Ironically enough, the apocalypse – or the idea of it, at least – is a mainstay of modern entertainment. Viral outbreaks, nuclear winters, and robot uprisings dot the media landscape as far as the eye can see. But there’s one flavor of apocalypse that seems too taboo to ponder, and maybe that’s because it’s a deep-seated fear that has crossed continents, cultures, and mythoi since the dawn of time: the underworld itself, rising up to destroy the whole of humanity. Suncrash, the development studio behind Judgement: Apocalypse Survival Simulator, brings this nightmare to life.
Judgment was released as a Steam Early Access title in April of 2016, and it is currently on version “Alpha 10.” Since its launch, the small developer team has been incredibly active; Suncrash hasn’t had any significant gaps in their communication with the community, and major alpha updates have dropped very consistently. This level of commitment displayed by the studio bodes incredibly well for the future of the game and comforts players otherwise wary of diving into an early access title.
At first glance, Judgment might not win any awards for graphics or art style, but the lack of artistry doesn’t detract from the experience.
In fact, compared against similar titles in the genre, such as Prison Architect and Rimworld, Judgement holds its own. As you play the game, the hand-drawn look of the maps, areas, and combat icons all seems to ‘fit’ and work well together (even if the assets are over saturated). In this sense, Suncrash nails the key to a good experience, which is consistency – you’ll warm up to the art style. However, when entering new areas, there’s a finite amount of resources with which to build the encounter, and while Suncrash is consistent with their attributes, such as cover, seeing the same elements can get tiresome. The sound design is very immersive, especially the incantations whispered during occult research – a very eerie sound, constantly playing in the background.
When starting the game, the difficulties are varied enough to swing your experience of the title. On “Casual,” I spent a lot of time playing at 8x speed, built up a large team, enjoyed plentiful resources, and combat was quick and easy. On higher difficulties though, you will need to tread quite a bit more carefully, or you risk losing survivors very early on.
The game begins with you and two other friends in your party. Each member of the party has an occupation which grants skill bonuses that affect different tasks. My first character (whom I christened after myself and created in my likeness) had the “Engineer” occupation, which provided a bonus when researching and scavenging. Other occupations, trades like “Fighter” or “Occult Specialist,” each endow the survivor with the bonuses you might expect.
Once you find the right spot, it’s time to rebuild civilization.
On your first playthrough, the “Show Tutorials” option is checked by default, and the instructions are very clear, informative, and timely (in later runs, you can un-check the box when creating the game).
You begin with some basic materials and missions to guide the initial build-up of your settlement. Cabins, food tables, and beds are needed, so your crew will be busy pulling up stone and chopping down trees. You’ll need a farm, but what modern person knows about farming? This is where research comes into play. There are two types: regular and occult. The former is used to develop the (secular) technology to build farms, weapons, and defensive structures. Occult research is an incredibly powerful tool as well; this research unlocks different ‘circles’ and altars with which to perform occult rituals, turning the powers of hell back on itself. In all my playthroughs, I consistently had someone at the experiment table racking up research points, eager to unlock research items one after another.
The building and crafting systems are very clean. It is clear what materials are needed for each crafting item, and while some of those items are obtained within the camp, others require that you scavenge nearby areas. Some materials, such as research books, are difficult to come across, and missing these items can hinder relatively early, and significant, research options. So, you must venture outside the camp to get them, however, this is not without risk, as enemy strength increases proportionate with distance (though so does the loot!). The developers programmed logic algorithms to uniquely generate the nearby areas around your camp. This means that each playthrough will have different area types, materials, and enemies. The game design is also reasonably clever, as you start in a rural area, where scavenging opportunities are sparse and consist of farms and military bases, however before long you will have more frequent scavenging opportunities, scouring cities and pillaging hospitals and stores.
There’s little need for micromanagement among the group of survivors you control: you simply prioritize your tasks and the crew will get to work. Furthermore, crew members perform tasks which align with their skill sets: those adept at researching will research, while those more suited to farming will farm. For activities such as chopping trees or quarrying stone, you can create a task and assign it to a large swath of area, and available community members will act based on their individually-assigned priorities. Be forewarned, though, you shouldn’t simply automate with abandon: I once deployed a large party to a military base while two of my less combat- focused members stayed behind. One of these two was tasked with summoning imps at the dark altar. One imp, no big deal right? Well, the summoning ritual completed and a herd of imps appeared instead, and the demons quickly stormed the camp.
I lost my brother due to this incident, so be warned!
When playing on lower difficulties the real-time combat is manageable. However, at higher difficulties, combat is nearly overwhelming. As soon as you are within the enemy’s range, they descend upon you, and since combat mechanics, such as cover, flanking, or other bonuses, are given to party members only once they are within melee range, trying to ‘strategize’ is an almost vain undertaking; combat happens so quickly that by the time you get a person in flanking position, the monster (or a person from your colony) might already be dead. And in the event that a party member does meet his unfortunate demise, the rest of the party carries on with business as usual. Even if the death could have a significant impact on your colony, it doesn’t carry much weight during gameplay – not even so much as a pop-up, alerting you to a potentially game-changing event. On the other hand, many lives have already been lost as Hell forced itself upon the world of the living; what’s one more body amongst the foundations? Ultimately, Judgment is still in early access, so future tweaks to the AI, balancing, and combat system could likely drastically change this experience.
Suncrash is on track to release a great 2-D, real-time combat and strategy game. While the art may not blow you away initially, combat AI leaves a little to be desired, and encounter maps and assets are used too repetitively for my liking, the gameplay mechanics are well thought-out. The team has put so much care and effort into the colony management experience, such as researching, building, crafting, and survivor autonomy, that this aspect alone more than makes up for any shortcomings. On top of all this, the developers are continually improving their game and adding features to an already-great alpha – a clear passion and commitment that OPN recognizes anytime we see it.