Saturday, October 23, 2010
2400 A.D.: Final Ranking
Again, I find myself in conflict with Dungeons & Desktops author Matt Barton, who says, "2400 A.D. is a very creative game that should have been a great deal more successful" (p. 122).
I'll give him that the game is creative. There aren't many sci-fi RPGs out there, and this one creates a relatively interesting story, a different landscape full of things you generally don't see in CRPGs: moving walkways, subways, transport tubes. The weapons and equipment are unique, and the method of attribute development is rare for the era. Reading a walkthrough later, I realized I barely used half of the equipment available, which included holograph generators that confuse robots and various weapons that stun them.
But I can guess why it's not successful: it's a bit boring. While I love the Ultima IV-style dialog, and I like games that make you rely on NPCs for clues, there are too many NPCs in too tight an area with too few things to say. As for the variety of equipment, most is unnecessary, since the robots fall quite willingly to a few basic weapons. Once you have the plasma rifle, the game is basically over.
Let's break it down on the GIMLET scale:
1. Game world. We have to give 2400 A.D. credit for a unique game world and a somewhat interesting back story covered in the type of thickly-written manual that only Origin could produce. The thing I noticed is the back story could have been written a bunch of different ways without changing the gameplay. For instance, instead of an alien race called the "Tzorg" taking over the colony and staffing it with robots, it could have been a robot revolution against human rule. The Tzorg, after all, are oddly absent from things. (By the way, Barton has a mistake here, calling the enemies as "alien robots called the Tzorg"; the robots are creations of the Tzorg, not Tzorg themselves.) Anyway, your character and quest are quite clear. Nothing you do changes the game world much, though, until the end. Final score: 6.
2. Character creation and development. I give the game credit for it's use-based attribute development. Your energy (strength) goes up by repeatedly running and climbing, and your IQ by fixing your broken equipment, and so on. I can't think of an earlier game that builds your skills this way, a system that will be seen again in the Quest for Glory series and will reach full potential in The Elder Scrolls games. Everything else about character development is fairly basic. There are no choices in character type, alignment, and so on. Treating strength and hit points as the same thing is a bit odd. Final score: 4.
3. NPC interaction. As I said, I have a weakness for the handful of games, almost all Origin Systems titles, where you speak to NPCs by typing keywords. And 2400 A.D. is full of NPCs, most of whom are necessary to find your way along the main quest. They have very little to say, unfortunately, and your dialog with them doesn't offer real choices or opportunities for role-playing. Final score: 5.
4. Encounters & foes. There are a bunch of different types of robots, basically distinguishable only by icons and how much damage they do. They die too easily and offer little challenge. Most of the encounters are random, though, and foes do respawn. Final score: 3.
5. Magic & combat. There's no magic system in the game, and combat is a rote matter of hitting (a)ttack and pressing a direction. Except in a few cases, where it's good to use obstacles and corridors to limit how many enemies can attack you, there are really no tactics in combat. Final score: 2.
6. Equipment. There are a handful of weapons, three armor choices, and some other equipment in the game. Some of the items are unusual and fun, like time bombs and holograph projectors. I didn't see any need for pass cards and zone access cards; you can just sneak around zones and bash robots. Other than that, nothing terribly special. Final score: 4.
7. Economy. You need about 7000 credits to get the equipment necessary the game, obtained 0-99 at a time from each robot slain. After that, money builds up for no reason. Final score: 3.
8. Quests. There is but one main quest with no twists. No side-quests. The main quest has one outcome and no role-playing opportunities. Final score: 2.
9. Graphics, sound, inputs. The game features basic keyboard controls. The graphics are good enough for the gameplay, although the grey boxes around the sprites are distracting. Sound is still in the better-to-play-it-silent era. Final score: 3.
10. Gameplay. Within the world, gameplay is fairly non-linear, allowing you to go wherever from the start. But the world is small and confining, so it's not as if you can use the non-linearity to really wander and explore. Overall, it is too easy (you cannot die!), too quick, and not in any way replayable. Final score: 2.
This gives us a total score for 2400 A.D. of: 34. That puts it in the range of Shard of Spring, which I once described as "meh." That's pretty much how I feel about 2400 A.D.
The next game is an interesting one: a construction set that comes with a playable single-player module. I'm ready for something new.