Having played a few games by Hyptosis, I can safely say he's coordinated better collaborative projects. "Pact", despite being a relishing chunk of Eye Candy, fails to deliver an experience appropriate and worthy of the browser format. Glamourous, but scratch the air with an outstretched hand and flakes of paint fall from the mural. Its utter failure to showcase the potential of Rogue-Likes as a genre is just the beginning of its problems. It might be because thirty-somethings like these guys have to look back two decades before and revile the elements of their childhood, which happened in the nineties and again in this era. Guess where they've decided to project their anger this time?
To begin with, "Pact" has a tale: one about a trio charged with slaying the demon inside a forest. Rogue-Likes don't need complex tales or character development, just an excuse to dump the player in an environment that changes by a set of algorithms. Still, there is a tale delivered through the characters' stilted conversations the further down the labyrinth you go; they're otherwise a progress marker. Their topics include the Placebo Effect, gender roles, indoctrination, child soldiers and persecution (going so far as to give the witch African descent to drill in the latter point). Too bad most players are here for the game, so these events are (safely) clicked through, without spoiling the experience (in
theory, since the story, while merely decent, is a relative highlight of the game. Keep that in mind). This should offend Hyptosis a little, since it was inspired by his Kingdom of Liar-verse, though it reminds us how rogue-likes and power players treat a plot.
Since Rogue-Likes operate on randomness, this one features randomized map creation, JRPG-style fights, and special stationary encounters where one may bolster one's stats without having to spend experience or gold. A Blacksmith appears in "E" icons, where for a (geometrically rising) price in gold, a character's stats may be enhanced via equipment--just a +1, with a new, flowery title to justify the exorbitant price. Better to spend Experience on Stats, since the Blacksmith never sells potions; they're found off of opponents. There are only three stats: Damage (called Strength--it affects Healing and Magic), Health, and Mana. During battle, Player Characters may Attack, use three unique skills, or quaff a draught. That's where their tactics end. That's the system. No dice -rolling or questioning the wisdom of picking up a magical item, just barebones "Random is Fight, Special always Good".
The upsetting linearity is just beginning. Enemies always appear in trios and have but one attack each, which gets grating since everyone always hits if they're still alive. Worse, random encounters let players strike first every time--no variable initiative or randomized damage. Thus, the player realizes that, if each PC kills one enemy per turn, every encounter is a clean-sweep. The enemies may get stronger, but since you always have the jump, exclusively raising Strength lets one force those drow rip-offs to chew on tree roots while the PC's stomp their heads. A power-leveler will forget there were ever mana-cost abilities that made a character unique; some will even revile a few of them, particularly of the Thief, and complain about Ability imbalance when there were no worthy abilities to speak of.
Pair this with the frequency of Random Encounters and you can have a truly dull game where you know the exact route toward victory. Just the same; after your paranoid assumptions pay off and you've become supernaturally and strategically air-tight against the expected massive confrontation, the anti-climactic ending only serves to upset and depress the player even further. There goes replay value, out the window. People will seriously wonder why they had dumped an hour or three into such a game.
These are signs of cripplingly poor game design, but they have never before been as pervasive than on the web. What happened here? Did Kildorf merely program the engine or design the gameplay itself? Who's responsible for this mess? Is this a prank? If the public perceives browser role-playing games to be this bad, then why showcase a game that offers all of the horrible drawbacks of the worst offenders? If this is meant to be a Rogue-Like, it is the Dada of Rogue-Likes.
Hyptosis can do art direction no problem, but not a game engine. He can illustrate and implement those impressive, randomized enemy designs, but he can't figure out what abilities those little figurines could have, making their linear one-trick mathematical escalation even more grating--a joke threat. Which brings us to graphics and sound, which, on the other hand, are actually excellent for the medium, with a catchiness reminiscent of the 16-bit era. There is a point behind this: much if not all of "Pact's" appeal rests in the graphic design, something Hyptosis has no trouble conveying. They even include a little voice-over work. There isn't much variety--only player characters ever say anything--so it gets old quick.
Rogue-Likes and browser role-play adventures are usually poor because there are few people working on each project. This means we consider a larger team should work on one, instead of a one-man wrecking crew, which includes editorial oversight and quality assurance departments. That way, we can achieve a safer, even more ambitious project, rather than merely yank players' cranks to prove a point that plenty of people have already established. How hard is it to incorporate random number generation into action-script? We've seen it in Absolem. I thought a math of 1+[0-5] represents a six-sided dice myself.
Just because it's in Flash doesn't mean we're supposed to think really tiny, or have a crew of one or two. The net deserves better. There are, of course, plenty of good examples, not the least of which include the Epic Battle Fantasy and Monster Den series respectively, that are single-guy affairs. Maybe a for-profit model will inspire them to communicate with their work rather than being merely clever. The designers' talents have been unceremoniously and irredeemably squandered on "Pact"!
Perhaps our criticisms about how this game sucks are trying to tell us something, as though this is another deconstruction, an intellectual exercise in literary analysis, of Eastern Role-Playing at work: a set path regardless of how it's painted, an emphasis on character development happening beyond the player's decision-making, and an oversimplified representation of the genre at large. But someone made "Press Spacebar to Win" already, making the idea of this being a satire even more unpalatable than it being just a bad game. Never put people through something horrible at their expense just to prove a point. That's not intellectual, that's crass.
The first duty of any game designer is to entertain an audience. Does "Pact" entertain? Not even on the initial play-through.