Archive for February, 2012

A Face Only A Mother Could Love

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012
The future will be boring.

I’ve been a fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000 almost since its inception, and I take a lot of inspiration from its particular style of comedy. For those unfamiliar with the MST3K phenomenon, it is a TV show involving a man and an assortment of robots who watch, and mock, bad B movies. Heckling a bad public performance of any kind is something we humans have probably been doing since living in a French cave. But it was MST3K who made it sublime.

Unfortunately, as any professional (or otherwise) heckler knows, your jokes are only as good as your source material. There’s a sweet spot between your material being bad enough to generate jokes and so bad that it descends into a pit of mirthless inanity. Face of Mankind is an MMO that dangles on that precipice with almost a complete lack of self-awareness. Stated less eloquently: it’s a mighty dull game that’s hard to make fun of.

To be fair, Face of Mankind is a sandbox game, which I have been known to struggle with before. Unlike my previous experiences, at least FOM has a tutorial section that teaches you the game’s basic mechanics. The problem is that this tutorial can’t begin to prepare you for the game’s complete lack of aim, purpose, goal, or even aesthetic. Once you enter the multiplayer area of the game, you are confronted with an endless maze of bland corridors and empty rooms, completely devoid of purpose. With no full-size map, and only sporadic in-game signage, it became ridiculously easy to become hopelessly lost. I can only surmise that the game’s map designers were reading Dante’s Inferno while looking at M.C. Escher sketches and eating Taco Bell. It’s the only logical explanation.

The few NPCs you encounter throughout the game are either mute or respond with some canned variation of “I have nothing for you right now.” At one point during my travels I found a room labeled “cafeteria” that contained a handful of NPCs awkwardly dancing. There was no music and no explanation. In a corner of another map I stumbled upon a sushi bar. I knew this because there was a sign overhead that read, “Sushi Corner”, not because the NPCs under the sign actually sold any sushi. Eventually my meanderings left me stuck in a koi pond. I had jumped over a railing to investigate the pond, not realizing that jumping in this game quickly drains stamina. I was forced to stand in the pond while I regained my stamina, simultaneously losing my dignity. And my patience.

There’s mining and crafting in this game. Or at least, that’s what I was told. My one experience with the crafting mechanics involved standing in front of a computer terminal, watching a progress bar create the components needed to make a pizza. This in itself was a bit incongruous, considering the fact that the faction I had joined – Vortex Incorporated – is the transportation sector of the game world, famous for inventing teleportation. I guess they needed pizzas to throw through the teleporter gates for test purposes?

I suppose I should mention the game’s various factions, which are intended to be the source of player-driven politics and roleplay in the FOM world. There are eight factions altogether, covering everything from production and mining, to law enforcement and mercenary work. You are free to join any one faction at any time, or even remain a civilian. I’m sure the designers’ intent was to create a framework that would allow the players to engage in a variety of geopolitical machinations, but what I experienced looked more like a game of “Cowboys & Indians” than “Rome: Total War”. This type of gameplay only works if players are given a reason to care through conflicting desires, goals, abilities, and resources. It’s not going to be accomplished by dumping the player into an ugly, confusing labyrinth and asking them to make a pizza.

Overall, Face of Mankind was a big, boring pseudo-future world with little to offer in terms of player engagement or entertainment. In case you’re wondering, I never did find the infamous “Club 69”, or strippers, or even a basketball. But joining a faction did give me a new pair of pants.