Death Inc: The game that never lived

Platforms: Android

The following article was based on an Alpha code of Death Inc by Ambient studios. At the time there was promise of an exciting game to come. Sadly just as it was about to go live Ambient studios announced that they were no longer able to stay in business. Everyone who invested in the pre-purchase of the game and received the alpha code will receive their money back. This is sad news for everyone who saw the promise of the game and we wish the team at Ambient studios the best of luck in their next enterprise. This then is a tribute to Death Inc., the game that never lived...

Kickstarters come and Kickstarters go. We live in a post-Kickstarter crazed world now, where success on the community funding site is far from certain, even for those with big names and even bigger promises. We are wary and less frivolous with our money. Sadly the promising talent at the Guildford based Ambient Studios arrived a little too late to the party with their morbidly mad title Death Inc. and failed to reach the dizzying heights of their £300,000 target. Undeterred by this initial let down, and fortunately for those rather enchanted by the genre mashing ideas of real time strategy, god-game and management the game promised, the team have pushed on and released a very early alpha build which has risen up from the netherworld to our desks.

The single level presented involves dragging your initially miniscule army of darkness across the beautifully presented terrain, slowly feasting on the living and gathering fresh corpses to join your undead plague army. The final goal is to amass a large enough following to invade the lord’s castle and claim him as one of your own.

Rats are always the first sign of a zombie invasion.

The charming simplicity of dragging groups of units around and watching as they lurch impressively swiftly, for an zombie army, towards the unwitting living is initially very enjoyable. Peasants succumb to the undead horde quickly, while soldiers, archers and giant brutes require a little more thought. At the heart of the action, for this level at least, is a basic rock paper scissors format. Brutes are capable of dispatching hordes of your undead peasants but fall to a handful of soldiers, however soldiers can be overrun by these weak peasants in numbers. Meanwhile cows can be zombified and then used as vicious methane bombs, entertainingly exploding as they charge into battle. Success seems to lie in picking the correct group to target and convert to your cause, before snowballing into a indomitable army of death.

There is certainly a worry that by the end of the level, when the horde overruns the castle, that the process was all too easy and overly simplistic. The controls seem unnecessarily imprecise and it feels like a morbidly inclined game of Pikmin designed for a casual audience than a hardcore Command & Conquer strategy which, while not necessarily a bad thing, the team certainly need to consider how to add a little more depth to proceedings. There are signs of where this may come with two Populous-esque god powers available to the player on this level. At a whim you can summon a plague of rats to distract the citizens from the incoming horde, or send down a murder of crows to peck their eyes out and watch as their corpses rise up and feast on the nearby living. At present these powers feel a touch gimicky and fail to impact on the game significantly, but it is easy to appreciate how they may evolve.
There is something rotting beneath this charming village.

Perhaps the game’s greatest strength will come from its character. A wonderful blend of morbid humour that seems a natural evolution from the evil classic Dungeon Keeper, along with whimsical cartoon drawings instantly draws a smile. This style neatly follows through into the game section where the world is presented in a quaint style, with trees depicted as fluffy lumps of green and houses seemingly constructed from balsa wood. The art direction, combined with an elegant camera filter adding a blurred edge to the view, alludes to a world created out of models, certainly a delightful and original idea. Some of this style may in fact be placeholders for later art, but considering this is a very early alpha build the cohesion and style of the artwork is already very well imagined.

What is unclear with this build, and ultimately should decide the success of the game, is how all the other elements promised in the original Kickstarter will fit in. Where does the touted simulation genre of Theme Park fit in? Does the game draw any more inspiration from its Dungeon Keeper ancestor than just the humour? If the overall idea of the game is to build and manage your Death Inc. company how will this all bundle together? At present Death Inc., perhaps understandably, has no meat on its bones, a weary rotting corpse yet to rise in full decaying glory.
The dead mostly attack at night. Mostly.

The game's planned release date was November 2013. This looks to no longer be the case. Goodbye Death Inc. we hardly knew thee.

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