Quick Look – Industria

Today I’m going to talk a little bit about Industria, a game I added to my wishlist after playing the demo during PAX Online in 2020, as part of Unwise Owl’s group review of the Humble Choice for September 2022. Industria has no paid DLC, and retails for $19.99.

Despite having been on my wish list for quite some time, I knew I wasn’t in a big rush to pick up Industria. While I have nothing against a four-hour game, twenty dollars seemed a little steep to me for such a compact experience. Sure, the game’s store page makes it sound like a really interesting setting for an FPS, but the demo I played a couple of years ago was rough around the edges, and there wasn’t anything about it that made it a “must buy” for me. However, when it showed up in September’s Humble Choice, I jumped at the chance to be the one to give it a whirl.

Now, first person shooters aren’t my bread and butter by any means; they’re more of an occasional indulgence. When all the pieces come together, it’s a genre I can get pretty invested in. Industria has a pretty unique concept – going on a search for a missing person in a dangerous parallel dimension. However, a significant part of the early game relies a little to heavily on environmental storytelling, and doesn’t really get you invested. Then, the pacing is so very slow, and the combination meant that it just couldn’t hold my attention. If you’re only giving me four hours of game, I want to be all in right from the start.

A little more than half an hour into the game, I found myself stuck on a puzzle, and I had yet to encounter a single enemy that I had to deal with. Which is probably best, because despite picking up multiple ammo types, I also hadn’t managed to locate a gun yet. Now, I’ll allow for the possibility that I might have missed a weapon pick up; being unsure of where the game was leading me, I tended to just pick a direction and go that way until I couldn’t, but I feel like if a game is being billed as a shooter, it shouldn’t be squirreling away your first chance at a ranged weapon down a dead end corridor somewhere. You should either start with a gun, or trip over one pretty damn quickly.

I may have been a little more patient with a longer game, but knowing that playing through the entire game was going to be a fairly short affair, I found myself pretty irritated pretty much from the start. Was the lack of direction an oversight, or a deliberate choice in order to pad an extremely short play time?

Then there are the puzzles. Now, I normally don’t mind a puzzle or two in a game, even when they feel a little out of place, so they didn’t immediately turn me off. The first couple were simple enough, tiny speedbumps on the way to blasting my way through the story line.

But just as there is the first whisper of actual danger, I found myself needing to get through a gate to turn on some steam engines to power an elevator to (maybe) get to the person who ostensibly just saved my life by shooting a couple of robots. Having to hunt around for the correct chemicals to mix to be able to remove the rust on the gate mechanism was already tedious, and I had a recipe for that. Trying to figure out how to get the engines running with no instructions and no real feedback from the game was the last straw for me.

I wanted to feel the tension of being lost in a strange unknowable place. I wanted to care enough about the man I was searching for to press through the frustrating bits. I wanted to have the opportunity to shoot some baddies. That was when I realized the only thing I didn’t want to be doing was fixing the stupid steam engines, and I closed the game. I don’t expect I’ll go back to it.

Not only can I not recommend purchasing this month’s Humble Choice for Industria, I don’t even think I can in good conscience say it’s worth an install if you already plan to buy the bundle, at least not if you’re looking for a heart-pounding shooter with a good story. But if you’re looking for a slow-paced walking sim with passable graphics, questionable lighting choices, and spotty sound design in which you may have to – eventually – shoot at something, well, then this might be exactly the game you’re looking for.

Quick Look – Shapez

I’m diving back into Shapez, a game I played about 10 hours of back in August of 2020, as part of Unwise Owl’s group review of the Humble Choice for September 2022. Both the base game and the Puzzle DLC are included, with a MSRP of $14.98 for the package.

When I’m playing games for fun, I am not an optimizer. I know for a lot of people finding the most efficient way to play is part – if not all – of the fun of gaming. I am not wired that way. Knowing this about myself has mostly kept me away from the type of games where optimization seems very much to be the point of the game, despite the fact that I am drawn to precisely the sort of puzzle-light game play that automation games tend to excel at.

One of the things that initially drew me to Shapez (formerly known as Shapez.io) is that there are no real consequences to getting it wrong. There are no real limitations on how you build at any given time. Initially, you get extractors, which pull out the shapes, and conveyor belts. Extract the shape onto the belt, extend the belt into the hub, and wait for the numbers to click upwards to unlock the next mechanic. Yep, the beginning of this game is exceedingly simple, and you might even think you’re playing an idle game. I promise, that feeling won’t last long.

However, new mechanics are doled out a pretty decent pace – not so fast you’re likely to get overwhelmed, but also not so slowly as to bore the player. Each time you fulfill an order to the hub, you’ve completed a level, and each level will ask for even more of a more complex shape. If you’re not the type to click buttons for the sake of clicking buttons, you might miss out on the secondary set of goals, which you will want to work on in order to upgrade the different parts of your factory.

You don’t ever receive any kind of quest or notification for your potential upgrades, but clicking on the star in the upper right hand corner of the screen will show you what you need to send to the hub in order to unlock more efficient technology. When an upgrade is available to you, the star will turn red with a number in it indicating the amount of upgrades you’ve qualified for. You can play for quite awhile ignoring this entire mechanic, but eventually, the level quest is going to not be for a discreet number of shapes, but for a number of a particular shape per second, and that will be a whole lot less painful if you’ve been keeping up with your upgradeables.

One of the things that makes this game great for folks not too familiar with automation-style games is that there are almost no limits on the player. There is no money, so mistakes don’t cost you anything but time. You can keep revising your production areas and conveyor belts to increase production or decrease wasted space. There are not an overwhelming number of tools, but there’s enough variety in the requested shapes to keep things interesting for a while.

Since I’ve played last, several new levels have been added (which I still have yet to get to in this playthrough, unfortunately), as well as the paid Puzzle DLC. I expected to enjoy the DLC as much, if not more, as the base game, but it fell a little bit flat for me. The “tutorial” section is actually the entirety of the developer created content for this DLC, and consists of 20 pretty easy puzzles.

However, if you really like optimization puzzles – either playing them or creating them – this DLC might be perfect for you. It seems pretty well populated with user created puzzles, so you could potentially get quite a few hours out of this additional content. If you wanted to try your hand at creating puzzles, then it’s definitely worth the price.

While I have already more than gotten my money’s worth out of Shapez and I would highly recommend it to anyone with even a passing interest in factory building or optimization games, this is definitely not the game to purchase this month’s Humble Choice for. The base game had dipped as low as $3.99, with the DLC having a best price of $2.99, so a savvy shopper could already have this in their library for less than $7. However, if you’re on the fence, this is precisely the type of solid indie game that might push you to pick up the bundle.