Black Powder Red Earth is a bit of an “odd duck” game in my book, and it’s partially my fault that I say that. When I first read the press release after it landed in my inbox last week, I was expecting an experience closer to Origin/EA’s Crusader: No Remorse; that is, something more fast-paced and/or action-oriented. What BPRE is more reminiscent of is the original XCOM series of games which are more about tactics and decisive, critical thinking than twitch-shooting and arcade skills. Sadly though, Black Powder has nowhere near those classic games level of polish or engagement as it’s a video game that apparently doesn’t want to be a video game.
- Calling in drone strikes never gets old;
- Soundtrack is very cool;
- Has a tutorial…which helps…kind of?
- Sacrifices fun and enjoyment for uncompromising realism;
- Can’t rotate the map, so you can’t pinpoint enemies;
- Odd interstersal graphics are something out of cartoon and belie the game’s purported realism.
The narrative in Black Powder Red Earth is based on the graphic novel series by Jon Chang, set during a proxy war between the dictatorship of a failing state and a brutal jihadist insurgency. Focusing on minute-to-minute decision-making, BPRE is a no-frills tactical experience that follows four principles: Speed is security; don’t fight the whole city; never go into a fight with only one gun; and keep shooting until the target changes shape or catches fire.
Gameplay in this decidedly gritty experience is centered on turn-based operations on a fixed grid where a group of entirely non-customizable mercs (again that damnable press release touts this, stating: “There are no tech-trees, base-building, or role-playing elements. Only fire and maneuver to fix and finish your targets. Poor planning or the application of ‘video game’ tactics will kill every one of your assaulters”) do what mercs do: kill who they’re told to kill because, simply, it’s what they’re paid for.
Now, this is where my main issue with Black Powder come to bear. I want to play the game how I want to. The devs should give me this freedom (or illusion thereof) – rather than force me to play the way they want me to by not using “video game tactics” in a goddamn video game.
That makes less than zero sense to me. Seriously.
Case in point: as I was playing through the campaign, there were two instances where a suicide bomber randomly jumped out of a building and annihilated my squad. The first time in happened, I kind of laughed it off and restarted because I was two minutes into the operation. War is hell – let’s move on. The second time it happened though, I had invested a good amount of time into this op and was headed to the end point. After that happened, I couldn’t quit the game fast enough.
Look, I get it…in real life, a real war, you can be faced with a no-win situation, but in a video game, the “no-win” scenario is also no fun… and video games are supposed to be fun last time I checked. This ain’t Star Trek, and this ain’t the Kobayashi Maru, and people playing a video game are most certainly echoing the succinct words of one Captain James T. Kirk who “Doesn’t believe in the no-win scenario.”
In terms of presentation, the graphics in Black Powder Red Earth are, for the most part, well done. The 3D, isometric battle scenes are sharply rendered, and its marriage to 8-bit cutscenes and the like isn’t an unpleasant one for the most part. The musical soundtrack, by Takafumi Matsubara, is for me, one of the best parts of the game as it truly captures the tone of this seemingly endless Middle Eastern war. But, I do have two fairly big issues with the graphical production, and those are: you cannot rotate the map, which makes seeing the many enemies gamboling about the area difficult to pinpoint at times.
And in an experience like this one, that’s really, really bad. See my comments in regard to suicide bombers above. Secondly, a good many of the pop-up options and cutscenes presented to you during an op have a weirdly cartoonish feel, which in no way matches the overall, intended tone of this game. I have no idea what the devs were going for, but it’s entirely off the mark.
So, yeah, if you want to play a video game that doesn’t want you to play it as a video game and will randomly punish you by having a suicide bomber pop out of house to blow all your men to hell in two seconds after you’ve invested 45 minutes shooting and strategizing your way through a map, have at it.
Me? I’ll be pounding the ESC key with great vengeance and furious anger. Then I’ll be uninstalling Black Powder Red Earth as quickly as my CPU will allow me.
Jerry Bonner | Gamepressure.com