The first widely-known anarchist video game has been released. Brian Sovryn of Sovryn Tech fame (or infamy) has created his first video game. As far as firsts go, it’s an excellent first effort at game development and it sets a challenging standard for others to meet as far as calling a game an “anarchist game”.
Hypercronius is a very short game, which would best be considered a teaser for a much larger universe that has been promised and planned by the developer. For now, I believe a brief review is in order.
Gameplay/Story: As the motto of ZomiaOfflineGames is “Story First, Story Forever”, this game does not disappoint. The game plays very much like a 16-bit visual novel. True to visual novel style, there is a lot of text and some fairly rich characters, histories, and relationships that the player will encounter in the brief time they have in the universe of Hypercronius. Most notable in regards to story and history would be the 80’s Sci-Fi vibe of empires and their outlaws, unique forms of space-racism, genocide, technology run amok, and a thinly-veiled scientific mysticism. What makes Hypercronius stand out among a very familiar and comfortable genre is the not-so-hidden message of peace, love, and freedom. Despite the familiar presence of conflict, hatred, and oppression, the titular character, Hypercronius, gives the player a unique view into the psyche of an anarchist in an unfree world.
There is a classic Final Fantasy-style combat system that has a solid implementation, if sparingly, used in this iteration of the Hypercronius series. A brief look through the .zip file indicates that there are plans to expand the combat system and broaden the number and type of enemies faced in the future. From what I know of the developer, though, the combat system will always be secondary to the story and adventure of the series. This is a good thing, as combat systems, no matter how good they are, tend to become monotonous by the end of the game (Here’s looking at you, Arkham and Assasin’s Creed) but a good story keeps you till the end.
The Message: As mentioned above, the driving force of this game is that it is the first widely-known anarchist video game. The game, as brief as it is, does a very good job of laying down a hefty dose of what people call “thick libertarianism”, but does so (for the most part) by way of character exposition, so as to not simply bludgeon the player over the head with the message. “Thick libertarianism”, for those not versed in the nomenclature, is essentially “a form of anarchism/libertarianism that argues for more than the bare essentials of anarchism”. For instance, there is a strong polyamory vs. traditional marriage thread and a less-overt anti-killing/violence thread which are not necessarily the inevitable conclusion of first principles such as the NAP (non-aggression principle). Rather than weakening the overall case made for anarchism, though, the way that the characters embrace these ideologies serves to enrich the universe that they reside in and prevents them from becoming a cardboard cutout holding an anarchist bullhorn. In my opinion, it makes them more fleshed-out as characters with what may be considered their own unique set of flaws. and vices. The cartoonish overreactions of their antagonists to these ideas is both amusing and right in line with the 80’s sci-fi vibe.
The Rub: Aside from a couple typos, the dialogue (the main feature of the game) is accessible and entertaining enough to carry the game in its own right, much like a good visual novel. However, audiences that are more accustomed to strategy and kick-in-the-door roleplay may begin to lose interest sometime in-between the dulcet and savory introduction to the universe (as provided by Dr. Stephanie Murphy) and where gameplay actually begins.
Also, the game is sort-of NSFW. Implied 16-bit sprite-humping is amusing it, but it is something to be aware of if you’re going to whip out your flash drive during lunch at work. The sexier bits seemed to be shoehorned in to the story and detracted from the overall flow of the narrative. The character dialogue would have served the same purpose as the cutscenes in most cases. In other words, I don’t see anything wrong with the scenes in themselves, but maybe trimming the four interludes down to two and simply implying the other two would have kept the flow of the narrative at a healthy pace all the way through the game.
The Verdict: For $7, it’s hard to go wrong. The game could easily fit between “Binding of Issac” and “Don’t Starve” in the indie steam games library.The message of freedom isn’t for everyone, but the game is fun in it’s own right and certainly deserves a shot from anyone with $7 or .02 BTC laying around. That’s right, you can buy it with bitcoin. Also, it’s entirely DRM-free and portable, which automatically makes it a cooler game than 99% of the marketplace. I’m sure with a little work that you can get your hands on the game for free because of it, but the developer (like all anarchists) doesn’t believe in intellectual property, so he’s not going to come after you with the guns of the state for doing so. However, this is one game that I will not be pirating, as Brian deserves every bitcoin for homesteading the video game industry.
TL;DR: 4 out of 5 stars, fun game, lots of reading, don’t play at work unless your boss is really cool, yay anarchy.