By Max-Vader and Andrew Erickson
I never thought I’d be writing this article someday.
The first installment of Hiveswap was a fairly alright game, but back then you could be forgiven for thinking that all it really amounted to was a couple of puzzles and some amusing dialogue buttressing a story that is all set-up, no payoff. Given it’s extremely troubled development history, it seemed like a borderline miracle that the first act was completed at all and that the rest of the project would wind up going the way of Star Citizen, albeit with better ship designs and canonical pornography.
But like an impromptu ICP concert at a gated community’s retirement home, Act 2 suddenly burst onto the scene in a shower of violence and faygo. Is it worth getting a ticket for this ride, or should you stay at home and watch anime instead? Andrew and I are here to answer this and many other questions that you never wanted an answer to in the first place.
Questions like: I just bought this thing called Hiveswap Act 2 and want to know what this whole Homestuck thing is about. Which isn’t so much a question as poor decision-making, but the game tries to answer that anyway. Bizarrely enough, it functions as a useful introduction to both Hiveswap itself and Homestuck as a whole, making the previous game mostly pointless in retrospect. It really only serves as setup, transporting protagonist Joey Claire to the alien world of Alternia. With that extended prologue out of the way, we can get into the real story.
Dead Freight picks up right after the end of the first game, naturally. Joey and her new rib-crushed friend Xefros bumble their way though a few areas in the wilderness, scrounging together a shitty troll disguise for her in the process. Our protagonists decide to travel to a big upper-class party thrown by one of the members of the secret resistance that apparently takes umbrage at being ruled by a teenage empress who has entire city blocks bombed for fun and executes people for not laughing at her jokes.
Speaking of the resistance, one interesting little aspect of this game carried over and amplified from the first one is the tendency to mercilessly mock prominent aspects of both social media and hyper-left politics. A curious and amusing stance bordering on the hypocritical, considering what kind of people are making this. Clout-chasing and general attention-seeking meltdowns are parodied via an obvious Twitter stand-in, while there are several characters that spout the kind of nonsense blatantly cobbled together from the Tumblr playbook. They’re not meant to be liked either, as the most prominent example constantly prattles on about “highblood privilege” and “hemonormative” views of the blood castes while being an arrogant, condescending asshole. The fact that he’s a spoiled rich kid and a pathetic starfucker desperately trying to promote his shitty rap album is just icing on the cake.
Anyway, it is at the train station where the game really starts to get going. The previous areas are like the first game, which is to say decently fun and containing the occasional gut-busting joke, but not truly remarkable. The entire planet practices segregation by blood, to the point that the train is not only divided by castes (with the lowest ones sitting at the back of the train, of course) but also getting a ticket involves the machine taking a blood sample so you don’t board the wrong car. Joey’s disgusting red mutant blood screws up the machine, so both of them are forced to try and barter their way into getting tickets instead.
This first proper puzzle of the game surprisingly has multiple solutions and many different interactions with the various individuals present there, many of which had previously been introduced in another Homestuck spinoff series, the Friendsims. (No, we haven’t played them. I’m probably the biggest Homestuck apologist on the planet, but even I have my limits.) This is also where we are introduced to Marvus, arguably the best character in the game and a clown (these facts are likely connected). Joey quickly befriends him, much to the horror of Xefros. For those unfamiliar with Homestuck, the purple bloods not only occupy one of the highest echelons in the hierarchy but are also all followers of an esoteric religion that can best be described as a mixture of violence, rap music, circus paraphernalia and fruity soda. They believe that a band of rowdy and capricious minstrels will rise one day on a mythical paradise planet that doesn’t exist yet.
Some trades potentially involving pogs as well as a lot of cajoling with a drug-dealing lesbian troll (called Gaegrl Elwurd, natch) later, Joey and Xefros finally get their tickets and the game switches to them on the train – in the last, most cramped and dirty car, of course. They find out that unless Joey returns back to earth in eleven days, both planets will be destroyed. Because the train is taking the scenic route, they’d arrive far too late. Fortunately, if they get to the conductor’s car they can switch the train to a much faster route. Doing this involves getting through all the cars containing the various blood castes from the lowest all the way to the highest – the literal clown car where their new friend Marvus is eagerly awaiting their arrival.
