works based on a cumulative leveling system. You level up every time you achieve a certain number of total new developments. Leveling up gives you access to more abilities, harder challenges, and additional developments. The first level up only requires 12, but that will take you multiple tries to accomplish. It’s hard to keep track of everything because there’s so much information, a time limit, and trying to master the creation of a symbiotic ecosystem is nearly real science. The game is just too complicated, which by all rights is extremely realistic, but it doesn’t make for great gameplay unless you’re already into games like Civilization. But at that point, this is a much lower level of overall gameplay experience than Civilization is.
The game has two gameplay modes and a long tutorial, but only the Era mode is worth playing once you’ve completed the tutorial because Free to Play mode doesn’t count towards your progress. When the game first starts you can only play 30 minute Era mode sessions. But as you level up you can unlock 60 and 120 minute sessions. You can save and continue any time during a session. Your overall goal is to gain more developments and unlock all giant abilities so you can help humanity reach its full potential, but as human settlements improve so does their technology and greed. When the game first starts out, people are nice and serve the giants as their benevolent helpers. But as they develop more they grow arrogant and will even attack the giants in certain scenarios. In these moments you can attack human settlements and destroy them, but I’m convinced that you can get far enough into human development where you won’t be able to stop them. It will just take you a really long time. Ultimately I found the gameplay to be pretty unsatisfying. It’s just too complicated, too slow, and either way too inconsistent or just so hard to understand that it feels inconsistent. I love the concept and I believe that a game similar to this can and should be made with simpler mechanics and that it would do really well. But REUS just doesn’t do it for me with its overreaching gameplay and time limit.
The sound works well enough in this game. You have separate volume options for music and sound effects. The music is very light background tracks that are calming and keep the gameplay from feeling too serious. But in some ways that’s not the most appropriate because time is always of the essence and failing to get humanity enough resources in time for a development hurts so much. The music definitely works and the quality is fine, but it fails to capture so many of the emotions the player is feeling while struggling to create the perfect world. The sound effects are a little too light at default, but they are clear and well done. Not everything has a sound effect, which is a bit of a disappointment for certain things. It makes the game feel slightly inconsistent at times. Like the rock giant is the only giant who has a sound effect when walking. The rest of them just move silently. Overall I’d say the sound is good enough but not great.
The writing was actually very nice, but also small in scope and highly repetitive when it comes to gameplay hints and missions. The story, which plays a very limited aspect in the grand scheme of the game, is written as if to you as God in the form of your story of creation. The giants are characters in this story as are people. The hints, note, missions, explanations, and basically everything else is all very straight forward yet still hard to master in terms of execution. Some things make perfect sense like the basic giant abilities. But others never really seem to do what you think the descriptions say. The hints and missions are basically the same thing rehashing each other step by step. In many ways the game kind of uses too much in the way of writing when it comes to explanations outside of the story.
This game is all replay value. There are 29 trophies including a platinum. You can unlock a huge number of developments, sources, and projects. The world can be created in so many different ways and the way you manage and develop humanity each time can change outcomes. If you don’t get bored and you take the game seriously, we’re talking a good 20 or more hours of gameplay. There’s seriously a lot to do if you want to do it. Settlements can start wars with each other and the giants. They can send you ambassadors to enhance giant abilities. There are just so many potential experiences in this game. The $25 price tag is high for me because I really didn’t enjoy the game that much, but for a person that truly wants to master everything, I think it’s acceptable.
At the end of the day, REUS is one of those games that sounds great on paper, but it just doesn’t work the way it should. I really wanted to like this game, but I just couldn’t connect with the gameplay past the surface level and that just isn’t enough to succeed at even the early stage challenges. If you have the time and don’t mind a very steep learning curve, this game might work for you, but for most people it’s more potential than actual delivery.
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