|Krater: Shadows Over Solside|
|Developer: Fatshark||Release Date: June 12, 2012|
|Publisher: Lace Mamba Global||ESRB Rating: N/A|
|Platforms: PC||MSRP: $14.99|
Krater: Shadows Over Solside is not a bad game; there is quite a bit of fun to be had playing it, and the distinctive art style really creates a wonderful and novel take on the post-apocalyptic setting. But, for every step this game takes in the right direction, it seems to fumble awkwardly along the way. Krater tries to be a nostalgic dungeon crawler, and on many occasions succeeds, but, still, this game is a grind to get through. Dungeon crawlers have evolved since their early years into much better pieces of entertainment; Krater forgets this evolution and implements some very frustrating mechanisms that tear this possibly great game down to merely good.
Fatshark, a small independent developer from Sweden, has made previous titles such as Lead & Gold: Gangs of the Wild West, a third person shooter for the PC, and Bionic Commando Rearmed 2, a platformer for the Xbox 360 and PS3. With each new game Fatshark has developed, they decided to tackle a new genre. This can be both troublesome and admirable as they many never get a good foundation for any particular type of game but can show their versatility in the market. Krater has them pushing their design and gameplay chops in trying to take on the dungeon crawler genre. Dungeon crawlers are a very particular type of game that requires specifically balanced enemies and abilities along with environments that never feel overused, as players will be traveling through them for hours on end. This independent developer did see the bigger picture that sometimes is lost among the details in that they created a dungeon crawler with all of the proper workings, but forgot to add in the little details that make newer installations in the genre worth playing.
If anything, Krater has a style of gameplay that can both be very addictive and fun. It is not perfect, and often suffers from confusing encounters and mediocre controls. For a quick overview of a typical scenario in Krater, the best place to start is the exploration. The game is divided into different areas that are all connected by a world map. This world map is a fully rendered birds-eye-view of Solside, and it looks gorgeous – little towns and structures sit between fields of trees and the player is able to essentially roam around freely. This is not an open world game though, it obviously was not what the developers were going for, and instead this over-world design takes inspiration from the original Fallout titles. Once players find an area they want to move to they click and watch the cursor travel through this post-apocalyptic landscape. Two different situations can occur next: either players will encounter a random event, this can be a battle through a small level or meeting a random merchant, or they can reach their destination. These different landmarks where you arrive are broken up to be either hostile locations or friendly ones. Hostile locations are where the combat takes places and usually involves further traveling through facilities or caves; the friendly zones are where players can improve characters, purchase equipment, and get new quests. The quests are given by various NPCs that ask players to complete different, sometimes monotonous, tasks: kill so many of this, find so many of that. This part of the game can often be dragged out and roaming Solside can become a long, and sometimes tedious, chore.
The combat is where the game truly takes off, but even this has some hiccups. At all times, at least for offline mode, players can choose three, out of a total of four, classes to control. There are the Bruisers (tanks), Slayers (DPS), Regulators (crowd control and enemy debuffer), and Medikuses (healers). Each class has two variations with two unique powers, and has a number of characters to choose from. Unfortunately, the different characters only have cosmetic changes and some slight stat differentiation, so the same powers will often be used. Trying to keep track of each unit is a test of one’s eyesight and ability to multitask. Be prepared, as battles will become fast-paced and confusing and classes like the Regulator and Medikus will easily be killed if not constantly healed. Players have powers appropriated to the number keys “1” through “9”, with “7”, “8”, and “9” being a rechargeable item that can be assigned to each unit. These consist of extra weapons like grenades, pistols or injectors which will temporarily boost a stat. This is all pretty standard fare for RPG fans, and the combat does well to incorporate all of these pieces into a workable model. The combat moves rapidly, it is not slow and there is never a break for players to assess the situation; once you join a battle, you are in it till victory or death. When combat begins, having three characters to control can mean that trying to keep track of them is nearly impossible. Characters will die mid-battle without players ever realizing it, and this can be detrimental as they cannot be revived until all of the enemies are dispatched. This game takes a lot of thought before mobs are attacked. The encounters cannot be treated as simplistic fights leading to a boss. Everything can kill you and will definitely try. Fatshark has succeeded in making an intelligently difficult experience.
Krater has a crafting system in place to make weapons, upgrades, and boosters. The system uses a series of designated crafting items that, when combined together with some amount of Kroner allow players to make more powerful weapons. The problem is that I never had a real reason to use thIs system; the majority of the items I could craft needed parts I could not find or were weaker than the items I found while exploring. Being able to create upgrades and boosters, on the other hand, can help make a really powerful character, but these do not have to be made as they can be purchased and found.
