By SHAUN A. NOORDIN
Have games been too easy or boring for you lately? Try Dungeons of Dredmor, a challenging CRPG set in an insane comic fantasy world.
MOST modern gamers are familiar with two schools of games. There are casual games, where you throw birds angrily at pigs or fend off zombies by planting flowers.
And then there are hardcore games, where you throw grenades angrily at terrorists or fend off zombies by planting bullets in their heads.
However, there's a third school that's seldom embraced by the mainstream: The school of the extremely, unforgivingly hardcore games. These are the games that punish players for even daring to press the Start Game button, the games where a single dice roll is all that separates glory from defeat, and the ones that make you watch your characters die repeatedly... with permadeath on.
Yet, for a certain (read: Insane) breed of gamers, these games are the most rewarding, because on the rare occasion that you overcome the unfair odds to actually win the game, your accomplishment is nothing short of heroic.
If you're feeling a masochistic urge to try these super hardcore games but don't know where to start, then allow us to introduce you to Dungeons of Dredmor, a ruthless roguelike adventure wrapped in a ridiculously funny comedy setting.
It's a great way to start your journey into the world of truly unforgiving games, as the hilarious comic fantasy is often successful at distracting you from the fact that the game is kicking you in the crotch.
DoD doesn't have a plot, it has an excuse: There is a dungeon, you are a "hero," now go kill stuff. Good enough for us! DoD belongs to a subcategory of super hardcore RPGs called roguelikes.
The defining characteristic of a roguelike is that the adventure takes place in randomly generated dungeons with randomly generated monsters and randomly generated loot. There are few constants between games, and fewer assurances.
In one game, you might be lucky enough to find a powerful artefact that shoots fireballs. In another, you might not even find a healing potion for the first few dungeon floors.
The action is presented in a top-down, 2D view and it's all turn based, so as you take one step, the monsters around you will also perform one action.
The standard trappings of a dungeon crawl RPG are also in DoD, so expect to gain experience points, earn levels, and collect large amounts of equipment as you hack your way through enemies.
However, don't expect the game to hold your hand in figuring out what works and what doesn't; even with mundane items, you must learn what they do through trial and error. (Another wonderfully sadistic aspect of roguelike games.)
That mushroom growing out of the monster corpse? Go ahead, eat it. It might make you invisible or kill you outright. Tell us what happens!
That chunk of plastic you found? It might be junk, or maybe it might be used to craft the mighty (and/or hideously pink) Plastic Platemail. Who knows? (Cheater's Answer: check the unofficial Dredmor Wiki.)
DoD has some solid gameplay mechanics behind it but it's the context of the game that makes it stand out. The game is clearly influenced by the silly humour of Monty Python and the colourful, cartoony graphics reminds us of Monkey Island.
However, the comedy isn't just reserved for the game's quirky description texts and visuals; it's ingrained into the core mechanics themselves.
For example, the simple act of regenerating mana? "You're out of mana," the game would announce as you try to cast a spell when you're low on mana, "Drink more booze!"
Magic is powered by alcohol in this game, so all wizards in Dredmor are, by definition, drunk off their asses. That explains where the fuel for all those fireballs come from.
Speaking of spells, there are over two dozen skills for you to choose from, each growing stronger as you level up.
The seven skills you pick at the start of each game will define your character's capabilities, but the usefulness of each skill is also warped by the game's brand of humour.
We love this one - the skill Vampirism allows you to drain life points on each melee attack, but if you upgrade the skill to its maximum, you'll gain the ability to... sparkle.
Seriously, you can "dazzle your enemies to leave them stunned by your spooky, sparkly vampire glamour."
That is ridiculous, yet awesome.
Then you die
As funny as the game is, though, you are going to die. We can't stress this enough; the random nature of this hardcore game means you can meet you untimely end(s) in many ways, from the unfortunate to the ridiculous. (Like that time we teleported away from two monsters, only to accidentally appear in a room packed wall-to-wall with them. Gah!)
But dying is part of the fun; even the Steam achievements require getting killed by various monsters and accidents.
You simply learn from your mistakes and try to do better in your next life.
The ability to shrug off numerous accidental deaths is a key skill in roguelikes, as is the ability to adapt to any given situation and the foresight to plan for unforeseen disasters.
Make no mistake, Dungeons of Dredmor belongs to the school of punishing, super hardcore games. You'll need as much luck as skill to even survive in the first few dungeon floors.
Yet despite - or perhaps because of - its unfair challenges, Dungeons of Dredmor is endlessly entertaining.
The strength of its humour helps ease new gamers into the world of roguelikes, and its inherent silliness often helps soothe the sting of getting killed by random chance.
In a sense, it introduces you to a way of playing games that other, kinder games with gentle difficulty curves and scripted challenges cannot. Here, in the Dungeons of Dredmor, failure is part of the fun.
You laugh, and then you die. And then you dust yourself off and give it another try.
Pros: Comic fantasy; great intro to roguelikes and super challenging games.
Con: Eats newbies for breakfast.
Dungeons of Dredmor
CRPG for PC and Mac
MINIMUM SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS: Windows XP/Vista/7 or OS X Snow Leopard 10.6.3, Intel Core 2 Duo/AMD Athlon 64, 1GB RAM, 400MB HDD space, DirectX-compatible video card, DirectX-compatible sound card
PRICE: US$4.99 (RM15)