Trespassers will be prosecuted.
My love affair with the wasteland began with The Road Warrior. The law firm of Richards Butler, acting on behalf of Mel Gibson, has repeatedly demanded that I stop saying that, but we can't hide from the truth forever, can we Mel?
Strangely, a lot of big stars have emerged from the dark, violent future. The horror that was Cherry 2000 spawned both Lawrence Fishburne and Melanie Griffith. A Boy and His Dog (a movie with what might just be the best ending ever), starred a very young Don Johnson. And Sylvester Stallone himself sprung, fully formed, from Death Race 2000.
There are literally dozens of dismal prognostications out there: Logan's Run, Blade Runner, 1984, Dark City, Brazil, The Matrix"I could go on and on. And that future wasteland has been the setting for several landmark games, such as Autoduel and Fallout.
The world of Restricted Area firmly embraces the cyberpunk future of William Gibson or Shadowrun. It doesn't try to do anything new with it, and thus finds itself in oddly comfortable clothing. It's a Diablo-esque point and click (and click and click) RPG set against a polluted, nearly destroyed Earth, controlled by sinister Corporations. While it lacks sophistication and polish, its brutal simplicity has a unique charm.
When I say it lacks polish, I am comparing it to the $10-$20 million game development costs we've grown accustomed to, and that's not really fair. Restricted Area is a product of that now-endangered species: the amateur developer. Gone are the days when Steve Jobs programmed Breakout in his garage'or are they? Restricted Area was developed and programmed by exactly two people, a couple of German guys in whatever is the German equivalent of their mom's garage, no doubt. Garagenf'hrer.
The year is 2083 and most of the world is a poisoned wasteland inhabited by mutants. What cities remain are dark fortresses controlled by global mega-corporations. You play one of four disgruntled mercenaries with a score to settle. The Ex-special forces soldier, Johnson, packs the most firepower of the bunch, and is the only character that dresses in a practical outfit with a wannabe Neo trenchcoat and sunglasses. Victora has eerie psychic powers that grow as the game progresses, as well as massive boobs, which do not grow. Japanese swordmaster and son of the Yakuza, Kenji, is your close-combat melee option and Asian stereotype all rolled into one. If you ask me, he'd be much better off in combat if he wore some armor, or at least a shirt. Finally, cute Jessica wins the Hollywood casting award for being a hacker without looking anything like one. She is the only one who can access "cyberspace' to gain certain unique advantages, and is accompanied by a hovering robot that assists her.
I complain, but somehow the cookie-cutter characters work in a friendly, "I am already familiar with how to play this character" kind of way. As the game progresses, the character you have chosen eventually interacts with the ones you did not, adding a little flesh to the plot, not to mention a bit of replay value if you want to get the whole story.
For the most part, the missions you accept as a merc are identical. Travel somewhere, kill a bunch of mutants, people or robots, and get to the end where you kill/rescue/steal/destroy someone or something. The main missions advance the story, but there are also plenty of randomly generated side-missions to help gain character wealth, experience, and reputation" all of which you will need.
The gameplay is pure Diablo. You see everything from an isometric perspective and click on things to interact with them. And by interact, I mean shoot at. Mission locations, (dungeons, if you will) are randomly generated from a tileset. This adds some replay value, but you end up seeing a lot to the same enemies and terrain over and over again. It just doesn't cut it anymore that all the Fat Mutants look exactly the same in level 17 as they did in level 10.
Unfortunately, the mutants are stupid as well as fat, which means that they will probably end up sitting next to me on a plane with their mutant kids. The A.I. consists of walking-towards-you-to-hit-you and occasionally walking-away-from-you-because-they-are-hurt. Your character seems to be the only one in the game to have studied the ancient art of running.
The RPG aspects work well enough. Guns and swords are obvious, but instead of new armor and amulets, you replace your body parts with cybernetically enhanced ones. You don't see that cool new robotic arm on your character, which is disappointing, but you'll notice the effects right away. Likewise, you'll notice the effects of leveling up as you gain new stats and abilities based on each of the four character's unique skill trees. It's satisfying to become noticeably more powerful each time, rather than advancing in tiny increments.
It's a little weird, though, that you can just swap body parts on the fly without visiting a hospital. Find a new heart on the floor? Just pop it in. Mmmmm" sanitary. Likewise, some of the random missions feel wrong. Steal a prototype from a rival factory? Sure. But why is the "factory" a broken wreck full of mutants (like the last five locations), instead of a clean facility full of workers and guards? Probably because two guys programmed the whole damn game.
The sound is satisfying enough, with shotgun blasts, machine-gun chatter, sword slashing, and innocuous background rock music. Voice-acting is of the mediocre variety, with the occasional oddly translated bit of German. None of it is very fancy.
The multiplayer game is also a bit of an afterthought. There's a decent co-operative mode where two players can take on the randomly-generated side missions together, but not the main story. It's a diversion that just isn't that compelling and nowhere near as complex as the now archaic Diablo II multiplayer.
Restricted Area is truly a noble and heroic effort by two guys to produce a viable PC title. It's a familiar, comforting way to spend an hour in the wasteland. But when you compare it to a top-shelf game like Neverwinter Nights, it just, well, doesn't compare. Which, by the way, makes it a shame that their publisher went for a top-shelf price of $40 instead of something a little more reasonable, like $20. If you've got $40 to spend, there are plenty of better titles to choose from.
The future? I've seen it. It's a sinister landscape full of treachery and action. A place where I know how to handle myself against the best of them. Too bad it's so damn expensive. Who's got that many credits to burn, when we can barely afford enough Soylent Green in the first place?