Wednesday, 3 March 2021

IMHO - The Wild Eight

Snow makes for some great polygons, doesn't it?

Next up in our mission to actually play all the games in this month's Humble Choice bundle, the roll of the dice selected The Wild Eight, a wilderness survival game originally by Fntastic that was acquired by HypeTrain Digital. I'm not typically the kind of player that notices who the developer of a game is, but in the case of this game it's hard to ignore the fact that this game was clearly abandoned and left unfinished, and honestly, that's a real pity, because given a little bit of love, there might just be a germ of something pretty neat here.

Ah, food in a can. My favourite.

The game allows single or multiplayer options, which is neat, and begins with the player(s) waking up in the wreckage of a plane deep in a snowy wilderness and then being pretty much left to their own devices. There's a minimalist tutorial that explains the basics of the interface, though is a little too light on any actual detail on how you might actually go about surviving, meaning new players can expect to die due to cold, starvation, angry wildlife or just falling off a cliff a few times before they work out how to more effectively manage the various threats with their extremely limited inventory. That's fine, though. Die and you'll respawn with all your previous skills, and if you are able to retrieve your corpse you'll be able to regain your stuff as well as a tasty human steak or two. Can't be too picky about the food supply, I suppose.

I'm going to need all those skill points for running away.

The interface is simple enough and workable, the world looks great (I am generally a sucker for anything low-poly), and there's a real sense of there being a lot to do and explore, even if the crafting is pretty basic and the combat in particular leaves a lot to be desired. On first starting out, I definitely got the feeling that this would be a fun game to load into with a couple of friends and see how far we were able to go across the vast landscape, certainly more my pace than Let's Starve Together (pretty much the only game I've ever tried in this genre), but very quickly it became clear that beneath the promising skin was...not very much.

Yes, it's brutal. Your meters run down terribly fast and you're constantly looking for more food, weapons, sources of warmth, and running from wolves and bears that want to eat you among the ruins of civilisation where something has gone very wrong. I'm fine with all that. It's very atmospheric, very cloying, it feels right. What frustrates me is the lack of story. And yeah, I suppose we're probably getting into spoilers from here, so if you'd rather experience it yourself, the short version is that this is a title that, for me, just couldn't deliver what the tasty packaging promised.

Giant purple death cloud. That seems like a good sign.

Still here? Okay, let's dive into what frustrates me about The Wild Eight. Right at the very beginning, the first quest takes you straight to a mysterious high-tech underground bunker. You haven't just crashed in the middle of nowhere, you immediately discover that you've crashed precisely alongside the ending of Lost. The very next step of the quest takes you straight to a radioactive werewolf that wants to eat you, so...that escalated quickly. The next step takes you to a bridge possessed by a giant demon that blows up the bridge, stopping any progress further into content that was never made when the game was abandoned. Yes, really. In three steps, a new player has come straight to the 'end'. That's it. Are there other interesting side quests and mysterious things out there in the darkness to explore and discover? Yes, absolutely. And some of it could even be good. But now that you've taken me to a dead end so quickly (quite literally killing my character in the process), I am utterly uninterested in going any further. It's like seeing the last 2 minutes of a long-drawn out nil-nil draw soccer match and then being asked if I want to go back and watch the whole thing. No thanks! I've got better things to do. 

If I was writing this game, there'd be a cinematic at the start to set the mood. A crash in the middle of nowhere, the fear, the fire. The player character(s) wakes up in the ruins of the plane, scared and alone. They have to find out how to survive while they wait for a rescue. They scrounge while familiarising themselves with the mechanics, they consume their supplies faster than they can replenish them, they meet wildlife and a few abandoned buildings in this vast empty world. It becomes clear no-one's coming to rescue them, so they strike out further, they begin to find some old settlements, fresh graves, corpses in the cold silence. Something weird has happened here. It might still be happening. They find the mysterious bunker and eventually the weird experiments, adding more layers to the basic conceit. The bridge could be out there somewhere, gating new content that might never happen, but don't lead the players straight to it as if you're happily advertising that you forgot to get around to finishing the game. Let finding it and wondering what comes next be a reward to those who explore, those who've experienced a good chunk of the skill trees and the stories strewn around the world, rather than just following the markers set down right at the beginning.

