After learning of the release of Peter Molyneux's latest game for the iOS, via TechCrunch, I immediately downloaded Godus from my iPhone's app store. Molyneux has always struck me as a heck of a character, a sort of mad-creator, and his game designs are usually pretty imaginative and brimming with terrific ideas that do not always translate perfectly to a playable product. While I appreciated Fable and it's sequel (I've not yet played part three) at the time of their release, I found The Movies to be rather lacking despite a premise (a Hollywood sim-builder) that was exciting and right up my alley. I really wanted to love that game way more than I actually did, and I keep hoping for Molyneux to take another stab at it and try for a bit of course correction.
With Godus, a Kickstarter-funded God sim in the vein of Molyneux's earlier Populus, players are dropped into a rescue mission of sorts from the get-go. Two people are on the verge of drowning, and you are given the task of saving them via a brief tutorial that explains the game's concept of land sculpting. By tapping, holding down, and swiping up, down, left, or right you can control the depth of the terrain, the layers of which are color coded for easy discernability, and shape, or sculpt, the lay of the land.
Once rescued, these two figures recognize you, the player, as God and become your first followers. You continue following them around the map, sculpting the land and clearing it of obstacles in order to help them reach the Promised Land, where they can settle down, breed, build, and worship, all in your honor.
The initial game-play is pretty straightforward, and the opening segment revolves around building up your tribe's population and expanding their territory. There are certain goals you have to hit - like breeding 10 new people and building three more abodes - in order to get your reward, in the form of specialized power cards and tools or specialized goods (like animal furs), which can be found in treasure chests across the Promised Land. The cards appear listed in a timeline, which allows you to scroll forward and see what's coming up as the game progresses. It's a neat feature and provides a built-in level of anticipation to let you know there's a method to the madness and end goals to strive for, rather than just playing for the sake of killing time. You unlock more cards by reaching population milestones. The larger your population, the more belief your followers can generate - and it's the power of belief that allows you to perform many of your actions. There's a nice bit of interconnectivity to the game's mechanics that allows one system to naturally feed and supplement other systems.
One of the first important tasks is to repair a temple, which then opens the game wider and generates several prompts requesting players to rate the game and to sign-in with a Facebook or Mobage account. I suspect some may have a problem granting yet another application access to a social media account, though. The game promises to make it worthwhile, and although I didn't have a problem with logging-in via Facebook, I'm not sure how radical the differences will be for those who don't. Repairing the temple unlocks gems, which can be used to purchase in-game content, like the Primitive Sticker Pack. You can also make in-app purchases and buy additional gems (50 gems for $4 and up, up to 1400 gems for $99.99). These stickers interact with the cards and are used to unlock and harness the upgrade each card offers.
During the loading of one play session, I was told that followers will learn how to behave based on my actions, which should make for some truly interesting observational game play in the future. I'm not too deep into the game, yet, but the social development of followers promises to be intriguing. Already I'm seeing the initial development of a community as neighbors meet-and-greet one another, sit around camp fires together, or climb trees to harvest coconuts. Your actions do have a direct effect on the people in-world, though. One unfortunate fellow was a bit too close to the water during an accidental sculpting and got dropped into the drink after the land disappeared from beneath his feet. Another townsman saw what was happening and ran out, yelling for me to save him. I was quick to put the land back, and the gent found himself safe and sound again and went back about his business. I may have also made a few people homeless by accident... I'm really keen on finding out what kind of moral quandaries and ethical entanglements may arise from my virtual omnipotence (and occasional clumsiness) as the game develops, and how this will impact and shape the world.
While constructing a civilization is a vital element of the play-through, the world opens up with the discovery of a sailing vessel. After building the docks, you can launch an exploration to other islands, which basically functions as a mini-game with a network of islands that you'll travel to and launch explorers. Once on land, you'll need to select how many explorers to launch and get them from Point A to the temple at Point B by sculpting the land around them to overcome any obstacles in the way. But, you'll need to hurry as the missions are timed! You also only have X number of explorers on your ship, so you want to be careful about balancing how many people are sent to an island, within the demands of a particular level for a certain number of required explorers. Your team of explorers are basically Lemmings, so you'll need to be mindful of their group-think habits and act fast to corral them into following the path you've devised.
The mini-games make for an enjoyable and thoughtful (and sometimes frustrating) break from the basic mechanics of building abodes, and completing them earns you lots of powerful stickers. The game play opens up a bit further with the realization that your Chosen Ones are not alone in the Promised Land, and with the introduction and growth of God Powers. Although I'm still early on in the game and my Godliness is pretty limited, I sneaked a peek at the timeline's future cards and there looks to be some very intriguing power sets coming up that should play heavily into the AI development of your tribes and their interactions with the world around them.
Godus is nicely designed and the focus, from graphics to sound, is high on pleasantry and fun. The game has a bright cartoonish feel to it, which is emphasized in the audio department. Send one of your followers to build a new abode and they cheerily reply, "Building!" The music is upbeat and easy on the ears, and the discovery of treasures is suitably ethereal and accompanied by a ghostly whisper when opened.
A supremely annoying aspect, however, and your mileage may vary, came in the form of push notifications. If you have multiple building projects going on, as I did, the game will send you notices when each one is finished. Because I had been building six abodes simultaneously, my iPhone spent quite a while buzzing and beeping to alert me of the status. At the moment I'm OK with logging-in and providing Godus access to my Facebook account, but I will be denying it access to my phone's alert features very soon!
I also wish that navigation were a bit less sticky. Earlier I mentioned nearly drowning somebody due to an accidental sculpting job on the landscape. Moving around the screen requires a two-finger swipe. This was a little too cumbersome for me, so I tried using both thumbs to travel across the Promised Land with mild success. It's an easy way to move, but not necessarily the most efficient. So, navigation could require a little bit of retraining of the old muscle memory.
Ultimately, I'm enjoying Godus a hell of a lot. I think it's a really fun game, some minor navigation quibbles aside. The big question, as is often the case with mobile games and simulators in general, is how long it can keep my attention. Simulators like this are ridiculously easy to get sucked into and after a few hours (or days and weeks that only feel like a few hours...thanks for that, Civilzation!) it can start to feel like you've seen and done just about all there is to do before it gets repetitive. Mind you, repetition can be fun if there's at least some variability in the AI, but most of the time it just sucks. Molyneux and his team of developers at 22Cans will need to keep the updates and improvements coming steadily, along with introductions of new materials, resources, powers, and the like. It does seem like they have their eyes on the horizon and lots of stuff planned to keep the game running for a while, based on this page, although I'm not sure how much of their "Coming Soon" info is based on PC/Mac editions versus the mobile iOS version. After playing the free mobile edition for a while, though, I am deeply tempted to explore the Mac edition and see if I can discern any differences.
To top it all off, Godus is free to download, which makes trying the game out for yourself a nicely risk-free venture. I'm suitably impressed and suspect I've found a new addiction to help kill my phone battery. Go get it!