Lucifer has left the Inferno, and Archfiends are struggling to take over his vacant throne. Enters Solium Infernum, the latest turn-per-turn strategy game by indie developer Cryptic Comet. Since I really love it, I'll start with what I disliked: the interface. It's not really intuitive, it requires lots of clicks and it lacks immediate feedback. No tooltips, no confirmation dialog when you forget to make something during your turn... This is quite old school.
You even have to manually tidy up your stash, one card after the other. To become the new ruler of Hell, you must first learn how to clean your own crap, because there's no automagic button to sort everything in pretty piles (Edit: a right click allows to sort cards since the 1.03 update, but it's not mentionned in the manual, and there's still no damn button). The interface isn't easy on the player. In fact, nothing is easy on the player. Thus, after a while, this heavy interface starts to make sense.
I suspect it was purposely designed to get a genuine board game feeling. It could have been friendlier, but once you're used to it, it somewhat enhances the overall game atmosphere, because it feels real. Real tribute cards, real map of Hell, real pawns... The effect is quite similar to DEFCON's minimal yet immersive aesthetics: the player's imagination is at work, and guess what? It works.
I'm really fond of this game. I've even bought it, and you should buy too. Here are ten reasons why (because ordered lists are everyone's favourite crappy blogging technique).
Do you see the creepy figure playing puppets from above? This is what the game is all about: politics.
1. It's one of the best games I've ever played.
You probably don't care (yet) about my advice on video games. Thus I'm an actual game designer designing actual games for a (moderately successful) living. I even own an actual game design & project management diploma. So, as an actual game designer, I can tell you Solium Infernum is a great game. It's fresh, deep and polished, with a complex gameplay, a unique look & feel, and many brilliant twists on the turn-per-turn strategy genre.
2. It will make you cry.
Solium Infernum is the kind of game which requires choices. Real, painful choices, with huge consequences on your strategy. Each turn, you must face cornelian dilemmas because of the very limited number of orders you can give, knowing you always have a dozen of mandatory things to do at the same time. Each new turn will break your player king ego into smaller pieces. You will hesitate, feel regrets, and slowly fall into a delightful paranoia.
3. It will justify your hate towards mankind.
If you have friends, don't play to Solium Infernum with them unless you're on a misanthropic rampage. This game will reveal the worst of you and the worst of them. Its gameplay is all about deceit, treachery, lying, cheating, stealing, and surprise buttsechs. And the mischief will have to be carefully planned to be effective, which make the whole experience even more pleasant.
4. It will make you feel smart.
Solium Infernum's mechanisms are numerous, and you'll have to be clever to understand them. You will need to read the manual. Really. This not a game for instant, easy fun. This is a game which requires your personal involvement, and in the end it's utterly rewarding. You will achieve an orgasm each time you will grok a gameplay pattern or come up with a new vicious stratagem. It will make you feel smart, because it doesn't treat you as an idiot in the first place.
5. It will teach you something.
You will learn about yourself and about your friends. You will remember that stunning 3D graphics are in no way related to fun. You will remember the old days, when playing a video game was rewarding because of your successful efforts, not because of condescending eye candy. You will learn that playing a video game can be more than lazy entertainment and can make you look at the world in a different way.
Every Solium Infernum review on the Internet includes this awesome picture of a moderately horny and very fat man. I had to post it too.
6. It's beautiful.
Minimalism is where Solium Infernum's beauty comes from. The map view is monochrome and without any animation, yet its tiny devilish details depicts a living vision of Hell, in a vibrant homage to Hieronymus Bosch and other masters. The colourful artworks perfectly fit in, the many flavour texts let your imagination fly, and the ambient/drone soundtrack adds the final note to a unique exploration of the eternal theme of damnation.
7. It's worth the price.
You can buy Solium Infernum for $30, which is half of most mainstream games' price. Amongst its many similarities with old school board games is a huge replayability. There is no lousy Hollywood-style driven campaign. Hell is randomly generated when you start a new game. The "story" emerges by itself through the game mechanics and the emotional involvement of your choices. $30 is pretty cheap compared to what the game offers, and it will feed an indie developer, not a morbidly obese corporate publisher.
8. It will run on your five years old over-heating laptop.
Abobe Director was used to make this game. This is quite an old software, not exactly outdated, but obviously on the path to a slow and silent death. It means you can play on any kind of Windows device without a killer video card (virtual machines seem to work for Mac and Linux users). And you don't even need a network connection to play by email with your soon-to-be enemies: you can share the files via an USB key, or even a floppy disk. This is pretty low-tech, but charming in its own way. And there's still the good old hot seat mode.
9. It will save your gamer's soul.
Most commercial video games released nowadays are uninspired, pre-formatted crap, favouring mindless entertainment over meaningful content. We all know the biggest publishers now aim to the casual market, trying to please as many people as possible in order to make as many money as possible. Fortunately, for gamers who know the difference between video games and action movies, there are options like Solium Infernum. This is the kind of game which gives you faith in the future of the medium.
10. It will allow me to humiliate you in multiplayer mode.
Well, maybe not. I'm still learning the many intricacies of the game. For now my only multiplayer experience is in hot seat mode. Using a single computer may be a problem if you intend to plot in the darkness against six other players, but it's perfect to spend a great night with one or two friends. You'll win in conviviality what you'll lose in deceit, and it's a lot of fun to help each other against the artificial intelligence. Thus I've been told the real game starts in PBEM, so drop me a line if you're interested.
Here's a naked lady for you perverts who are not aroused by very fat demons. I didn't see her in the game yet.
Ø. Ok, this is not a reason, but keep reading anyway.
Below is a nice tutorial explaining most of Solium Infernum's basics. Before giving a try to this awesome game, you really should read it. It will help a lot. And don't hesitate to read the whole manual as well.
I hope to see you soon on the highway to Hell's throne.