PAX 2013: City of Steam is a tiny browser game eager to please
City of Steam is a free-to-play, browser-based, multiplayer RPG built in Unity. When I played a demo of the game at PAX East I was told that unlike many browser games that require large downloads, everything in City of Steam is built to be small and efficient. One scene, an open-air city under siege featuring an epic battle between a giant robot and a dragon, clocked in at only a few megabytes. So you’ve got a free-to-play game in an addicting genre that’s even easy on your bandwidth, what’s not to love, right?
The world is certainly interesting, or the World Machine I should say. The game takes place on a giant mechanism of gears floating in space. Each gear represents a different environment, and the entire machine is threatened by war from unknown forces. Developer Mechanist Games is quick to say this isn’t exactly a steampunk game, despite the title. Its tag-line of “Industrial age fantasy in a fallen world” is apt, as it seemed like a traditional fantasy world with some interesting twists, like that aforementioned robot.
The impression I got from the game was a project meant to please anyone and everyone who is willing to play it. You can play it on just about anything, it’s free-to-play, it offers gameplay for both hardcore or casual players, you can play alone or party up, and even the camera can be isometric of freely manipulated. Characters and details in the world feature a ton of backstory, yet I was easily able to skip it all without too much loss, so you can go either way in that respect too. The game’s world is pulled from The New Epoch, a series of pen and paper RPGs created by the same people behind City of Steam.
The impression I got from the game is that in trying to please everyone, I’m not entirely sure it has much of an identity. Sure, there’s a unique world in the background, but what I actually played was largely identical to the vast swathe fantasy RPGs of the world. The backdrops were cool, but the immediate environments were drab and generic.
The camera can be locked into an isometric view, turning it into a Diablo-esque action RPG, or you can use a free-moving camera for something more akin to World of Warcraft. Either way you’re pointing and clicking on monsters, using powers assigned to hotkeys, and exploring maze-like dungeons. Sometimes that same RPG mold can be refreshing and fun in the right hands, but I can’t help feeling City of Steam is a case of been-there-done-that.
I suspect that City of Steam will find an audience simply by virtue of its free-to-play model and streamlined graphical needs. Mechanist Games insists that you can play it on low-end computers without issue, so if you’re strapped for cash and you’ve got nothing but a cheap netbook, this might be the only game of this scale that you can play. In that particular circumstance, I guess you can’t go wrong.
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