Citizens of Earth
Citizens of Earth starts badly. The newly elected Vice President of the World awakes, cracks a few jokes, and is soon cheerleading for his brother and his mother as they beat up opposition supporting protestors (hey, at least it’s realistic). Although one is immediately taught that lowering the defence of an enemy then using a muscle attack results in significantly more damage, this simple mechanic does little to enhance the combat—a system that is built on the foundations of not only the clever combination of multiple moves (not merely two), but of citizens as well.
NPCs are almost invariably recruitable, and each has a unique talent (some of the more useful ones are, unfortunately, options that one would expect and hope to actually find in the options menu itself), and unique sets of moves to be put to use in combat. These moves are often complementary, so that much of the fun of the combat is experimenting with different combinations of citizens—or discovering which enemies are weak to which citizens in a previously unexplored dungeon or suburb. In fact, figuring out combinations is important not only in defeating political opponents and crustaceans, but also for building the stats of the citizens. When a citizen levels up, they receive stat bonuses based on whom they were partnered with. Recruiting a citizen is sometimes achieved through a diversionary—and often amusing—mini-game; now and then enriched by a charming plotline, even if most are recruited in simple and dull exercises in exploration or item collection.
The enemies themselves, although mostly cannon fodder, sometimes sport a few more spontaneous moves: remixing the conditions of a battle so that attacking a secretarial avian heals it, or, similarly, swapping citizen and avian ailments between friend and fowl.* It’s a clever system that is, unfortunately, undercut by the often absurd quantity of enemies (be they avian or otherwise) in dungeons—or even wandering around public spaces such as city squares, presidential car parks and swamps. Although in theory these enemies can be avoided, the trail of citizens traipsing behind the veep makes careful navigation slightly finicky (think Snake) and, if combat is unavoidable, getting the upper hand can be equally awkward. The veep sends in his fellow citizens with a pointed finger, but not only is the accuracy of his aim inconsistent, so too is the game engine’s clipping detection.
The sheer repetition of the combat often sucks the fun not only out of the combat itself, but whatever else one is trying to achieve: a simple item collecting side quest to recruit a plumber in a swamp? Not without suffocating in a quagmire of aquatic adversaries. Worse still are the often convoluted and confusing designs of the dungeons, with their labyrinthine passages and pathways often inaccessible but from specific points which can be hard to discern on the map, or even in the game world itself. And things are sometimes no less confusing when exploring the world proper: quest markers often point to multiple pathways at once, and when driving or sailing one cannot even bring up the expanded map to inspect quest markers and pathways more closely—not to mention the numerous dead ends unlocked by the talents of the citizens that are more frustrating than enticing if one has an objective in mind.
Oh, and hop out of the car? One can’t hop back in—apparently that would be stealing.** Crashing into another car also regularly results in one’s own car sticking to the other car so that one must get out of one’s own car, and then summon a new one. Glitches are numerous, and sometimes of an even more frustrating nature: once I lost control after completing a laborious side quest, and so was forced to alt-tab, close the game, and start the side quest again.
Yet it’s hard not to like Citizens of Earth. The writing and voice acting is so earnest that even when the veep riffs on the same comedic motif for the one hundredth time (he’s a barely literate narcissist) one still can’t help but be almost amused. The music is a strangely psychedelic potpourri of lo-fi synthesisers and drum machines, and the one-eyed commitment to quantity over quality demands a begrudging kind of respect. And sometimes, whether through deliberate design or chance, there is a wonderful balance between plot advancement and the flood of complementary content.
But it’s just as hard to like Citizens of Earth. One eventually drowns in the flood of sheer quantity, and any sense of tangible progress is washed away by the current of vociferous side quests, new recruits, sometimes abstruse objectives, confusing world construction and map, and an unending effluence of enemies flowing forth through the constricted sewer systems of the veep’s poorly planned municipality.
*Technically secretarial avians don’t do this, but bumbaclot rastas do.
**Hopefully this will be fixed: on the pre-release version, one could enter and exit one’s own car as one pleased.