One thing I genuinely love about videogames is that every now and then you get the chance to be the bad guy. Included in the list of my favorite games of all time are Dungeon Keeper (both of them, not the knock-offs) and Evil Genius. There is something really good about being really bad, being able to build your own fiendish lair and have a good old scheme. This concept can, and definitely has been a recipe for hours of fun. When I learned about MachiaVillain I got that nice warm fuzzy feeling that a new way to explore my nasty side was had appeared on Steam. I jumped at the chance to see what this game was all about and in all honesty liked some of it.
In MachiaVillain you take on the role of a former minion turned big nasty threat and go about building your mansion of horrors. You then have to lure victims into your abode and do despicable, highly entertaining things to them. Like the premise so far? Yes, so did I. Unfortunately this is something of a case of a brilliant idea with relatively poor execution. Why we can’t just have a great idea and have it go hand in hand with great gameplay I don’t know. This seems to be something I’m complaining about a lot lately and I’m starting to get sick of the sound of my own voice.
You recruit from a pool of minions including zombies, skeletons and psychopaths and then use these to man your ever evolving mansion. All good so far. The first notable, (and slightly game breaking) issue is a lack of building units. If you take a game like Dungeon Keeper for instance you have imps that will do all of the gathering a building for you. This means that your other units can be assigned to rooms and have quite specific roles to play. If you take this out of the equation you have your basic units doing absolutely everything.
This instantly means that instead of planning your mansion and figuring out what rooms are going where and how best to locate things you’re spending all of your time micromanaging units and trying to make sure they are all doing as they are told. When you have three starting minions and you have to have them building, cutting wood or stone, collecting resources and manning rooms it’s asking a little bit much.
This is a relatively small thing but it impacts everything in the game. You are set a series of tasks including building specific rooms and luring and killing set numbers of victims and all of this is happens in real time. So lets take an example. Your recruits need to eat. If food is left out it spoils so you need to store it. Building food storage should really be at the top of your to do list. Thing is, you have to lure victims and to do this you need an office from where you can send out letters. Seriously junk mail in this game is beyond killer. You concentrate on that and your minions start going hungry. Your victims arrive but see a pile of brains, (you haven’t stored them,) get scared and run off. Rinse and repeat and amongst all of this your still cutting down trees.
Making something that’s far too complicated to begin with even more frustrating is a job board. You decide which minions are performing what jobs (usually up to three of four each) and then in what order these jobs are important. This would be fine if you had a lot more minions. When you have very few and they are having to do everything, any concept of ordered reasoning goes down the toilet and everything just descends into utter chaos. To add insult to this your minions are also about as smart as little blocks of concrete and even when you’re telling them what to do have a tendency of doing their own thing anyway.
I restarted the game four times and this isn’t uncommon with any kind of building management title. Each time your do a restart in most games you learn something and get a bit further. In MachiaVillain I just got to the same point and saw my minions starving and unable to kill anything because my would be prey kept running away terrified before they got to them. Speaking of people getting away, I haven’t mentioned that you have a suspicion level. If too many victims get away and this meter rises too high the entire town is coming out with pitch forks. That happens and it’s game over. This is just another thing that seems to be working against you. It should be a threat of something that happens if you play badly, but as it feels so hard to play well it’s just another way to die.
What I’m basically trying to say here is it’s all way too much, way too quickly. Start out by giving me a manageable task and then slowly add more until I’m used to juggling a bunch of things and I’m not noticing the game getting harder. This is called a difficulty curve and it’s perfectly normal. Please don’t drop everything on me all at once and expect me to manage because you’ve given me the basic controls and told me what you want me to do. This is asking for me to get really frustrated and turn the game off because I can’t get anywhere.
This, sadly is basically what happened. I don’t have an issue going back and starting again. I’m a roguelike fan, it’s in our DNA. I do have an issue with wasting my time, though. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome. I’m not insane and there’s only so many times I’m going to go from scratch without seeing a difference before I give up. Lets remember, this isn’t a quick five minute run and re-start, it’s two hours of my life I’m losing every time I do it.
So after that lengthy but not entirely unjustified rant what’s good about MachiaVillain? The basic idea is sound. I really like the notion of building my creepy mansion and becoming more notorious by completing a series of ever more nefarious tasks. I loved the story behind the game and really liked the artwork. You see a Don’t Starve-esque graphical style being used and this is coupled with some really lovely cartoon cutscenes.
There is also some very well written (if a bit obvious) humor here. It’s like they’ve gotten together a group of PHD artists, sound engineers and writers and then given the UI to a sadistic preschooler. If you have the patience to get past the first stages of the game it’s probably quite good, it certainly looks it. Sadly I’m not that patient and although I don’t want instant gratification I want to feel rewarded as I’m going or it’s just a huge turn off.
This game doesn’t annoy me because it’s bad. If you’re a master at multi-tasking you’d probably have a lot of fun with it. This game annoys me because it feels like they’ve deliberately made everything far more complicated than it needs to be. It should never feel like a game is fighting against you or that it doesn’t seem to want you to win. This is the feeling I’m getting here and it leaves a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. If you’re curious or have the patience of a saint give this title a play. If not or you want to play a similar style of game and actually maybe get somewhere with it go and find Evil Genius. Seriously, it’s good.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.