Review | Eufloria
Format: PC | Genre: Strategy | Publisher: Rudolph Kramer/Alex May | Developer: Rudolph Kramer/Alex May | Release date: 20/10/09 | RRP: £14.95
By Lewis Denby
Tree-like life forms could, hypothetically, grow inside distant comets.
That was Freeman Dyson’s theory of how genetic engineering could lead to sustainable life away from Earth. It was also the concept behind this year’s Independent Games Festival finalist Dyson, a simple but charming indie title that’s now been expanded into a fully-fledged commercial release.
Dyson trees take root in the centre of asteroids, sprouting up through the rocky surface. Their seedlings detach and form sentient groups of insect-like creatures, swarming around in mass orbit. Double-clicking one of your asteroids allows you to select different types of seedling – fast ones, strong ones or energetic ones, which spawn depending on a given asteriod’s properties – and send them off to undiscovered places. Your goal: defeat enemy seedlings, and take control of the entire asteroid belt.
There’s a lot more substance to Eufloria than its freeware predecessor. The game spans 25 levels across five chapters, with unlockable extras and a skirmish mode also available. It’s an impressive extrapolation of the original prototype, but the game often struggles to keep things interesting throughout its lengthy duration. It doesn’t quite evolve quickly enough, with new concepts introduced at intervals that feel too widely spread. In between, there’s little variety, which means long stretches of identical gameplay.
It’s certainly one for the patient. Many levels begin with the necessity to plant an abundance of trees and wait for them to blossom. Dyson trees continue to produce seedlings until 40 are orbiting the asteroid’s surface, which, depending on the amount and age of the trees, can take an insufferably long time. It begs for a time multiplier of some sort. As it is, it’s a game I found myself playing in a window, and frequently tabbing away from to do other things. But that doesn’t always work either, since surprise attacks are commonplace, and there are occasions on which you need to be on-hand to formulate contingency plans.
//Strength in numbers
When it’s easy, it’s peaceful and soothing. A calming soundtrack blooms beneath the gameplay, and its simple visual style offers a strong, identifiable image. It’s a surprisingly detailed game – never high-tech, but conveying an impressive sense of scale, the camera zooming right in to see the detail of individual seedlings, then far enough out that they’re mere dots, hovering and circling like specks of dust in the light.
So its sporadic moments of intense difficulty come as a surprise. A welcome one, provided you were paying attention at the time. The AI is often placid, but occasionally becomes frighteningly devious, observing your every move, mounting counter-attacks, with different asteroids working together to bring you down. These are the moments in which Eufloria excels, demanding a deeper tactical understanding and more careful, strategised movements.
Playing through in the unlockable Dark Matter mode improves things substantially, rendering the game world in a pleasing neon and ramping up the AI aggression. Later sections of the game become deeply challenging, with enemy seedlings attacking from all directions almost the second you fire up the level. But it keeps you on your toes, forces you to make split-second decisions, and maintains an agreeably high tempo. It’s a world apart from the regularly sluggish main campaign mode, but all the better for it.
While the game can be fiercely addictive, it’s likely to be one you’ll drop in and out of, rather than plough through in a few long sittings. Away from the action, the campaign strolls along at a tremendously slow pace, and while there’s an overriding story, it’s a weak and unimportant one, never enough to keep you driving onwards. There’s not enough cohesion between levels, either. Maps don’t seem to link in an obvious way, instead appearing as individual skirmishes tied loosely together by a basic narrative. There’s nothing that’s quite engrossing enough about any of it.
Still, you’ll find yourself returning. There’s a mystical charm to its aesthetic, an interesting personality to the legions of seedlings. Though obviously low-budget, it’s always stylish. It’s just a shame it can’t maintain any real level of consistency, because at its best, it’s a solid, invigorating strategy game.
Eufloria is available via the usual digital download outlets but, as always with indie titles, we’d encourage you to purchase directly from the developer.