If I were a rich and generous person I would buy multiple copies of Headup Games' Greed: Black Border and donate them to my local technical college or JC, on the condition that all aspiring game design students be forced—I mean, required—to play it. I can see them now, row upon row, shackled to their keyboards and mice, promising, through their gritted teeth, never to repeat these mistakes in their own games.
I would make them vow, for instance, to not design levels with endless iterations of the same, lifeless spaces, or to fill virtual real estate with empty rooms that serve no function. They would swear that whatever challenges their games presented would not come from inept controls, poor pacing, or a balky camera.
Though there may be many lessons for would-be game creators to learn from Greed, there isn't much in the way of pleasure to be had from playing it. This is a game that takes a wrong turn at nearly every junction.
Greed is a top-down space shooter akin to the recently released and far-superior Alien Breed. You jump into one of the three, pre-rolled “classes:” a long-range sniper, a pyro, or a gattling gun-using soldier, none of which have any appreciable personality or character beyond a different starting weapon. From there on in, it's by-the-numbers, RPG-lite all the way. Kill, collect, upgrade weapon, upgrade character, repeat. Sure, it's an old formula, but games as diverse as Borderlands to Torchlight prove there's still plenty of fun to be had with it, given sufficient creativity and imagination, both of which are sadly lacking in Greed. Environments are bland and largely non-destructible, rewards and loot are uninspired, and dispatching enemies feels like a chore with no real sense of accomplishment beyond surviving the designers’ errors of judgment.
To be even marginally effective as a role-playing experience, a game has to present a story and character into which the player becomes emotionally invested. Greed's tissue-thin story can be summarized in one sentence: “Investigate a distress call from a mining ship, then, try to escape.” It could certainly be argued that in this genre of game, running through the levels, dispatching an ever-escalating progression of enemies and collecting cool new gear is reward enough for time spent, story be damned. Thanks to a plethora of problems, Greed fails to deliver on even those meager expectations.
As an example, my long-range sniper was designed to be optimally effective at distance, in theory, dispatching foes from far away. However, because the brain-dead, tactic-less enemies only react and pursue when your character is within direct line-of-sight and relatively close, my sniper more often than not had to repeatedly run up to an enemy, get its attention, and then turn tail to get into firing position. Since you can’t move and shoot simultaneously, combat consisted mostly of running away, shooting, and running again. Melee combat, even with weaker enemies, often resulted in death and a save-point restart. Frustrating as they were, I could certainly forgive the movement and combat controls if the weapons were effectively punchy or fun and the enemies interesting, but unfortunately neither was the case.
You know how some games suck you in so that time loses meaning? You sit down to play for a few minutes and suddenly the sun is peeking over the horizon and your boss is calling to find out whether you plan on manning the drive-through that day? Greed has precisely the opposite effect. Even a few minutes trudging through its mostly-empty corridors seem to go on forever. Sure, there was a palpable feeling of dread, but it mostly came from apprehension about facing the next, unfair, insta-kill room rather than from any moody game or story element.
Does Greed have any redeeming qualities? Some of the lighting effects are done well and colorful, but you could have a similar, less frustrating visual experience squinting at Christmas lights in a darkened room. Art design, sound design and music all smack of a low-budget title with minimal ambitions.
On the Headup Games website there is a statement that the developers “first make games for themselves.” Great. I have hobbies, too, but I don’t feel compelled to share them with the world. Playing through Greed: Black Border I could not imagine the audience for whom this game was intended. Anyone with a taste for top-down hack-and-slash RPGs such as Diablo or Space Siege would certainly find Greed a disappointing alternative, despite its sci-fi setting. Any gamer looking to kill a few mindless minutes with a fast-paced, arcade-style RPG would be put off by the game’s stodgy tempo and frustrating controls; and a fan of pure role-playing games who values story or character would find nothing at all. Other than some occasional pretty sights and an overarching feeling of comforting familiarity, there isn’t much of a reason to recommend Greed.
Would you want to be in Mark's Game Design class? Have any thoughts on Greed or what elements you think make a great top-down shooter? Let us and others know on Twitter @Gamers_Hell