The train is actually a very clever plot device and serves as an unstated metaphor for Alternian society until the end, when Xefros spells it out just in case anyone somehow missed it. Not only is each car nicer than the last, but each uses the same melody with different instrumentation: one of the more obvious marks Toby Fox left on the soundtrack, but in this case it works to underline each blood caste is fundamentally similar while seeing itself as unique and separate from all the others. They’re all connected even as they cloister with their own kind out of hatred and mutual suspicion, and unbelievably the game refrains from making the kind of sledgehammer racism allegory you might expect at this point. After all, we’re not dealing with David Cage here. As much as anything, the message of Dead Freight is that trolls are violently unstable, their civilization surviving only because in aggregate their neuroses keep one another in check. The defining example of this comes halfway through the train, in the extended Ace Attorney homage that is the jade/teal car. A holy book has been stolen from the jade nuns, and one of the teals, Tyzias, proposes an evidence-based trial in which a neutral third party (Joey, naturally) is appointed to defend the accused, a notion that shocks the jades and delights Marvus with its absurdity. Proving again that he’s the best character, Marvus orders everyone to try it on the grounds that it will be hilarious.
And also on the grounds that it will result in someone being convicted and gruesomely executed, which is always a good time. The game makes a note of the fact that the mere idea of a defense attorney to Alternia’s legal system is something akin to proposing a court should have a naked man squatting on the prosecutor’s table, furiously masturbating and trying to hit him in the eye in order to hinder his work. In other words, it is something equally bizarre, pointless, disgusting and a mockery of the entire legal system all at once. For those wondering, Alternia normally conducts trials by having a gigantic, near mindless monster as a judge, then the prosecution shows the evidence (or fabricates it) that proves that the defendant is guilty, which is assumed to be the case by virtue of the fact that he is on trial to begin with. Then the monster eats him. As you can see, it’s not too dissimilar from Earth.
“Extended Ace Attorney homage” is certainly an accurate way to describe the entire proceeding, given that it parodies all the games’ conventions down to a T, from the “OBJECTION!” shout to the witness breakdowns and the last-minute surprise confession. Notably, there are three different ways to crack the case of the missing Twilight fanfiction, though one doubles as a game over. In a microcosm of the entire game (and Homestuck as a whole, really), not a single one of them truly solves anything or is a traditional “happy” ending. If there is one pervading theme to Alternia, it’s that the world is horrible and you can’t do anything about it, no matter how hard you try. Beyond all the memes, dirty jokes and anime fanboy parodies, there is an undercurrent of sardonic humor in a lot of places. Of course the game isn’t dour at all, but there are certainly a lot of horrible things going on, no matter how hilariously they are presented.
As for the trial, I won’t really get into it because it would be a shame to spoil some of the utter insanity that unfolds, with lines like “Shut your grubchute, you quivering normie bitch” and “your waifu is shit”. Suffice to say that eventually our heroes manage to overcome all their trials and tribulations and at last arrive at the clown car. It has a bit of an uncomfortable atmosphere, but fortunately we quickly find our best and totally non-murderous friend Marvus. Surely he can help us find the conductor’s car without any further incident-
It turns out our clown friend wasn’t as nice as we thought. He and the rest of the posse are practically tickled pink to help us get where we need to go, all we have to do is spin one of the most garish roulette wheels in existence a few times. The game is very simple. The wheel has a variety of colors and whichever one it lands on is the blood color of the passenger you have to kill. Refusal is not an option, as they simply beat the tar out of Xefros and hold him hostage until Joey takes care of business and returns with the proof.
Naturally, our hero can’t just go around killing innocent people (or whatever passes for innocent on Alternia), so your task is to fake killings, something that becomes increasingly more difficult as the clowns start suspecting you of bullshitting and demand more and more proof. I won’t spoil the climax, but it certainly was far more brutal than I expected.
If there’s a sequence where the game wears thin, it’s this. The player has to trek back and forth across the train, repeatedly, in a way that shows how reliant the writing is on forward momentum: introducing new trolls while moving up the ladder of troll society. Until this point the story’s structure mirrored the train itself, unlike Act 1, which was built around backtracking through a family home. Longer sequences before this one would introduce a batch of new characters, which the clown car technically does, but one is effectively non-verbal and the others aren’t that interesting either. The repetition feels out of place, if easy to explain in light of Hiveswap’s extremely troubled development.
The final puzzle of the game involves trying to figure out how to disable the drone piloting the train. Once that is accomplished, Joey and Xefros flip the switch that changes the route and the ending plays… which is so quintessentially Homestuck that you can tell Andrew Hussie was actually involved instead of merely being some “based on X created by” name in the credits.
