reviews\ May 26, 2010 at 8:00 pm

Greed Black Border review


Greed: Black Border attempts to transfer the dungeon crawling formula of action-RPGs such as Diablo to a sci-fi setting. It's a top down, mouse-driven game with a heavy emphasis on combat. Once you've chosen between three character classes - Engineer (long range), Pyro (close quarters) or Marine (balanced) - and exposed to a bit of back-story voice-over, you're dropped into the action, fortune hunting on a derelict spaceship.

Torchlight in space, basically. Unfortunately, the developers have made a few fundamental mistakes. The worst is that despite being a shoot-and-loot game, they seem to have forgotten that it's the loot part that makes this genre so addictive. Sure, you pick up better helmets and body armor as you go along, but they look almost identical and just happen to have a different armor number attached to them. And you'll only be fighting with one gun ... for the entire game. You get a single gun type assigned to your class, and while you can pick up replacements, they work in exactly the same way and look nearly identical. The only difference is that the damage stat goes up. There are single-use upgrades that plug into slots on the three items (helmet, armor, weapon), but that's as far as the equipment customization goes.

The problems don't end there. You'd expect a game so focused on gunplay to at least have solid combat - but you'll be utterly disappointed on that front. Almost everything is done with the left mouse button - moving, shooting, using doors, picking up the tiny, fiddly items that enemies leave behind - and you should prepare for some teeth grinding as you try and attack an enemy only to have your character stride into range of the enemy's melee attack. Holding the shift button lets you fire in the direction of the mouse cursor instead of moving, and this does work slightly better, but it's still clumsy and infuriating. There's very little joy to be had whittling down the huge health bars of the same few uninspired enemies (zombies, space bugs and robots). Directional dodge keys are available, but they're a bit pointless. You can't run and gun so you'll mostly be turning your character into a death-spewing turret anyway, and you have to wait a good three seconds between each maneuver thanks to an inaccurately titled "jumping power display" that slowly refills.

You might have noticed I haven't said much about Greed's plot; that's because there barely is any, and it's all largely irrelevant to the game. There's a bit of guff about rival human colonies warring over Ikarium (read - gold) but this is wafer-thin stuff, even by genre standards, and it makes Torchlight look like Chekov. You'll also pick up a few PDA messages (sort of explaining the zombies) and receive news reports although your character, trapped on an infested spaceship, never thinks to radio for help. Again, this element is clichéd at best, bumbling at worst. Even Doom 3 did it better. At least I didn't have to listen to the text logs; unlike the spoken dialogue with the game's sole non-player character (who also functions as the only merchant) which is cringe-worthy to the point of self-parody.

The only thing that could save this mess would be some really strong character progression. But, like the loot, this is pared down to irrelevance. The developer, Headup Games, doesn't seem to understand the difference between streamlined and shallow, so every time you slaughter enough enemies to progress a level, you can only choose between three stats to increase; health, a recharging shield, or energy reserves - these being used to power not-so-special attacks. You can equip one defensive and one offensive passive capability, as well as an energy-draining attack/power that can be activated by a right click. These skills are the only substantial role-playing part of the game, as they allow you to customize your character to some extent. Still, they don't help to shake up the very simple and repetitive nature of the game. Greed has no difficulty settings, but for the most part is a very dull cakewalk, except for massive difficulty spikes when encountering bosses or having to maneuver past environmental hazards. Blast the enemy - retreat a few steps - repeat. This same unvarying template is cloned endlessly.

So what works about Greed? Very little - but there are a few redeeming qualities. The graphics, all done in detailed top-down 3D, are pretty in a generic sci-fi sort of way - imagine Dead Space, but with more colorful lighting. The character models are pleasantly detailed; the undead chemist provides a highlight, reminiscent, but not too similar to the Big Daddies from Bioshock. The music is listenable, even if it does get repeated a lot; the track used for the menu screen has a certain epic sweep that belongs in a much better game. There's a nifty feature to "scrap" your spoils into a cube that only takes up a single inventory slot, and can then be sold to the trader; which is fortunate, as you'll pass long periods without seeing him. Finally, when the game (weirdly) decides to be a point-and-click adventure, posing you a few puzzles, it isn't half bad at it. That this should be the best aspect of an action-RPG, however, is not really a good thing.

Greed: Black Border is a bit of a puzzle in itself. Who, exactly, was this game made for? It's too niche, and with much too erratic levels of difficulty to appeal to the casually interested. It's far too dumbed-down and repetitive to appeal to genre fans. It certainly didn't appeal to me.


Stuart Young
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