Tuesday, December 18, 2007

DROD: The City Beneath

Title: DROD: The City Beneath
Author: Caravel Games
License: Commercial
Website: http://www.caravelgames.com/Articles/Games_2/TCB.html

I normally do not review games which I have not finished. Well, I have made a few exceptions, such as Enigma and Laser Tank, which each contain over a thousand levels. But, this time I have to admit defeat. I have been playing Deadly Rooms of Death: The City Beneath (DROD:TCB), the latest version in the DROD series, on and off since it was released in the Spring, but have only completed about two thirds of it. I do not know if this version is really any harder than previous ones or if I am getting older and losing it. Doesn't matter, I have enjoyed playing the game, finished or not.

DROD is at its heart a very simple game. The goal is clear every room of various baddies with use of your sword. Each turn, you can move to one of the eight neighboring squares or swing your sward 45 degrees either clockwise or counter-clockwise. If a bad guy happens to fall victim to your sword, it dies. After you move, each bad guy moves. If one of them reaches you, you die. You keep taking turns until they get you or you get them.

The complications come in two forms. First, the movement rules for each baddie is different. The simple roaches simply move towards you. The queen roaches move a way from you and lay eggs which then hatch into roaches a few turns later. The second complication is the objects such as switches, doors, one way tiles, trap door tiles, and what not; there are too many to mention.

The combination leads to some very interesting and tough puzzles. Each room is essentially a self contained puzzle. In order to kill all of the monsters in room, you usually have to think about it carefully. If you die, you start the room over or at a save point. Once you defeat all of monsters in a room, usually a door opens allowing access to another part of the level. Once all of the rooms in a level have been completed, you can move on to the next level.

What is new in this version versus the previous ones? The biggest change is a story, scripting and voice acting. All three are very good for an Indie game. The graphics are a little bit better, but I actually thought the shading sometimes got in the way. There are also many new monsters and objects. Each level introduces a couple of new things and I never felt overwhelmed. Instead of listing them, have a look at the wikipedia entry for a DROD:TCB. Having not finished the game, there are a few things on the list which I have not seen in the game yet.

As with any puzzle game, it comes down to the puzzles. Here DROD:TCB scores well. The quality and diversity of the puzzles is excellent. Some puzzles are hard, I have to say. And you have to experiment with the new objects to understand their effect. You also have to deduce the movement rules for the monsters. Early on, I had a helper who explained things to me, but I accidentally killed her. Actually part of the fun of the game is figuring these things out for yourself.

Another wonderful feature of DROD is the DROD community. There is an impressive list of user generated Holds (a Hold is a collection of levels). Each hold is rated in both its difficulty and quality. This two dimensional rating system is great. Part of the reason that I have not finished the game is that I have spent too much time on the user made holds instead. Many are quite good. There is also a active forum for getting hints and discussing computer games in general.

DROD:TCB has an atmosphere that should not be missed by hardcore logic/puzzle fans. The only downside to the game is that the rooms often must be completed in sequence in order to move on. This caused me to put the game aside for a while. But always I returned. I am sorry I waited so long to review it. Buy it, play it, beat it. I will beat it someday, I hope.


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