Considering that much of Krater deals with loot drops and the variety of items available to players, this should be a positive part of the game. While finding the new items is enjoyable and will keep a certain type of gamer playing, some of the items are just useless. Most of the enemies will drop what are called valuables, basically random junk like teeth, bones, or old-world technology. These items, while sometimes used for quests, have no other purpose than to just be sold to a vendor for Kroner. The problem with this idea is that it is never conveyed to the player, and maybe these items have some other sort of use, but I have yet to find it. These articles are picked up quite regularly, but, what I have a difficult time understanding is why these things either cannot be automatically converted into currency while in the field or when going into a town. Giving players the ability to just “Sell All Valuables” would be a great option that would help streamline a process that is just monotonous and not really integral to anything.
A leveling system, different classes of characters, and a multitude of weapons are only part of Krater’s RPG mechanics. Another part is how the characters are built, using two different types of “power-ups” called boosters and upgrades. Boosters are attached to specific powers; they are skill buffs, damage enhancers or healing improvements, but only apply when that particular ability is activated. Each character is able to attach up to five Boosters per power, but only unlock one new slot with each level up. Upgrades are slightly different in that they are attached to the character and give a permanent stat increase, upwards of fifteen can be attached total but again players only unlock one new slot with each level increase. These Upgrades and Boosters effectively can turn any difficult battle into a fairly easy one-sided victory if used properly but can crush players if they are not.
One of the most frustrating parts of Krater is its maps. They are a chore to navigate through and make finding your way abnormally difficult. Usually when a map is used in-game, up is up, down is down, etc. But, for some reason, moving the camera up may move the view box on the map to the left. This only hinders navigation a little but is still something that could have been worked out with some testing. The world map is another annoying feature in that the map which gives a better overall location does not tell players their perspective relative to their location. You may think you are looking in one direction, begin to travel and soon you will realize you have been pointed in the exact opposite way. These are little frustrations that build up over the game and pollute an otherwise great experience.
On a positive note, I have to give a standing ovation to Christian Gabel for making an amazing soundtrack to this game. Gabel’s music is very reminiscent of late seventies and early eighties tracks that heavily used synths and deep beats. The musical range in Krater’s soundtrack is quite astonishing considering going from a friendly town to a world map to a hostile zone can make players feel a multitude of emotions about the different locations. This soundtrack can be listened to outside of the game and really deserves to.
Krater visually looks like a mix between cel-shaded graphics and something designed in the Source Engine; neither could be true, but this is what I am reminded of when I play it. The environment looks very green, with trees and plants growing everywhere and seeming to take over Solside. Many of the NPC populated areas are shanty towns with buildings hastily put together with random metal sheets, wooden planks, and anything else that could be connected to make a sort of housing. The hostile caves and bunkers appear dark and damp, covered in jagged rocks and overgrown vines. Every location is simply beautiful, and is a novel take on a post-apocalyptic world. Solside does not look like a drab and dreary town where everyone is barely surviving. It is a thriving community where people are not only surviving but seeming to be living a decent life. The characters that populate Solside are quirky and all seem to be having a particularly enjoyable life, even with the crazy circumstances that have taken place. Krater has a wonderful charm in its world and never looks to take itself seriously, allowing players plenty of laughs in their travels through the game.
The area where Krater suffers the worst is with its technical issues. The title was released unfinished as a living, breathing game that will continue to be updated and evolved based on community feedback and future installments. For instance, Krater has a multiplayer mode in development, and the option is on the intro menu, but currently it is unavailable. Releasing early and constantly patching the game is not a terrible idea and shows that Fatshark supports its community and cares about their opinions. But players may find more issues and bugs that will hamper their enjoyment of this title. For instance, I found a bug when fighting the “Alpha Bjorn” where after I died it just disappeared and no longer spawned in the cave where it was supposed to be. Luckily it has not affected my game but still losing the chance to fight that powerful enemy was somewhat of a downer. Also, if I play for an extended period of time, roughly two hours, the game will crash to desktop. This is especially frustrating considering progress of upwards of a half an hour is then lost. Even with some technical issues, the game is overall enjoyable enough to work through them, and Fatshark seems committed to helping their audience have the best game possible.
Krater: Shadows of Solside is an interesting take on nostalgic games of yesterday, Krater delivers a novel world that takes a new turn on the post-apocalypse setting. Even though it suffers from its own early release date and some frustrating game mechanics and bugs, the game never fails to be an interesting and enjoyable title. This will definitely delight fans of past dungeon crawlers and may even spark an interest in newcomers in the genre with its comical attitude and amazing score. This very Swedish apocalypse is definitely worth jumping into.
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