REVIEW: RIMWORLD

“You know, I’m almost worried about the prisoner.

 Looks like replacement therapy didn't work out. 

Looks like replacement therapy didn't work out. 

She’s been here since June — that’s half a year, now, judging by the snowfall outside. Not for lack of trying, either. She busted the steel door off its hinges trying to escape from the cave cell across the kill-trench from the compound. We didn’t bother to re-hang it. Just moved her to the cell inside the main compound... only to have her try the same thing again. Barron was almost laughing at her as she slammed into the door again and again from the other side. She saw him just standing there, smiling, holding his dagger, like he does. She fought him anyway. It was Barron who mended the wounds he cut into her when he put her back inside.

Yeah, that madman’s got an odd connection to the girl. Her gang was aiming to do something I would’ve put past this planet’s savages, till I saw it with my own eyes. Saw about half a dozen of them during perimeter check one night. They were setting up sandbags and mortars. They were fixing to blow up the place. Ambitious; guess they learned from all their wounded tribesmen that our robotic gun turrets will pulp whoever gets too close to the front door. Didn’t make it far — although Barron came out of with a tiny curtain of blood in the hole where his eye used to be. After all the smoke and screams and gunfire died down, he grabbed the sole survivor and decided to make an example of her. See, Barron’s a doctor. Don’t ask me how he knows. He’s an animal in every other way, but he can make a needle sing. Well, when that girl woke up, she saw her own damn right eye staring back at her from the face of the man who ripped it out. Hell, he cut a lung out while he was at it, for his wife who’d been missing hers. Heh. His wife’s a real piece of work, too. Literally. Her right arm and leg look like bones ripped from a monster-truck — and I don’t even wanna mention her metal nose. The new kid, Vicious, might’ve done better work stitching it to her face, but he snapped a couple days back. Great kid, but he’s been damaged goods since he came here. His blood’s full of nanomachines and if he can’t get his drug fix, they all go straight to his brain, drive him berserk. Bastard nearly killed our cook with his bare hands. We had to throw him into an abandoned stasis pod, till we can find the drugs he’s hooked on, cool him down. He’ll wake up like nothing even happened.

Yeah. This prisoner of ours is superstitious - scared of prosthetics. Thinks they’re unnatural. Can’t say I blame the girl for trying to get away.

Too bad, kid. Welcome to Point Murder.”

 Point Murder is named after my founder's cat. Can you tell she's a bounty hunter?

Point Murder is named after my founder's cat. Can you tell she's a bounty hunter?

That’s probably the easiest way for me to describe Rimworld to you — through a narrative snapshot of the twisted way of life in my science-fictional colony base. To a player like me, these little stories are the true output of the game. More than the rush of combat or the satisfaction of a huge crop reaching harvest season — more than the joy of the family pet giving birth to a litter, or the horror of an explosive electrical accident — sorry, there I go again — Rimworld is designed to satisfy the basic human appetite for drama.

Essentially, you are in charge of a small colony crash-landed on a populated, but mostly unsettled planet. You land with enough basic resources, food, and weapons to establish a simple camp — but before long, you will find yourself exploiting every inch of the terrain around you to convert them into useful shelter, food, and tools. After all, peace can only last so long, and as time goes by, local tribes will grow violently jealous of your wealth, weather will broil into cataclysmic states, and weird bug-mechas will swarm out of hewn-stone bedroom walls. The tactical problems of day-to-day life are interesting enough as you work your way through production chains to obtain bionic limbs and homebrewed beer — but Rimworld’s strategic challenges involve balancing your own, self-created systems of growth against the AI storyteller’s own systems of dynamic threats.

 See, I unleashed an Ancient Evil to help fend off some raiders and, well... it's a long story...

See, I unleashed an Ancient Evil to help fend off some raiders and, well... it's a long story...

This, to me, is the real hook of the game. As the player in a top-down colony management simulator, you’re not playing against brute odds, like in a typical rogue-like; you’re playing against a quasi-intelligent opponent, one that reads your play, and confronts you with challenges to upset your increasingly entrenched circumstances of survival. Because of the way these systems feed back and forth into each other, nearly every problem in Rimworld has a tendency to snowball. Having the wrong kind of flooring in the infirmary increases the odds of a colonist getting an infection; that infection could lead to death, which could cause that sprite’s best friend to fall into a depressive stupor during a raid, tearing off his clothes and stumbling to his death in the middle of a gunfight. There goes your only guy who’s willing to Haul and Clean things, jackass! And that is a classic, even essential, technique in game design that seems so often overlooked nowadays. Players are not threatened by enemies that have never bested them. Too often in AAA titles, we are expected to vanquish an enemy the first time we fight him — and just as often, it rings hollow. No amount of epic music and snippy dialogue and grandiose attacks can replace the fact that, in terms of gameplay, there are no stakes. But because of Rimworld’s teetering Jenga tower of interlocking systems, nearly EVERY challenge puts EVERYTHING at stake, so that when you encounter those threats again in future playthroughs, you feel an earnest rivalry against the AI storyteller who pits them against you. Your knowledge is constantly tested against an ante of all you’ve earned so far. Thus, failure in Rimworld is delicious, and success, that much better.

The stories which Rimworld imparts aren’t simply amusing. They spell out chains of cause and effect that, over the course of many save files, reveal how deep the rabbit hole goes. This game boasts a degree of logical detail that left me disappointed to learn that I couldn’t extract and eat the still-beating hearts of my fallen enemies. When a Reddit user ironically asked designer Tynan Sylvester about implementing armour for pets, he replied smoothly, “You know what's funny? I think dog armor would actually be pretty cool in RW.” Truly, I’ve fallen in love with a game built for those with richly apocalyptic imagination.