Second Death Hands-On: Survival of the Bit-test


It’s 1958, and Chicago cop David Harris made the tough choice to bring his mobster brother back from Cuba and deliver him to justice, but things get tougher when their home-bound plane crashes on a mysterious island. Now he must save his brother — and learn the truth behind his terrible crimes.

david_artThat mysterious island isn’t something out of a Jules Verne book at all, but a rather interesting PC, Mac, iOS and Android game called Second Death. Created by Evan Wagstaff (design, coding, script) using Game Maker Studio with a small team helping out with art, music and sounds, this retro style “noir Survival RPG” mixes early 16-bit looks, item crafting, JRPG-like combat, a barter system and two game modes (plus a tutorial) to take for a spin. While the game won’t be officially released until January 2016, the demo that’s currently available at that link above (and seems to be titled or subtitled Absolution) seems to be pretty much what the final version will look and play like.

The tutorial is necessary (and non-evil) just to get you up to speed on the game’s item foraging and crafting system plus you’ll get a bit of combat in to keep your fingers dancing a little. While it’s made for touch controls, if you download the game to an older PC or laptop you can use the WASD buttons to move and the mouse to click on text boxes and other elements. The game doesn’t explain these non-touch control options, but it took all of three or four seconds to figure out what was what. Combat is a bit trickier as it’s a mix of active time battles (circa the early Final Fantasy days) with some tapping (or clicking) on or avoiding hitting icons to attack or defend. A “Rush” option lets you try to outpace an enemy’s attack by beating them to the punch, so learning how and when to use it effectively is also key.

There’s a (so far) mild horror vibe that comes from a few of the unexpected enemy types you’ll encounter along with the feeling of having to craft safe shelter for the night (in what seems to be a slight tip of the fedora to Minecraft). Procedural generation is used for maps so no two games will be exactly the same and there seems to be quite a bunch of gear that can be crafted using found, foraged and traded objects. There’s enough good stuff here to keep fans of old-school and recent games hooked in, especially if you’re sold on the story part and want to see how it all turns out. That said, it’s also nice to see a game with characters who aren’t whipping out a cellphone or taking selfies just because they need to mimic current fads. Second Death may not be an “instant classic”, to some gamers who demand every map being bumped in the uncanny valley (*yawn!*). But it’s well worth a look and play just to add a dash of retro to your gaming life.

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