Demo Driver 8: Sacraboar

But so few things are to its credit.

Almost every single screenshot is made up chiefly of empty space. This is not an accident, nor is it to the game’s credit.

If you’ve read the stuff I write here for a while, you know I have a great deal of love for the ambitious game that tries for lofty goals and winds up falling short.  Sacraboar, however, is not such a game.

Oh, it wants to be.  It wants to be some sort of never-before-seen combination of gameplay styles, mixing capture-the-flag mechanics in with real-time strategy.  Never mind that there are probably two dozen mods doing exactly that right now for StarCraft II, this game was built from the bottom up to facilitate that goal!  And it turns out that the goal just isn’t all that fun.

I’m not sure whether the weak skeleton of an RTS or a poor implementation of capture-the-flag gameplay came first, but what you wind up with is a game that’s just plain not fun to play.  It manages to combine the worst parts of both inspirations, and the net effect is a game which is most entertaining for the squealing noise heard when you capture the eponymous pig.

To start with, the story is… nothing.  You’re just a group of dudes trying to capture a pig trophy, or an actual pig, or a pig roast, or something.  It isn’t clear and there’s no reason to care in the first place.  The whole thing wads a bunch of setting elements together, like an amateur programming effort that features robots teaming up with wizards because those are both things that kids find cool, right?

So any hope of narrative is a mess, and the units aren’t going to help matters.  The Builder unit, aside from being blessed with a thoroughly uninspired name, looks like it would be right at home in Unreal, while the Hunter looks like a troll from Warcraft III with legally differentiated features to avoid lawsuits.  And then there are tanks.  To my astonishment, despite only having a grand total of seven units in the entire game, the designers could not be bothered to provide them with differentiated sprites, so it’s far more difficult than it should be to tell the difference between units in the heat of battle.

Not that it matters, as the only advantage weaker units have over stronger units is that they move faster, and that advantage more or less evaporates in the sheer overwhelming power advantage stronger units have.  You know how in games like Dawn of War you can creatively use groups of weaker units to harass and take down enemy targets?  None of that here.  A pair of Destroyers can gleefully gun down every weaker unit whilst barely taking any damage, and on the off chance you lose one, the resources used to build it are instantly returned to your coffers.  There’s no harvesting whatsoever.

Not pictured: any reason to give a fuck.

You can see that the guy on the left is going to die because he isn’t shooting right now. This is about as epic as the game gets.

Right away we’ve neatly stepped away from the usual risk-and-reward engine of most RTS games.  Instead of a unit being investment, it’s just a thing you have you now, and you can replace it in a moment if it goes down.  There’s no starving out the enemy or wars of attrition.  Because the goal is to capture the flag instead, sure, but the result is a game that wants to be an RTS and removes almost all of the strategy involved in those goings-on.

The graceless attempt to return strategy is the addition of spells via various towers that your Builders can construct; some increase your resources and the majority give you spells to control your enemies or boost your allies.  These are simply on a straight cooldown, and they tactically add… not much to the battle, beyond allowing an underpowered unit to become an overpowered one via careful use of shields.  That, then, is your micro-management.  It’s raw functionality without much inspiration, a tower defense toolset shoved in to give players some semblance of strategy without much actual thought.

Oddly, the result is that spells are both underpowered and overpowered at once.  For the cooldown time on these abilities, it’s almost trivially easy to use even simple spells to shut down crucial enemy assaults or turn your own pig-carrier into an invulnerable behemoth.  Yet the spells don’t do anything to change the fact that this is an RTS with only seven units, six if you only count combat-worthy units, and no real reason to branch out or experiment too much.

I don't care any more.

Pilot your green sphere against the red square in an epic battle of who gives a damn.

Is anything left?  Well, the game certainly boasts a variety of options for any given skirmish match, although I recommend turning captures down to the minimum if you absolutely must play the game for some reason.  Since your strategy is always the same and there’s no meaningful variation, each pig run is as boring as the last.  Also, turn off the music, as it’s clearly meant to set a mood but apparently decided that “boredom” was a mood.  Or just don’t play it at all.

The final saving throw is the nebulous concept that it’s fun with friends, but that’s a weak defense.  Lots of games are fun with friends.  A lot of those games are also fun without friends.  Praising a game because it’s fun to play with your friends is missing the entire point.

So the game thoroughly fails at almost every task it’s aiming for, up to and including the basics of both genres.  (Yes, you move a bit slower when you have the flag, but that’s it.)  The game is not trying something bracingly original and falling short, it’s trying to mash two easy disposable genres into the same setting without doing either one competently.  If you absolutely have to see it for yourself, go download the demo, because nearly all of the stuff you’ll get in the finished product is available there, and I shudder to think of what poor soul might think that this is worth $9.

A better idea: pick up nearly any other RTS game and look for mods.  Yes, it’s from Blizzard, but I’d be stunned if you couldn’t find better capture-the-flag modes for StarCraft II right now.

About expostninja

I've been playing video games and MMOs for years, I read a great deal of design articles, and I work for a news site. This, of course, means that I want to spend more time talking about them. I am not a ninja.

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