Now it is finally time to answer the question at the beginning: Should you play this game? My answer is a resounding yes. Some readers might recall that I also recommended Act 1 of this series, so it stands to reason that a far superior version of Act 1 would receive my endorsement as well.
Hussie’s involvement is in itself a strange, spectacular meta joke, as he’s lost even his “director emeritus” credit on Homestuck 2. In fact, there’s essentially no crossover between Hiveswap and Homestuck 2’s active crew. Without getting into what a disaster Homestuck 2 turned out to be, after Hiveswap Act 2’s release the comic was effectively canceled and its Patreon frozen while Andrew Hussie began publishing an original visual novel, Psycholonials. The subtext of Psycholonials, regularly veering into the text, is that he’s beyond done with Homestuck. And the comic he started working on twelve years ago has transformed into the very thing it began as a parody of: an adventure game – a pretty good adventure game that somehow threads the needle of being a successor and companion piece to Homestuck while remaining comprehensible to people who know nothing about the source material. If only Homestuck’s actual sequel could have managed the same.
Really, the only thing that utter abortion of a comic is good for is that it allows us to make “If Homestuck is so great, then why is there no Homestuck 2?” jokes.
Well, even if the comic is gone, some things will be with us forever. Like trollsonas.
Well, Andrew Hussie did declare that all fantrolls are canon.
He’s said a lot of things: that Act 6 would be short; that Homestuck was only the predecessor to something bigger and better; that Hiveswap would be released in full before the heat death of the universe. But if there’s one thing I’ll trust him on, it’s that regardless of however this started, Homestuck is now a shambling assortment of random fan-made bullshit proof against all attempts at curation, so you might as well treat everything as equally true. For example, the characters Max and I came up with are now part of the Homestuck universe. Forever. Time to introduce our “contributions.”
Sixcha Racter is as troll as one can get; he has the horns of a troll, the amber sclera of a troll, and a colorful, tropical-themed shirt that speaks of a connection to the sea only a legitimate fuchsia-blood could rightfully claim. While some have cast aspersions on his troll status based on the fact that trolls have ashen gray skin, or that male fuchsia-bloods “don’t exist,” he enjoys perfectly normal troll activities like forming genuine friendships, going outside in the daylight, and using his supposed royal pedigree to avoid punishment for flinging buckets at representatives of the judiciary. His most cherished possession is his Horse Painting, a work of artistic genius so stirring as to bring strong men to tears. It is his companion and his curse. He’s selected the highly unorthodox typing quirk of not littering his sentences with random punctuation or replacing letters with a constellation of whatever characters his horoscope said would look good on a given day.
His zodiac sign is Pirius. The official guide, as designed by expert astrologist Andrew Hussie, explains that this sign is enigmatic, with an “otherworldly quality” that “has more to do with what they don’t tell you than what they do.” Furthermore, it’s characterized by a tendency to place “great value in the power of the imagination.” Clearly this is all bunk, as it has nothing whatsoever to do with this perfectly ordinary troll.
Arleci Ulspeg used to be an ordinary purple blood (insofar as there is such a thing) until one fateful night. After a particularly vicious Faygo-bender following his disappointing day-one purchase of Hyliconials, the latest and not at all greatest work of a famous game auteur, he crashed into slumber and received a series of divine visions. For a moment, he saw a glimpse of what could only have been one of the Mirthful Messiahs, feverishly at work creating his latest masterpiece while muttering to himself. It appeared to be a collection of pale-skinned aliens, one male and several females introduced one after the other, seemingly as some form of romantic selection. As the process reached a fever pitch, Arleci suddenly heard the Messiah shout in what clearly must have been excitement and passion “FUCK WOMEN”. The rest of the dream was a blur of visions from the paradise world he must have created for these aliens intermingled with holy rants from the Messiahs about the importance of miracles, card games and how to “STAY STRAIGHT” – all accompanied by copious amounts of rap music. He woke up and was enlightened.
custom-made holy vestments appropriate for his mission and formally writing
down the revelations he received so that the good news might be spread to one
and all, Arleci set out to
revolutionize revelationize Alternia with the
insights he gained from the Mirthful Messiahs and their paradisical creation by
spreading the gospel that divinely blessed concupiscent relationships can only
exist between male and female.
His zodiac sign is Capriborn, the Sign of the Malignant, and his typing
quirk is identical to the aliens of the