Friday, July 28, 2006

Kudos Review

Kudos, developed and published by Positech Games.
The Good: Lots of activities and content, deep gameplay, true freedom in building a character, MOD support
The Not So Good: Benefits of activities could be clearer, not all skill levels are easily accessible, just browsing job listings takes up an entire day, guidance for new players is very limited
What say you? A more strategic approach to life management: 6/8

No other PC game franchise has sold more copies than The Sims. The brainchild of Will Wright, the man behind SimCity, the game featured every woman’s dream: complete control over another human being: the clothes they wear, the friends they have, even when they go to the bathroom. As you might expect, several copy-cat games cropped up afterwards, mostly offering a more shallow experience in exchange for hardcore nudity (sign me up!). While most of these games are superficially strategy games, there hasn’t really been one coming from a sports management point of view, until Kudos. Taking the people elements of games such as The Sims and management elements of games such as Wrestling Spirit 2 and Total College Basketball, Kudos hopes to fill the void of gamers that like life management games but feel they are too “female.” Remove the house decorating aspect and add in more strategy and you get Kudos.

As long as you approach Kudos as a management game, the graphics of the title won’t disappoint too terribly much. If you’re expecting 3-D graphics and being able to choose the type of wallpaper in your kitchen, go back to The Sims, fella. Gamers familiar with sports management games will feel right at home in Kudos. The user interface is generally OK, although some information is more clicks away than it should be. Scrolling through the different activities and seeing your relationship levels should be easier and present on the front page. The game would be better at higher resolution (or with slightly smaller text), because there’s a good amount of important information I’d like to see on the main screen, but there’s just not room for it. The 3-D models of the people in the game are pretty good as static background images or placeholders, and the interface being covered by dirt when you need to clean your house is a nice touch. The sound is as basic as you’d expect for a management game: simple sound effects accompany some of the events in the game (like rain or completing a class) while other events are silent (such as watching TV). There is just enough sound in Kudos to make you notice it, but not enough to overwhelm you with emotion.

The goal of Kudos is to lead a successful life from the age of 20 to 30, starting out as a lowly waiter and slowly making your way up to corporate and social ladder through night classes and interacting with friends. To start with, you create a character by selecting one of the handful of models and starting attributes (IQ, culture, happiness, and confidence), which really determines you initial friends and their interests. There’s no real right or wrong decision here, just a different set of allies. Kudos is a turn-based game where you can complete one activity each night. The activities you choose should result from your current state, rated in 13 areas (happiness, boredom, loneliness, confidence, IQ, culture, fitness, health, stress, tiredness, weight, alcohol, and muscles). Obviously, you want to tailor your activities to maintain a high level in each of the areas, and certain activities will have an appropriate effect on your state. My main complaint about the game is that some attributes are good when they are “full” (happiness) and some are bad when they are “full” (alcohol, although that could be debated by some). Making a quick glance at the meters to see problem areas is difficult because you have to remember which ones are supposed to be on which side. This could be easily fixed by simply changing some of the names to the appropriate antonym.

Bills are automatically deducted from your pay, so the remainder of the money can be spent on activities. You are limited to one activity per night, which makes sense for the weekdays but you should be allowed for two activities on weekend days. There are several things you can do. The first is to take evening classes: there are tons of classes in five areas: drama, medicine, law, technical, and adult (not that type of adult classes: you have a dirty mind). These will unlock better paying jobs and make you more proficient at certain activities, for a fee. You can choose to do something by yourself, such a jog, watch TV, or stare at the walls. Each of these will change some of your attributes, and can be affected by the weather and your overall mood. Shopping can be a major part of the game: buying entertainment objects and improve your happiness, while purchasing books can teach you skills just like classes. You’ll need to spend most of your time doing social activities in order to keep your relationships in tip-top shape. You’ll need to reserve social activities for days that you’re in a good mood (a seemingly random event) and choose an activity that each of the friends involved enjoys, or it will actually have a negative effect on the relationship. There is a good assortment of activities available: going to the movies, playing golf, eating out at a restaurant, and others. Each friend has a list of six or so activities they like the most, so you’ll end up doing to same sorts of things with the same people. Unlike other games, your friends will actually actively invite you to a night on the town, instead of your character always being the initiator. The relationships you have with others are rated as “kudos,” and kudos are required for some high-end jobs. You can always apply for higher-paying jobs, which become available when you’ve attained the prerequisite skills. Just browsing jobs takes up an entire night; if you’d like to see what the requirements are for that high-paying job so that you can tailor your night classes accordingly, that will consume an entire night you could have spent socializing with friends.

For those that feel The Sims is too much of an arcade game, Kudos might be the life management strategy game you’ve been looking for. While I felt restricted in other games, Kudos gives you the freedom to follow pretty much any career path you’d like, although each career path is essentially the same. There are only a few minor issues with the game (browsing jobs taking all night, “good” and “bad” attributes), and the remainder of Kudos is a solid management game. Limiting the player to one action per night actually works in the game’s favor, as the fast pace of Kudos doesn’t drag along like The Sims tends to do. You won’t have to wait 15 minutes for someone to finish eating: Kudos removes a lot of the mundane activities present in other games, leaving you to consider the big picture rather than telling your character to take a shower. The sheer number of activities, random events, and juggling you must to in Kudos makes it a pretty entertaining ride, if you enjoy management games. Kudos also has some pretty good mod support where you can include your own avatars and come up with new jobs, which is more content than adding a new flower pot like the overpriced expansion packs of other games. Really, this game just needs more up-front information on your complete skills list and the relationships with your friends to eliminate some clicking to make it completely enjoyable for the management crowd. While a lot of casual gamers will get turned away by the lack of pretty 3-D graphics and not having sweaty relations in the hot tub, they will miss a good strategy adaptation of the life management game. Plus, at $23, it’s $7 cheaper than an expansion pack for The Sims 2, let alone the full game. There’s easily more content in Kudos than a lowly expansion, and you’ll probably have more fun too, if you want to get away from the arcade nature of other games and experience the more strategic approach of Kudos.