Forward, without fear of reprisal

22May12

Browser based gaming has had a troubled birth. When the developed world took to the web in our millions at the end of the last century those of us working in it eagerly told disbelieving friends and family of the pace of change they could expect.

“You’ll buy everything on it … you won’t need to go to the shops … and you’ll be able to work from anywhere!”

An area poised to benefit from this new connectivity was gaming and while we have shifted so many day to day activities to a browser, publishing like I’m doing right now, office documents like spreadsheets, even old stalwart technology like IRC, the thing that still feels new and a little bit thrilling is playing a game in a browser. It still feels a bit like you’re doing it wrong. Like you’re just playing Farmville and gamers as a whole aren’t always comfortable with our hobby being taken that far into the mainstream. Sure I can work on that presentation or TPS report in Firefox but play Bastion in Chrome?! Hang on! That’s not where we play games is it?

A screenshot from Reprisal

The launch on Monday of Reprisal Universe is an exciting new addition to this increasingly crowded space. It shamelessly borrows from the late 80s classic Populous, so much so it name checks it on the homepage to ensure that readers with Commodore Amigas or Atari STs in their lofts will recall fond memories of the original. Here we get to play a re-imagining of the original god game in a browser using Flash. Thirty levels are available at present and of the twelve I’ve played so far it’s pleasingly addictive, if a little on the easy side. The fusion of 16 bit pixelated graphics with more subtle shading and a very modern feel to the menus and other functional aspects of the game take it beyond nostalgia and show it to be its own game with its own sensibilities. Visually it reminds me of Journey combining striking flat areas of colour with more subtle tones which makes the old feel oddly new again. This is a calculated move as retro is the new modern and they play with this musically too. A chip-tune score wafts over you while you click away flattening out areas of land for the autonomous little people of your tribe to run around in and make their own. Raising and lowering land is at the core of this game in order to create a space where your tribe can thrive. The aim of each map is to become strong and beat the other tribes. Give your guys space and they will throw up a sizeable settlement in moments and this is vital for your success. The more people you have and the larger their abodes the more mana you generate. This magical currency is how you buy the ability to create land, cast spells and lay waste to your foes.

The game teaches you over the course of a few early maps how to drive the basics and while their approach felt a little overly simplistic it is at home in a game designed to be as accessible to as wide an audience as possible. The more hardcore amongst us will champ at the bit to get out there and while it’s a little easy, so far at least, I get the impression I’m being lured into a false sense of security and that Starcraft like build orders will be the key to victory against dedicated players in the future.

In case it’s not obvious I’ve been won over by Reprisal and will be chasing the devs down to see what I can find out about how they intend to monetise their RTS and see what their plans are for the future. In the meantime you can get in and spend an hour or so in its company. You’ll be glad you did.

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