In all my life, I have never been so happy to see a demon.
Since the dawn of time, it seems, game developers of all shapes and sizes thought of one thing and one thing only when someone said ‘Apocalypse’. You know the word. It starts with a ‘Z’, ends with an ‘E’, enjoys snacking on brains and has ‘UUUUEEEERRRRGHHHH’ in the middle of it. It’s a word synonymous with the very worst asset-flipped tripe available on Steam Greenlight and the least inventive DLC packs triple-A games companies drag out to make a quick buck.
Fortunately, developers Suncrash have had some other ideas; ideas that involve a new type of apocalypse, a small group of survivors and one whole heck of a lot of hellspawn.
“Judgment: Apocalypse Survival Simulation is the bastard child of an old-school RTS and a modern-ish survival game”
Judgment: Apocalypse Survival Simulation is the bastard child of an old-school (read: not StarCraft) RTS and a modern-ish survival game, with more than a sprinkling of Prison Architect. In it, you’re expected to oversee the aforementioned survivors who, after the demon apocalypse, are banding together in a tiny settlement, there to build up their forces and, ultimately, attempt to take on the big bad, Buffy the Vampire Slayer-style.
Before you rush the hell-gate, however, you’re going to need to build up a base and provide your survivors with the infrastructure to thrive and grow. You start the game with three survivors drawn at random, each with their own job; Survivalist, Engineer, Fighter or Occultist and a handful of character traits that affect how you’ll want to use them. During an adequate, if not thoroughly in-depth, tutorial you’ll learn how to manage your burgeoning settlement, rescue other survivors and take the fight to the hellspawn – snagging some helpful loot along the way.
Watch a video version of this preview below:
The base tasks that your survivors need to perform will be familiar to anyone who has ever strayed too close to a real-time strategy game: chopping wood, mining stone, digging up clay and building. They’ll also be looking after crops and animals, crafting items at workbenches, gaining research points at experiment tables and performing dark, demonic rituals in magic circles. You know, the everyday stuff of post-apocalyptic survival.
Unfortunately, Judgment’s AI isn’t particularly interested in making sure that the best person is doing the job that you want them to do and, more often than not, you’ll turn away for a second only to realise that, when you look back, your best suited occult researcher has wandered off for a nap and someone else has decided that moonlighting as Giles would be fun.
Base-building, on the whole, is well implemented and feels pretty intuitive, despite a somewhat clunky UI. To achieve a little more depth than you’d expect to find in a crossover of this nature, Judgment uses a limited supply chain mechanic to build your base and outfit your survivors. For example, to craft a bow, you’ll need to chop down a tree for wood, build a sawmill to chop that wood into boards and then a workbench to make arrows which allows you to build a bow. Research uses a similar tree system whereby unlocking one layer leads to several branches leading off from it with increasing costs as you discover new technologies, items and buildings. Oh, and don’t forget weapons – this is the demon apocalypse, after all.
“Base-building, on the whole, is well implemented and feels pretty intuitive, despite a somewhat clunky UI.”
As your base is fairly limited in terms of gatherable resources, you’re going to want to send your survivors outside of it fairly often to gather items that you just can’t make for yourself. Judgment’s randomly generated world map is populated with markers displaying the various types of locations that you can send a squad of survivors to in order to fight for some vital supplies.
When you’ve decided where you’d like to investigate, you’re given the option of selecting up to five of your survivors to outfit and take with you. Each survivor can take a weapon, a piece of armour and a utility item (usually a medkit) with them into battle, though, if they die in action, you don’t need to be worried about losing your stuff; just the survivor that you’ve spent hours grooming into your own personal Willow.
This being a survival game, death is of the perma- variety. This can be a problem for the game, especially as any newcomers to your camp will come in at level one and you’ll need to spend time and effort levelling them up before they become useful members of your burgeoning society. Having newcomers that match the same level as your lowest-levelled survivor might work better but, for now, you’re just going to have to take the hit.
Though it’s actually pretty straightforward, combat in Judgment: Apocalypse Survival Simulation can, actually, be rather tactical. The ability to pause and speed up time in the game means that you can take as long as you want devising battle plans and positioning your combatants, possibly putting together traps or slowly and tactfully advancing through the map until you encounter the enemy and put an end to their satanic goings-on.
Over time, and as your settlement grows and you bring in more people, you run a greater risk of being discovered by the demons. If the game’s discovery track reaches 100%, they’ll launch an attack against your base. At first, these are small skirmishes that even one low level survivor can take on with a club or a baseball bat. But, as with everything in the game, the difficulty ramps up as time progresses so you’ll eventually come under attack by a small army and, unless you’ve got your home and your people in order, that apocalypse that you’ve managed to survive so far is going to come right back up and bite you in the ass.
While Judgment is still in alpha (via Steam Early Access), it’s already a solid game that feels eminently playable and vastly enjoyable, despite a few niggling problems. The intermingling of genres and mechanics feels natural and, even without the planned-for-release campaign mode, the sandbox gameplay is challenging, rewarding and compelling enough to keep you playing into the wee hours of the morning.
But easily the best thing about it is that it doesn’t have any bloody zomb-EEEUUURRRGHHH…
Judgment: Apocalypse Survival Simulation is available on PC via Steam Early Access.