If you’ve ever had to argue the worth of videogames to someone who just doesn’t see their purpose, chances are at some point you suggested certain games are great at teaching strategy and problem-solving. This argument is my bread and butter, and I can tell you here and now that I learned more from Age of Empires II and Flash Element TD than I did from Sun Tzu’s, The Art of War. I would even go so far as to argue that’s the entire point of tower defense (TD) games, to teach strategy to an otherwise brute force teenager (I smell a conspiracy…or a teenager). Whatever the reason, these types of games have recently hit the market strong and in number, and among those stands tall a wittily sardonic RTS that pulls at my all-too-fleshy heartstrings: Wild Factor’s Freaking Meatbags.
Tasked with mining precious minerals and interacting with local fauna from a series of doomed planets, you, a lowly janitor robot, are faced with the common dilemma all managers of human life must overcome; motivating lazy flesh sacks to actually do their job while keeping them from being killed by explosive-laden enemies. With wild robot attacks, an overload of mineable material, and a vicious day/night cycle, convincing the indolent species, Homo erectus to pick up a pickaxe is harder than you’d think (unless you use the brain slug…then it’s actually pretty easy).
Like most TD games, Freaking Meatbags allows you to utilize whatever resources your pet humans dig up to build useful things like turrets, barracks, walls, and DNA splicers. If that last one caught your attention then great, I like the cut of your jib. You see, UNLIKE most TD games, Freaking Meatbags also lets you customize your humans on a genetic level. Whenever you come across an alien species on one of the many planets left to discover, you’ll be given the choice to combine whatever power they have with the powerless humans you have. For example, I recently gave my entire crew laser eyes, because why the hell wouldn’t eye (what, you don’t like my vitreous humor?).
Along with a boatload of human-xenos combinations that can yield some pretty whacky results (see rocket hands), this game also offers a dazzling array of upgrades with which to kick more ass. Since you maintain the same set of humans (except when you either kill them or trade them off for newer, fresher models), it’s important to upgrade things like crew size or building efficiency, while at the same time saving up for cool things like explosive mines and rocket launcher turrets. The system forces you to be just as tactical while in the store as you are on the face of a hostile planet, and every upgrade purchased is both hard-earned and completely necessary for success.
Freaking Meatbags does a great job in keeping the gameplay fresh. Where most TD games consist solely of thwarting wave after wave of enemies, here we have planets in which we (still the janitor bot) are completely alone and not defending any home base, but rather exploring or recovering lost drones. Some planets even require you to send your fleshy sacks (…yeah I’ll work on phrasing) into crashed ships to search for supplies. It’s this kind of extended, mission-oriented gameplay that makes the game so much more engaging, while still maintaining that tactical defense feel.
Another strong selling point for this game is the writing. Now let’s get one thing straight, I do not like sarcasm, especially in my writing. But personal feelings aside, this game does a splendid job when it comes to developing the storyline with a spot-on sense of humor. The interactions between you and your roboboss, robomother, and the sad, sorry meatbags you control really do a great job lighting up the 8-bit atmosphere. It’s one of those small things that set this game apart from the menagerie of other TD games, and it does it well.
With everything enjoyable already laid out, let’s go into the aesthetics of the game for a second. Overall, the graphics and animations are nothing you haven’t seen before (there I go again, assuming and such), so don’t expect to be blown away in that regard. However, my overall impression is that the rest of the game’s features draw your attention away from the Banana Prince–like visuals (look it up). Apart from that, the game’s soundtrack and audio effects are also far from revolutionary, with a looping arcade serenade and soundboard explosions throughout. I hate to beat a dead horse (who the hell does?), but where visuals may be limited, audio can pick up the slack. Sadly, there is slack aplenty with the game’s lack of sensory charm.
Wild Factor claims that, though still in early-access, most of the content is already available to play, and it’s hard to disagree with them. Freaking Meatbags has a very close-to-launch feeling and very few bugs. For me this raises a major concern (that they are free to dispel in the comments section). Though the game itself is great, it’s still kind of short in terms of a full playthrough, and with no type of multiplayer option in sight, options for keeping players around become limited. This is most evident in the finite variation in enemies the game throws at you. With only a few different bad bots, warfare and tactical approach becomes a bit too prosaic, taking away from the core concept of TD games. It would not be unwise to suggest a few more wild robots be thrown into the mix before fully launching.
All in all, Freaking Meatbags, with its novel customizations and tongue-in-cheek disposition, is well worth picking up in early access, if for nothing else than to enjoy forcing puny humans to undergo what I can only assume to be extremely painful genetic manipulation. Though somewhat short and aesthetically neutral, this sturdy TD game still forces you to make the hard choice between the necessary and the even more necessary when it comes to battle and tactical upgrades, all the while dealing with whiny, fleshy biologicals. You’ll have your hands full when you finally hit planetside, and compromises will have to be made (hmm, barracks or a laser turret…). But for what it’s worth, the brain slug implanted in my cranium by the authorbot suggests I tell you to check it out for yourselves.