Andrew in Steamland: Revolution Nein
By Andrew Erickson
As overused as the word “hipster” is, I have a hard time envisioning Revolution 60‘s target audience as anything but a coven of bald, bearded, Portland-dwelling journalist-activists. Our hypothetical player strokes his chin, displacing errant droplets of gluten-free water that have become lodged in the tangled copse of his facial hair, occasionally drumming his fingers on his bespoke, cruelty-free, organic mousepad as he scans a list of indie games. Spelunky? No, too misogynistic and problematic. Cave Story? Too widely-acclaimed. Touhou? He’s pretty sure Touhou is an anime, and therefore kith and kin with the twitter trolls who keep making jokes about his wife’s son. Perhaps They Bleed Pixels? The female protagonist is a plus, but there’s just too much gameplay in that game, he’ll never be able to beat it. What he needs is a game with as little interactivity as possible without being a movie.
And then, like a thunderbolt from Zeus, Revolution 60 appears. It has an all-female cast! It was made by a trans person! It’s completely linear, can be beaten in two hours, and introduces no new features past the first enemy encounter! This is a game designed for gaming journalists.
Now, Revolution 60 isn’t awful, provided you lower your expectations. For example, if your only prior gaming experience is with a Sega CD that requires the sacrifice of a beloved pet to play Sonic CD, then Brianna Wu’s iOS abomination is almost adequate. That said, I regret playing it, and I say that as the unrepentant owner of a PSTV. My standards are so low as to be practically nonexistent. But what does this game do that’s so bad? Where does it go wrong? Everything and everywhere, which is why I’m going to walk you through my experience with Revolution 60, from the start.
The difficulty levels are Beginner, Normal, and Girlfriend. I know plenty of games that have fun with difficulty names Doom does it, and is as close to perfection as any game yet but those almost always have a theme. No More Heroes has Sweet, Mild, and Bitter; Duke Nukem 3D has Piece of Cake, Let’s Rock, Come Get Some, and Damn I’m Good. Revolution 60 has Girlfriend. As a side note, the loading screen tips (which I got to see a lot of, due to the game frequently stuttering and locking up when loading content) explain that Girlfriend must be unlocked by beating the game on Normal. I definitely didn’t do that, yet I was able to select Girlfriend anyway. Neither did I follow the loading screen’s instructions to subscribe to Wu’s podcast.
“Yeah, OK, Andrew, but how’s the gameplay?”
To be honest, it took about ten minutes for me to stall due to a combination of boredom and motion sickness. Knowing I’d never complete the game without the performance-boosting power of drugs, I got my dealer to hook me up with some Mountain Dew® Game Fuel® Citrus Cherry®.
The first sign of trouble came as I was pouring the potent beverage-like liquid and some splashed onto my hand. I licked off the errant droplets, only to find my skin had been stained a ghostly orange where it had come into direct contact with the alleged citrus and/or cherry substance, much like the patina that remains after a jumper is hosed off the sidewalk in front of a Chinese office tower. Mere seconds after the first sip of Game Fuel® dive-bombed its way down my throat, my gut began to audibly churn as PepsiCo, Inc.’s alchemical concoction dissolved the protective layer that normally prevents the stomach from digesting itself. Was I sufficiently fueled up? I’d assumed that the secret Game Fuel® formula would enable me to blast through games like a code-injecting speedrun bot. But as I settled into my chair and nervously opened Steam, I just wasn’t feeling it. But with the soda surging through me like a tumor undergoing metastasis, I didn’t have much choice.
So, Revolution 60… Have you ever played The Typing of the Dead but really wished that instead of zombies, you were killing imperial stormtroopers with tribal tattoos on their armor? I doubt so, but Brianna Wu made it happen anyway. Such is the power of the Unreal Development Kit, which the game runs inside of in lieu of having its own executable file.
The plot centers around an American space station that comes under attack from Chinese special forces. Our main characters, including protagonist Holiday, investigate, eventually coming under attack from the real culprit: a rogue AI that uses nanites to control people. Faster than you can say NANOMACHINES, SON, the team turns on each other and Holiday has to complete the mission alone. I don’t know how any of this is resolved, as I ran into a text prompt that was impossible to complete; even when I successfully input the words, the game reset the QTE instead of progressing. After several dozen failed attempts, I gave up. In theory, there are different endings depending on the choices you make throughout the game. I’ll never know, but I suspect it doesn’t make much difference, considering I was able to max out everything except my renegade meter.
