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Urban Legions, or, And Now For Something I Did Like

April 5, 2009

Urban Legions is in many ways the antithesis of Legends of Zork.  My character Perculia Chuffington (AKA Lady Catfingers) has been wandering around Macropolis for several game days now, wielding a wrench in her right hand and a pair of hedge clippers in her left, and has yet to encounter a single combat.  (She’s also completely naked except for a pleated skirt and a pair of cowboy boots.  I thought about buying her a shirt, but why?)  Since moving to the city she has learned a new magic spell from a librarian, completed the world’s most angry-bird-and-pit-bull-infested paper route, bought some really overpriced marshmallows, given several scratch-off lottery tickets to homeless people, begun investigating a bizarre murder, registered for university, and taken a steady job as a zookeeper; all this despite her shirtlessness and on six hours of sleep.

It’s still very early in Macropolis’s development, of course, and a lot of its vast area is what industry wankers call “open design space” and the rest of us call “empty,” but the potential is palpable, and the non-empty bits are diverting, the main quest in particular.  It’s a mystery, you see, and the quest reward will hopefully be revelation.  Instead of leveling my attack skill so I can fight more monsters so I can level my attack skill, I’m leveling my approval rating (the tracking of which statistic lends the game a certain unusual politeness) so I can talk to a detective about a murder and hopefully, eventually, locate an overdue library book.

It’s not all sunshine and dingalings, though.  Where Legends of Zork is dripping with slickness and polish and gorgeousness, Urban Legions looks like something a career tax accountant put together using MS Paint and a freeware clip art program from 1995.  This isn’t unexpected:  there are (I think) two people working on the game and sometimes none out of two people is artists.  Art, design, and interface are a website’s clothes, though, they’re what it’s judged on before anyone has a chance to get to know it.  You might be the nicest, most fascinating person in the world, but you’re not going to get a date wearing an oversized applique cat sweatshirt, orange hot pants, and a sombrero.  (Unless you’re at a hipster bar and you’re also wearing rollerskates.  That goes without saying.)  I know there’s zero budget, but it’d be worth finding a friend’s kid or some random person on the forums or anyone really with some art skills and an altruistic bent.

Art aside, the main issue I have with the game is the map.  Macropolis is divided into sections (Downtown North, Greenhills, Hovella) and each section contains a number of specific locations (malls, hotels, nuclear power plants, etc.)  There is currently no way to see what locations are in which section without traveling to that section, which takes some of your limited in-game time.  There are helpful quest markers (which could stand to be a little brighter) on the main map, but if you’re trying to find something else – say you’ve just completed a paper route and can’t remember where the newspaper office is – you are just shit out of luck unless you search every section.  Potential solution:  have a list of locations in each section visible on mouseover or first click, or, at the very least, don’t consider a section traveled to (and time deducted for it) until the player’s actually clicked on a location in that section.

Another thing Urban Legions could use is some focus and some follow-through – honestly, right now it’s a bit of a mess.  At the very beginning of the game, Perculia was examined by a doctor to determine her superhero ability (did I mention she’s a superhero, and that this game is about superheroes?  No?) and learned a skill that allows her to use twenty percent of her brain.  This skill has yet to come in handy even once. I don’t even know what it does. When I look it up, it says “Where most people can only use up to 10 percent of their brain, you can use twice that.”  I had thought, perhaps, it would come in handy during combat.    It still might, if I ever find a combat.  I thought the same thing about these weapons, the ones I bought at the hardware store that sells a bunch of handy tools.  It’s pretty clear they’re meant to do something eventually, since they say “500 uses,” it’s just there doesn’t seem to be anything to use them on. (The hardware store also sold a $200 fishing rod I didn’t buy because I wasn’t sure there was anywhere to fish.)

These are the kinds of problems that can be solved with time, experience, and content, though, and there’s just something about this game I like.  I like the freedom to explore the city, however unimplemented it is right now (everything has a description, though, which is something) and I like how the game seems to assume I’m a nice person, and, while a lot of the quirky bits*  seem at odds with the overall tone, which is earnest and factual, I did smile at the Giant Army of Robots and the Cup O’ Pizza.  I am genuinely looking forward to Urban Legions growing and improving, because I think it has the potential to kick some ass.

(To be fair, I’d like Legends of Zork to grow and improve also; it just doesn’t seem as likely.)

* Quirk belonging to the “random nouns are wacky” school, generally, as in “I’m teaching a moose to use a typewriter!  Gosh, is that chicken wearing pants?”  I suppose it’s harmless, but it always feels a little forced.

Update:  Turns out there were combats all along, I just didn’t realize they were combats!  This game makes a lot more sense now!  I may have to buy a shirt!

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One comment

  1. Hello there. I just wanted to pop in to say thanks for the great review. I’m glad you are enjoying the game. I forwarded this link to Phil so he and I can discuss some of the issues you mentioned. We love getting feedback!

    I can understand why UL feels unfinished. Usually, when we play games, we all want that out-of-the-box feeling that the game is whole and complete. UL is different in that Phil and I are constantly adding new content to the game. I think of it as somewhat of a comic book series, rather than a completed novel, in that the story continues to unfold over time. I have in mind a big, overarching plot line with a very detailed world that bits are revealed a little at a time. Plus, we have tons of ideas for various side distractions.

    One of the trickier things to get across is how reactive the game actually is behind the scenes, and is what really gives UL more dimension. Anything about a character (approval rating, stats, inventory, abilities, etc.) can change what options are available and how the world reacts to your character’s actions.

    As for the game’s wardrobe, we are in contact with a few artists (and still on the look out for others).

    As for LoZ, I, too, hope for Zork’s growth and improvement.

    Thanks again for the great review. I look forward to seeing you wandering topless around the streets of Macropolis. 😉



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