Post-release edit: The game has now been fully released and I’ve had a short while to get to grips with it. Now included is a great little campaign, which basically addresses all of the problems that I had with the game not telling me what to do or how things worked. With the campaign levels working as an excellent tutorial, while still being really quite challenging, this game is highly recommended and you can safely ignore any areas where I wasn’t sure about what was going on below.
What follows is the preview, originally published on the 2nd of June, working from pre-release code.
Tim Conklin’s Antihero, due for release July 12th, has nailed down every single Victorian stereotype that we have come to know and love. Antihero is a game that is so very, very stereotypical London, that if you somehow printed it out and cut through it, you’d have a mess of jellied eels and West Ham oozing all over your table.
Antihero, which feels very much like a board game has been stapled to my computer screen, is a turn based strategy game where you compete either against the AI or an opponent to fulfil certain winning conditions. To do this, you use a motley crew of characters, all of which have different skills and capabilities. Every skirmish map has a different way to get them but all boil down to the same thing; gain enough victory points to win.
The UI is very simple and clear to use, with the characters drawn in a charming quasi-Goldeneye-big-head mode fashion. It’s immensely user friendly, with icons lighting up to remind you if you haven’t spent your coins or used one of your upgrades that turn, with further textual reminders if you insist on trying to end your turn having missed doing something major. The charming little city full of top hatted gangs, cockney thugs and grubby urchins completely matches the aesthetic that the developer is going for. The names of the buildings all fit the theme as well, despite their random nature: Fleshpotter Park; Halfpaddle Palace; The Underbottom. There was one eyebrow raising moment when I came across a church called Salty Nonce; nonce being an unpleasant word in modern day parlance, but meaning something rather different religiously. This may perhaps need cleaning up to avoid controversy.
The tutorial answered almost all of my questions by the end, but I was very confused at suddenly winning the first tutorial mission by upgrading a church; either I missed something obvious or I wasn’t told that this would happen. Again, on the second map of the tutorial, some things just seemed to happen. I understood them once I was finished, but I can see this turning off some people with a lack of patience and with Steam’s refund system now in place, there may need to be a little more clarity put into place. However, my friend Hokie seemed to understand the ebb and flow of the game well after completing just the tutorial, so perhaps it was just me.
The titular Antihero is yourself, playing as one of the master thieves available in game; one of nine available but all who have exactly the same skillset. The character choice is therefore purely cosmetic. You are invulnerable and cannot be hurt, which is one of the clever design choices which means you’re never truly down and out of the game. The master thief’s job is simple; use your limited action points burgle premises, thereby scouting it for your other characters, and sometimes get a little stabby with the knife to remove the characters of your enemy. Through burgling you will gain coins, which are in turn used to hire various goons, and through infiltration you will gain lanterns which work as a sort of tech upgrade point. In order to get stabby, for example, I need to spend some lanterns to give my thief a knife. I could have used them to unlock a saboteur, to booby trap buildings; or a thug to block the way of my opponent. When my action points are done and I’ve spent what I can (or what I want to – resources do carry over), the AI acts.
Turn-by-turn, the city will reveal itself from the fog as you get busy scouting. I really like the design of Antihero, despite previously having been turned off from Victorian settings by the whole steampunk thing. What you have in front of you is a claustrophobic, close-in city with narrow streets. As well as houses, which can all be burgled, there are banks, churches, mansions and orphanages for you to rob and to infiltrate. Through hiring Oliver Twist style urchins, you can infiltrate these more special buildings and gain bonus points. Upgrading a church with three urchins gave me a victory point towards the end of the game, and upgrading a bank greatly increased the coins I brought in to spend each turn. The urchins can then be evicted in turn by gangs, another pawn you can control, and so-on. Almost like a giant, Londoney game of rock, paper, scissors.
The game plays quickly – you can be done in an AI match in 15 minutes and slightly longer for a multiplayer match. The AI turns are processed quickly, with even an “instant” button available if you don’t want to watch them move. The AI will turtle up quite happily; on one map I had secured 4 bits of cargo from a ship and needed one more for the win; then I was met by a horde of the enemy and lost 5-4. Keeping toe to toe with them is important but the developer himself has said on the Steam forum that he is not currently happy with how easy the AI is to beat. You definitely need to play aggressively and keep the AI pinned back rather than letting them expand, and this is certainly requiring me to have a different approach to this than I would other games. Still, for a game that looks this good and which has such simple, easy to understand mechanics, that’s time I’m willing to put in.
Multiplayer itself looks like it will be quite enjoyable, if not just as punishing as the single player game. You quickly make an account which doesn’t require immediate verification, and you’re in (though there is a curious choice that enforces you using a capital letter at the start of your name, which I’ve never seen before). You are given two options within multiplayer – Casual and Live. Casual is a play-by-mail style affair which doesn’t require both players to be online at the same time, and Live works as single player does, with an added turn timer which prevents someone from taking too long and holding it all up. Connecting to each other is easy – one names the game and the other types in the name to join. The whole system, like the rest of the game, is very quick and effective. If you don’t have a friend to play with, the game will find you one. The current build of the game randomly selects a map for you, but I presume this will change on release to allow player choice.
As I’m playing a preview build, it has to be noted that there is a campaign to come which is not something that we have access to right now; but if that has half the charm of the random skirmish missions – which are actually far more than just “here’s another player, take them out” – then it’ll be a fantastic experience. We’re very much looking forward to playing the full version of the game and a full review of the game will follow here once we’ve got to grips with that!
You can gain access to Antihero now at https://versusevil.itch.io/antihero for just over £11/$15. Instead, if you can wait for its release on July 12th, you can find it on Steam for a pre-order offer of £8.79/$11.99 (20% off). Thank you to Hokie (https://www.twitch.tv/hokian) for playtesting this with me and to Aiden at Plan of Attack for the preview key.