Plague Road, by game development studio Arcade Distillery, is the result of what happens when a kickstarter campaign successfully reaches out for backers, well 1119 backers to be accurate. Requiring a $30,000 goal, the support shown for the project almost doubled the target with $55,734 raised.
So what is Plague Road all about I here you cry? With a name like that it sure isn’t going to be about fluffy bunnies and happy times. Plague Road is a combination of a sideways adventure scroller with turn based tactical battles that sees you playing a lone doctor who is travelling through a land that has been ravished by a plague. The quest? to search for survivors following the outbreak across a series of regions having left the relative safety of your farm. As the story unfolds you learn as to how the disease grew within the city walls, why the plague doctor left and why they now return with a heavy conscience.
A very vibrant and colour rich experience unveils as you enter the world of Plague Road and I must say looked pretty amazing on the screen. There is definitely a glisten of steampunk sandwiched into the gothic graphics as the Doctor stands before you, gun in hand dressed in a long flowing black suit with cape. Entering into a new game from the simplistic menu I begin my journey.
A basic tutorial unfolds to get you used to moving the Doctor around on the screen. With the help of a mini map in the top right corner that shows areas that you have visited, the sideways scroller allows movement at times into areas above and below your map by moving into green arrows that appear either up or down on the current screen. Randomly generated treasure chests can be looted for potions and equipment while characters appear offering side quests or items to purchase. Your main aim is to find “Survivors” of the plague that are sat cowering in the tall grassy fields of the map, once rescued they return to a farm where later on their uses can be found.
It is not just survivors that you meet along your travels, for beasts and bandits also lay in wait along the stricken path wanting your blood. Once spotted, the enemies home in on your Doctor and you cannot evade them, therefore a battle ensues.
Battles take place on an 8 by 5 grid and are turn based. Your turn is split into movement and attack. Areas of grid highlight to show you how far you can travel while your attack can be either ranged or close quarters depending on weaponry. For the Doctor, he starts with a gun and a sword. Combat at first is a little tricky as it is basically a case of hit for hit and the enemy are quite closely matched. If you have health or stamina potions these can be used to bolster your stats however this costs you an attack turn to carry it out. A win allows you to continue your quest while a defeat sends you back to the farm. Later on new members to your expedition can use different attacks from better weapons such as flame throwers to magical spells like raining fire balls.
Ok so you have heard me mention the farm a few times now but this is a very important place for the Doctor. From the farm you can visit various buildings where a whole host of crafting and unlocking of skills can be achieved. From the Barn you can reveal who your rescued survivors are and utilise them in your wandering rabble. My survivors were revealed to be an engineer, witch and a nurse, each with their own statistics and speciality moves that provided me with options. You can select upto 4 survivors to be in your expedition group along with the Doctor. This is definitely vital to do early on as the enemy becomes tougher and more gang like pretty quickly. The ability to train your survivors with new skills is a sure way to win more battles and this is done through other buildings on the farm that you must unlock by bringing back certain combinations of people. Buildings discovered for example are the Sanctuary for the Nurse or the Machine room for the Engineer. The Greenhouse allows you to view your inventory, storage as well as craft new items such as potions. Retiring a survivor is also an option should you fill your barn up with many of the same type of person, this provides a way to upgrade buildings, which incidentally takes a long time. I’m unsure when you retire the survivors whether they just get old quickly or if they are asked if they would like some lemonade (Ozark reference!).
With your newly selected team you are now set to launch your next adventure through the large maps of Plague Road. Look out for those Golems!
The colours and atmospheric visuals of both the characters and the backgrounds have a strong style with steampunk mechanical mutations here and there. The uses of yellow and red give a feel of sickness within the world and lend to the storyline of Plague Road. Animation is a little let down as it seems a little simplistic with repetitive motions of the characters and background such as arms and bodies constantly swinging too and fro.
The tale is told through a creepy rhyming narrator who sounds a little like my old English teacher who fancied himself as a bit of a thespian . I found it a little hard to submerse myself into the story and if it wasn’t for the great visuals I may have switched the game off a lot earlier. Background music is very Transylvanian with typical organ chorus sections along with eerie clanks and flurries of strings.
Overall Plague Road was intriguing with brilliant attention to artwork however I found that the combat part of the game to be particularly repetitive and unrewarding and served as more of a hindrance to my progress than anything as I did not get any experience points to enhance my expedition party. The animation was a little jerky at times and at it reminded me a little of those that you find when playing flash games on the Pc. The story itself slowly unravels however you are left a little to your own devices in the early hours of the game to discover and work out what you are supposed to be doing which can be a little frustrating, for example I didn’t realise about The Barn and adding people into my expedition party. The Doctor on his own is dead if a combat encounter is initiated without the help of other members of the party to help. Levelling up of buildings takes forever and after a while the music gets boring due to its repetition. Gameplay gets dull fairly quickly which is a shame as the backbone is there for something really good.
I would buy this game if you are interested in great looking artwork however for me it requires a little polishing to be a permanent resident in my collection. Plague Road is available on Steam, PS4 and PS Vita.
I award Plague Road a Bronze Thumb Culture trophy with 5/10.