Afterlife – Retroview

When one thinks of Lucas Arts it immediately comes to mind the incredible adventures that provided us of many great (and not so great) memories. However, this company is also author of many other interesting and crazy works. Until… well, it went to be yet another victim of Electronic Arts and went to the EA Hell. (The Turnip Inn, if you can read Spanish)

In 1996 they created a game strongly inspired in the great Sim City 2000 (1993, Maxis), this is, a city simulator. However its subject is so unique and different: instead of cities we must create and take care of Heaven and Hell, so Planet’s souls can have their eternal rest. With the advice of our two assistants, we should make their journey to the Great Beyond profitable for us.

As previously stated, the view and the game planning are awfully similar to Sim City 2000‘s, so much that at first glance it seems a blatant clone. Isometric view, roads, zones, buildings… but of course, there’s no one city, but two; which correspond to Heaven and Hell. Neither there are police or fire departments, but some unique structures to make the rewards and punishments work as intended.

The souls coming to our Afterlife, depending if they have done good or bad deeds, will inhabit our Heaven or Hell. Depending on how have they lived their lives, they will be assigned a punishment or a reward based on the seven capital sins and virtues of the catechism: humility/pride, charity/avarice, chastity/lust, peacefulness/wrath, temperance/gluttony, satisfaction/envy, diligence/laziness. Well, literature in this theological subject varies a bit between authors, but these are the ones used in the game.

Those responsible of executing this punishment (or satisfying these awards) are of course angels and demons. At first they will come from other realms, thus costing a quantity of pennies (in game currency), but after a while we should train some, too. We shall take other parameters into account, as the capacity of our entrances and exits provided by our gates and karma trains. These trains by the way will allow the souls finally leave our realm when their journey is finished, thus leaving space for new ones. All of this must be planned to be as stable as possible, so punishments and prizes are as efficient as possible, and so our economy wouldn’t suffer by a bad planning.

One of the strong subjects in the game is its trademark humour, sometimes pop culture referred and religion in others. For an example, some disasters in the game (this is shamelessly taken from Sim City 2000, too) are Disco Inferno, or The Hell Freezes. This humour is also brought by our assistants, Aria Goodhalo and Jasper Wormsworth (Jasper Turbator in Spanish release), impeccably dubbed in the Shakespeare’s language by the way. (And so they are in Spanish)

Dub is also other of the great virtues of the game. Either in Spanish or English this is a remarkably well done job, even with some jokes lost in translation in Spanish the quality and professionalism is very high. The rest of the sound aspect is not left behind, being on par with the rest of the production. In the Spanish version, however, sometimes it’s a mess of yells and cries and it’s a bit annoying.

Graphical aspects of the game also holds firmly. Buildings are very original, and each reward and punishment have a multitude of them. Our assistants, too, are very well animated and the graphical art as a whole is coherent with the overall quality of a George Lucas company. Game introductory video, even when it’s original, it’s not unheard of, but it’s another of the odd pleasures of this game. (and dark humour)

In general it could be said that the game production is very looked after and worth of a great company as Lucas Arts. What is the playability like, then? Well, again it’s blatantly taken from Sim City 2000, and it’s a playable game from the beginning. It also come with very comprehensive tutorials narrated by our assistants that will let us know how to get started. From building roads, entrances, exits, buildings or rewards to balancing our delicate, celestial and infernal budget.

Wow, what a great game is this! How is it possible to be so obscure? Well, this could easily have been one of the genre’s references because its variety, originality and its great craft. Unfortunately it suffers from some problems that made it pass through history without trouble or fanfare. In the first place, even with the entertaining and complete tutorials, it’s impossible to get how the game economy works, and we will lose pennies a lot while we ask ourselves what the hell (heh, heh) are we doing wrong. This brings the second matter: it’s absurdly difficult and not intuitive at all, and even when we have dozens of graphs, maps and hints it’s terribly easy to make the budgets fly off and lose our temper to our creation.

The game has a rather complex simulation, and we will have to keep an eye in Planet’s inhabitants beliefs to accordingly plan punishments and rewards that will accommodate them. We could even not to need a Heaven or a Hell depending on that beliefs, as they could not believe in Heaven, Hell or nothing at all. We would need to look after their technology too, because they can go all idiot blowing themselves up with an atomic bomb. All of this while prancing and dancing around with the most delicate budget in the world, if we can even figure out the damn thing.

With so many virtues the game has it’s a real pity that the game has such an unforgiving difficulty, and such an unworthy arbitrariness when it comes to balance its difficulty. Have these points been more polished we could be talking about a very different game, in the likes of Will Wright did in the past.

If we want to get the game ee will have to settle with a budget “games for Windows 95” CDs. It can be however bought from stores like GoG for a mere five euros, but again we will have to settle with the MS-DOS version, as the Windows version misfires more often than Kayne West at Jeopardy. Also as usual in this hallowed store they completely ignore the Spanish speaking community and it’s only available in English.

Even with all these problem the game has it’s worthwhile having a look and giving a try to it. Even today the game holds still, and the original themes it has makes it interesting nowadays. It’s good enough to remember it, although it is true that this is a game that really could use a remake, rather than the plethora of “classics” in the like of Carlos Duty and endless Mariozeldas. Not because it appearance might be outdated, but in order to fix its compelling health issues. I’m afraid however that its low popularity won’t help.

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