Sunday, March 13, 2011

Fate of the World Review

Fate of the World, developed and published by Red Redemption.
The Good: Several viable avenues towards victory, seemingly detailed internal data analysis, rooted in a real-world setting with near-future technology integration, only $10
The Not So Good: Predictable policy effects and a lack of randomness make the gameplay trivial and repetitive, limited game interaction, few scenarios unlocked in a set order, no difficulty settings, no scenario editor
What say you? An interesting concept, but not an entertaining game thanks to transparent relationships, repetitive choices, and limited replay value: 5/8

Global warming is a hot-button topic. If you were to believe shortsighted climatologists and Al Gore, we are all screwed thanks to human-produced greenhouse gas emissions. However, according to actual science (geology, of course), we are currently experiencing some of the coldest temperatures in the history of the Earth. In fact, for more than half of Earth’s history, there have been no glaciers whatsoever, and sea level should be drastically higher than it is now. Still, humans tend to think current conditions are “normal” (despite the fact that we are significantly below average in terms of average global temperature), so Al Gore gets his government funding and endorsement deals while people are fed exaggered lies. Debatable science aside, Fate of the World is a simulation where you must coordinate international efforts to decrease the impact of global warming, or die trying. Supposedly.

Being a management game, Fate of the World relies heavily on its interface, and overall it is a mixed bag. The game does offer easy access to each of the regions, and a green light indicates whether all of the card slots are utilized in each area. You'll be switching back and forth between the card and news displays often; it would have been nice to combine both of these screens to produce much more efficient gameplay. Fate of the World comes with a number of graphs for population, temperature, and contribution to global warming, but these are far less useful than the specific news items generated in each region. The policy cards offer usually clear descriptions of their effects, although I'm still unclear whether El Nino is classified as a storm event or a drought event. The 3-D globe is simply eye candy, serving no purpose and lacking direct interaction; events are displayed here, but they are much more organized in the regional news view. Two of the most important pieces of information, the global tally of emissions and regional relationships with you, are shown at the beginning of each turn and never seen again unless you want to tediously click through all of the world headlines again. Despite the generally easy access in Fate of the World, it still seems like things take one or two more clicks than they should. On the sound front, effects are minimal: news items are not given video or voiced commentary (maybe this is a good thing), and the music is generic and instantly forgettable (enough so that I had to go back and listen to it again to remember what it was like). Overall, Fate of the World features an expected presentation for a $10 management game.

Fate of the World involves enacting policies to combat global warming, while having to worry about regional conflicts in other areas (health care, unrest, supplies) as well. Each of the game's four scenarios are unlocked in order (boo!), so you must start out with the African tutorial. This short mission gives some short, brief, inadequate instructions: I needed four attempts to figure out how to win (hint: go hard with the education, environment, and security cards). After that, you get (in order) a medium-sized scenario, a large one, and an interesting variant where you are actually trying to cause global warming. Still, I was really disappointed by the limited scope of the scenarios: there are no small missions restricted to a couple of regions (other than the very brief tutorial) and no randomized sandbox options (each mission starts out with the same realistic characteristics for each region). Plus, Fate of the World lacks an editor for users to expand the game's content. The game does offer some clear winning and losing conditions, but even these cannot be changed or altered for a more varied experience. Also, Fate of the World lacks difficulty settings: these should always be present, no matter how much the developer thinks they know the capabilities of their audience. Finally, you are given no regional news information when starting a scenario, so you have no idea where to concentrate your first moves; it tries to make you waste your first turn, because apparently nobody knows what problems the world has when a new game is started. Bah, humbug, I say. At least the game is cheap: $10 is all it takes to potentially cause to downfall of humanity.

The game world (you know, Earth) is divided into twelve regions (easier to handle than individual countries) like North America, Europe, China, Japan, India, Djibouti, and Uranus. You can place agents into each region, which provides an influx of cash and allows you to play policy cards to hopefully bring about positive change. The cards are divided into several categories, based on what they affect: the environment, technology, energy usage, health care / education, and security. While the game uses cards, you aren’t dealt a hand of possible options and must make hard choices: your deck is solely based on what cards have been played (basic-level cards unlock more advanced options), so each game plays out the same way with the same alternatives. A sense of randomness here would be quite welcome: what if you couldn’t introduce biofuels as an alternative to oil? Fate of the World never lets you find out. That said, the cards to offer clear information on what will be affected, and whether the population with like the changes. Some cards are only active for a single five-year turn, while others repeat forever with a set maintenance cost. There are a lot of strategic options here, concerning which specific cards to play, which helps to alleviate some of the boredom caused by always having access to the same cards.

Basically, your job in Fate of the World is two-fold: slow global warming, and prevent negative news events. Sadly, the events are not as random as I would have hoped: they are very repetitive (you get the same type each turn until you enact the correct reform) and occur in the same regions (Africa and Middle East unstable? What a surprise!). Additionally, events do little to make the game interesting because they are all preventable. Drought? Play the anti-drought card. Political instability? Play the military card. Disease? Play the health care card. Water shortage? Play the card with the faucet on it. It’s all very straightforward and, subsequently, not terribly interesting. Gameplay is reactive instead of proactive: just watch the red news items and fix them next turn. You don't want to try and predict upcoming problems, because you’ll potentially waste money on unnecessary policies and the game gives you several turns to right the ship anyway. Playing cards is the only way you can interact with the game, so some users fill find this pretty limiting. Hard decisions are rare: you’ll have to pick and choose which areas to save (bye, Northern Africa!) in the beginning, but if you simply choose the most appropriate cards for each region, victory will soon be yours. Still, I wouldn't say the game is really easy, just that it's not interesting due to a lack of complexity involving the decisions that must be made. Things get more complicated when reducing global warming is involved, but there are still pretty obvious steps you can take to alleviate the effect. Fate of the World offers little replay value due to predictable conundrums with obvious solutions and a lack of randomness.

I certainly like the idea of Fate of the World: adapting a hot-button issue to produce an educational and entertaining computer game. However, the execution is lacking in several key areas. First, I felt the relationships between the policies you enact and the results they bring about are too simple. If there is illness, you play a health care card. If there are riots, you play a security card. If there are floods, you play an anti-flood card. It's just that simple for almost all of the game's areas of conflict, and that means there's no challenge in a lot of the aspects of the game. Playing Fate of the World is very reactive: watch the red news items in each region and enact the appropriate policies next turn. There's no real reason to predict things ahead of time, as the game gives you plenty of time to turn things around before you are excommunicated from a region. The game could benefit from some varied difficulty settings, to be sure. That said, the game does give you a lot of cards to play, and choosing the best pathway can be daunting on occasion given your many options; the result is that many people will find different ways to win. Still, the same events crop up in the same regions game after game, decreasing the need to replay a single scenario more than once. In addition, the cards you have access to remain the same every time: there is no randomization to what policies you can endorse, which ultimately makes Fate of the World much less interesting. Plus, Fate of the World only comes with three full-length scenarios and no way to expand the game with smaller, more varied missions. And with only the ability to play cards, actually playing the game can get quite monotonous. Ultimately, Fate of the World is interesting to play once or twice, but once you beat it, there's no reason to try to save the world again. Of course, for some people, maybe that's all you need for a $10 investment. In the end, Fate of the World falters due to excessively straightforward choices, limited scenario selections, abbreviated interaction, and a lack of random events.