It takes a lot to not like a game that looks this inviting

It's just so frustrating because the elements are all there already, and if they were just spaced out a little, if the tension was allowed to build, if the players were sucked into the narrative, this could have been something really special; a game to suck players like me into a survival genre I wouldn't normally touch with a ten-foot pole, and instead it's a game that was abandoned as soon as it left early access that no-one really cares about.

Which brings me to my next gripe. The Wild Eight (rubbish title, by the way, but maybe it's funnier in the original Russian) was clearly abandoned. It happens to early-access titles by small teams all the time. That's fine. We get it. It sounds like it was a bad situation at the developer that caused the publisher to step in and take over, promising to continue as planned. That's worrying, but it could work. The publisher, HypeTrain Digital, continued to promise that there'd be new content, though, and removed the game from Early Access, got those Day One sales on October 3rd 2019, and released a flurry of bug fixes, with the last one on October 19th. Sixteen days after PC release, as far as I've been able to work out, they disappeared, leaving the game at version 1.0.13. That's it. Leaving an unfinished game full of bugs with a $20 price tag. Then nothing. Until a PS4 release on October 27 2020, more than a year later. And an Xbox One release last month. Gotta get more release-day sales, after all. And all this time not a single update for the PC version, with the Steam news feed for the game only used to advertise their other titles. Frankly, that's no way to treat your customers (many of whom backed the kickstarter that funded the original development), it's transparently exploitative and shows how little you care about the customer after you've sold them on an admittedly shiny trailer, and if I ever actually bought games I'd absolutely be refusing to buy another title from HypeTrain Digital. 

It makes me wonder. What are Humble doing promoting and distributing a game with this sort of track record? Why are Humble, a company that talks up their contributions to charity and their support of 'awesome' games, sullying their reputation promoting a publisher that are just in it for a quick buck? I know it's absurd to expect a big corporation to care about such things, and I know I'm just an old man yelling at cloud for all the good it will do, but I, for one, would much prefer a smaller bundle of better-quality games from developers that actually care about their product and their customers, and for Humble not to put their backing behind publishers that don't deserve to have their game in my library.

Killed out of the blue just as I was setting out from home. Seems appropriate.

Some quick numbers

  • Time played: 3.6 hours
  • Trees punched: 16
  • Polar bears butchered: 2
  • Player deaths: 5
  • Rating: 6 jars of chilled peanut butter out of 10

The rankings so far

Well, that was quite a rant, wasn't it? Sorry about that. Time to rank the games, and despite all my complaints, when it comes down to sheer personal enjoyment, this is definitely going above Valfaris. It's just that that enjoyment comes with a sense of frustration over what could have been. If the developer ever releases the rights to allow fans to build something actually good out of this, I'd probably play the hell out of it.

  1. The Wild Eight 
  2. Valfaris
On to the next one then. The next dice roll is ... 7 - Train Station Renovation?


James Picone said...

You might enjoy Subnautica. There's story, the game is finished, and just generally I find it all works really well. Also low-key accidental horror game because the oceans are terrifying

Unwiseowl said...

JP! Good to hear you're about, my friend, it has been too long! Not the first time I've had that recommendation, so I really ought to pick it up some time. Low accidental horror is just about as much horror as I can handle.

Naithin said...

Subnautica is indeed pretty excellent. :) I've just recently picked up the sequel given it is now story complete and not too far from releasing out of early access, but haven't yet spent enough time with it to form an opinion yet.

As for this game- yeah! It came to my attention even slightly before this humble bundle as the developers are starting to advertise their next game. A very Division-looking survival shooter, and the red flag was raised about their dropping of this game unfinished with other experience only really sitting in the mobile game arena.

Seems even more of a shame now though that it seems that what's on offer is quite a promising base of a game that could've been so much more. :(