May 28th, 2012 | By Gerrard Winter
Here’s a bit of ‘inside baseball’ for you guys, this is three step guide to how I play/lose almost any RTS game: Step 1) Build as many of the cheapest units as possible. Step 2) Point them vaguely in the direction of my opponent. Step 3) See what happens. Tactical viability aside, I just find something massively cathartic about seeing waves of troops wash over an enemy’s base like a crashing tide, a tactic that very few games actively encourage. With that in mind, I can’t help but feel Reprisal and I were somehow always meant to be together.
The game has you play as a nearly forgotten shamman, with only a small number of devout followers to your name. Your mission is to spread your influence across the land and reclaim your former godly powers, mainly through violent conquest of any tribes not smart enough to bow down before you. A subtle commentary on organised religion? Hell if I know. I was too busying jamming out to its classy chip tunes and lappin’ up the gorgeous pixel art to care.
In a homage to the classic “Hands-Off” RTS Populous, the game eschews the traditional array of movement and construction commands you’d normally expect from such a game. In fact, beyond the obligatory “go here” order, there’s only two flavours of edict you can give your worshipers at all; either “Everyone, go build houses wherever the hell you feel like!” or “Everyone, go steal the houses the other tribe’s built!”. That’s right, no collecting wood, constructing sufficient pylons, managing build queues or even reluctantly typing “gg” every time you get your ass handed to you; it really is a binary choice between build stuff or steal stuff en masse. I’ll admit, having all the usual commands taken away made me feel a bit naked at first, but after a while I actually found it quite liberating not having to keep a million variables in my head all the time. Now there was only one thing I had to focus my immeasurable intellect on: landscaping.
Yes, you heard me right: landscaping. You see, in order to you aid your people’s genocide of anyone who chose the wrong god, you have an extensive range of mystical abilities, the most important of which allows you to instantly raise and lower sections of land at will. Using this, you can quickly turn rugged inhospitable mountain land or boundless oceans into flat fertile soil that’s easy for your people to colonise. After a while of messing around with this power, I very quickly realised that this game could just as aptly be called ‘Multiply or Die’. It works like this: The more of that all-important flatland your bros have, the bigger their settlements will be, which in turn go on to produce more (and stronger) bros, who then go on to build/steal other houses and produce more bros than before and so on and so on.
It’s a really interesting dynamic that turns traditional RTS logic on its head. For once you don’t really have to worry about what your building or where you build it; you little worshiper dudes take care of that bit for you. Instead, your job is to simply make that stuff happen as fast as possible. Seriously there’s no time to wait; right from the beginning you’ve just gotta throw caution to the wind and get terraforming like crazy! And you better not stop for anything, ‘cus what works for you, works for your enemies too. The more troops they’ve got, the faster they can steal from you, which in turn gives them more units, which lets lets them steal even faster than before etc etc. It’s not so much an AI you’re fighting against in Reprisal; it’s more like pure, brutal mathematics. I guess that might be considered a bit of a faux pas for hardcore strategy fans looking for something a little more advanced, but I for one found it quite relaxing for a change. It’s nice to turn the higher brain functions down a notch and let your reflexes do the talking sometimes, you know?
There is of course a bit more to this game than a simple land grab; alongside your terraforming powers you’ve a full repertoire of all the standard god-like abilities such as tornados, thunderstorms, fireballs, and uh, fireball thunderstorms (?). With a bit of quick thinking there’s all sorts of clever tactics you can pull off with ‘em that’ll either aid your followers in warfare or, even better, stunt the growth of vile blasphemers before they’ve had a chance to build up any forces of their own. I think my personal favourite stratagem was calling in a tsunami and wiping out anything living at sea level, all while my chosen few were chillin’ safely in their mountain-top fortress. It’s hardly Sun Tzu I know, but the charming simplicity of Reprisal’s mechanics still never fail to put a smile on my face even when it all inevitably backfires (sometimes I forget to build the mountain….).
I should mention however that game doesn’t really explain how to do most of the stuff I just described, or how just about anything in the game works at all for that matter! The ‘tutorial’ ends rather abruptly, leaving you to deal with the game’s incredibly steep difficulty curve (mostly thanks to the the AI’s patchett for cheating in later stages) without so much as a tooltip to go on. But at least you’re given plenty of time to learn the ropes though, as the game’s 30 or so levels should –unless you happen to have Korean levels of APM– last you a good two or three hours before you either conquer the known worlds or manage to develop Repetitive Strain Injury from all that frenzied clicking.
Okay so here’s the part where I have to make a little confession: as this game is a free browser based title, I was initially planning to ending this review with something along the lines of “this game is a really cool time sink, but only worth playing ‘cus it’s free”. However, upon the fifth or so time I found myself booting up Reprisal since starting to write this thing, I began to realise that sentiment is complete and utter bull. Sure, it might not be the deepest strategy game out there, and it’s extremely derivative of the games it’s homaging and all, but you know what? It’s also immensely rewarding, it looks great, it sounds great and, dare I say it? It’s bloody good fun! Without a doubt, you’d be doing yourself a huge disservice if you didn’t check this thing out some time, even if all you do with it is chill out at the menu screen’s jaunty tunes.
Reprisal can currently be played for free over on the official site.