Judgment: Apocalypse Survival Simulation is clearly the product of intense and dedicated labour.
As I watched my battle-hardened survivors scurry about my base camp in x8 speed – collecting resources, crafting weaponry and tools, researching new technologies – I could not help but think of the developers, who must have worked in a similar diligent frenzy. The result is something exceedingly polished, where every element feels integrated to the whole. In all the areas if needs to be, Judgment is impressive – with one or two caveats.
Our journey with Judgment begins with a cutscene. Three lucky survivors were out camping, away from the major cities, at the time of the apocalyptic demon incursion. Due to the efforts of two unsung heroes, they’re able to escape to an area free of demonic presence. For now. These survivors must quickly build a second society, learning all the tools that their ancient forbearers once mastered. Progress is slow at first. You’ll need to master the very basics; vegetable farms to produce food, wells to find water, wood-working to construct log-cabins and hunting bows. All the while, the clock is ticking until the demons find you.
What I appreciated about Judgment: Apocalypse Survival Simulation was its challenge. True, I decided to play on one of the more difficult settings to test my mettle (there are six difficulty bands in total), but I still felt that the balancing of the game was on point. It wasn’t so much the fighting elements that tripped me up; though some of them are challenging and you will have to not only utilise skills and weaponry to your advantage but your environment too. It was the survival elements that tested me. If you’re not careful with how you allocate your survivors’ tasks, you won’t bring in enough water and food, and won’t allow your survivors enough rest. My first two survivors died of sheer exhaustion. I literally worked them to death.
Progression through the ages
The progression has been well thought out. If you’ve ever played a base-builder like Godus before, or an Age of Empires title, you’ll know that at some point, for the sake of convenience, there is a jump from Stone Age technology to Japanese-level metallurgy, and no one is quite sure how it happened. But Judgment gives us a nice build up. First you master woodworking, then stonework, then other crafts. Finally, when enough of the subsidiary skills are in place, we can tackle ore-mining and metalwork. It’s been well plotted.
In addition, Judgment allows you to view equipment that you cannot yet make. This acts as a focal point; driving you on to get to the next phase of civilisation so you can get the weaponry you need. I got hungry to make a blessed holy sword, and drove all my resources towards acquiring it (sometimes at human expense). The only problem, is that it is all rather linear. All the progression trees (crafting, base, occult, scientific) are basically straight lines with one or two detour options. This, combined with the fact that so much of what your survivors do is helpfully automated, can make you feel slightly trapped. It can feel like you’re not truly playing the game as such; that it’s playing itself and you’re making helpful suggestions.
Top-down “base-building” survival simulators like this, especially ones so ambitious in scope, usually suffer from balancing issues. One of the key currencies of any base-building game is time, and one of the main temptations of any studio is to insert a “make this happen quicker for many dollar” button. Thankfully, developer Suncrash has not succumbed, but instead has carefully fine-tuned each and every element. In addition, the ability to accelerate time by x2, x4 or even x8 means that during quiet periods, where you simply need to farm as many resources as possible, it’s possible to blitz through at lightning speed without negative consequence. However, I would say that towards the latter stages of the game, the time requirements become so significant that you are waiting, and not much else.
It’s not always possible to do other things while you wait for your next thing to be built, because if you pull a survivor off water duty, the delicate ecosystem you have created over four hours could fall apart. While I’m a fan of games that are more thoughtful and measured in their pacing, I don’t really want to be waiting around; I want to be playing, engaged, making things happen. That said, Judgment is surprisingly addictive, and you tend to force yourself through the duller patches.
There are random events to spice up survivor life: sometimes of great benefit, sometimes not. These mainly consist of demon hunting parties, rescue missions, merchants and the like. I was hoping, giving the setting of a demonic incursion, for a few more unsettling or Lovecraftian encounters. While the later game features more interaction with the demons, I would have liked to have seen a little more weird. One of the things that sets apart titles like Darkest Dungeon is that all its “random” events feel spectacularly strange and unsettling, which makes the experience so immersive. Judgment doesn’t quite reach that level of authenticity.
Overall, Judgment: Apocalypse Survival Simulator is a very successful attempt to revitalise an exceedingly difficult genre. While I’ve named some quibbles, there is a lot to praise: it offers significant intellectual challenge, it poses some intriguing mysteries which will take you a good while to solve, and, despite yourself, it ends up forcing you to find emotional attachments with characters who are, inevitably, going to die in some horrible and unforeseen way.
This review is dedicated to the memory of Deborah and Roberta, who died because I couldn’t be bothered to fetch enough water.