Sorry, excuse me, rogue. By selecting color-coded options while talking with other characters, the player can decide whether Holiday is characterized as a professional or a rogue. As you can see, Revolution 60 is a completely original and unique game that was in no way inspired by Mass Effect.
The rest of the game’s tacked-on RPG elements consists of a leveling system (that goes up to 9) and combat perks (which are invariably pointless fluff like +5% damage and +3% health). I can hardly complain, since there’s practically nothing to critique. As an RPG, Revolution 60 is about as deep as the film of shaving cream at the bottom of my sink when I’m done shaving. As an action game, it’s too clunky and dull to warrant discussion. As a visual novel, all it has to offer is a collection of snarky girl power archetypes who are generic to the point of parody.
You might think I’m exaggerating for the sake of making this review more entertaining. But I am entirely serious when I say that the combat system is so unrewarding and unresponsive, even Agarest compares favorably to it. Even the most by-the-numbers, bottom-of-the-barrel Fire Emblem clone is more satisfying than Revolution 60. Behold as I show you every fight in the game:
No, that’s all there is to it. Every fight takes place on a featureless grid of identical size. You can move and attack – or rather, press a button and wait almost a full second before Holiday moves or attacks. There’s no strategy to speak of, since enemies don’t know how to do anything but attack forward, attack diagonally, and sidle one tile at a time. Even if they did have a variety of abilities, there are only four or five enemies in the game, all but one of which are stormtroopers, and every fight is one-on-one. Often, one duel will end and immediately segue into another one when Wu could have made things more challenging and cut down on the tedium by having them happen simultaneously. I never thought I’d be bored to tears by combat with sai-wielding robotic geisha soldiers. Speaking of, there’s a plot point about how the American military fields robotic geisha soldiers as a cheaper alternative to purpose-built combat robots. This is as close as Revolution 60 gets to worldbuilding.
Is there anything positive I can say about this game? Well, it did stop working in such a way that I had no choice but to stop playing. This heroic act of mercy saved me from having to experience any more Revolution 60, and for that I commend whatever line of code barred my progress. And that’s all I can think of, really; where a better game would have partially redeemed itself through flashy presentation, Revolution 60 only doubles down on its awfulness. Take the character designs, for example. To put it charitably, the heroes look like funhouse mirror versions of Wu, who in turn looks like the G.I. Joe figure I melted with sparklers when I was 10. To put it non-charitably, they look like an attempt by aliens to build a human out of plastic and haggis, with pictures of harlequin babies for their only reference material. I don’t want to invoke the uncanny valley, because that requires looking somewhat realistic; what Revolution 60 attains is more of a hellish bog.
Then there’s the camera, which is such an integral part of any 3D game that it’s easy to take for granted. Most developers have adroitly moved past the awkward days of early 3D titles like Sonic Adventure and implemented camera systems that are unintrusive and easy to manipulate. Brianna Wu is not most developers. Either Revolution 60 wasn’t playtested much, or it was designed specifically to kill me, because its camera made me nauseous. No other game has ever given me motion sickness, not even VR titles. I’d harp on the point more, but I can’t be absolutely certain whether Revolution 60 is singularly awful or if my splitting headache and watery eyes were a side-effect of the Game Fuel®’s savage assault on my body. Regardless, it was around the halfway point of my playthrough that I wondered if Revolution 60 might be killing me. The question struck as I tried to stifle a sneeze with the back of my hand. When I opened my eyes, I was greeted with a streak of blood running from wrist to elbow. Maybe it was the game’s doing. Maybe my sinuses were being melted by whatever volatile chemical cocktail lends Game Fuel® its distinctive roadwork-orange coloration. Wherever the truth lies, I’m glad that experience is behind me now.
I won’t reveal which of you readers tried to assassinate me with this diabolical program. I will, however, reproduce the message you sent along with it: “I have done many bad things in my life, this is one of the worst. Godspeed you glorious bastard.” What I initially took for hyperbole turned out to be true, as Revolution 60 is certainly one of the worst things I’ve experienced in my life.