Desert Law: School Bus Mounted Howitzer

desert-law_w1010.pngMy Steam library is filled with post-apocalyptic games. Generally, I’ll pick up (or at least wishlist) any apocalyptic game I come across. Desert Law has been in my library for about two years. I picked it up on sale, played it for 10 minutes, and then uninstalled it. However, enough time has passed that I thought the game deserved another chance. Unfortunately, the game aged about as well as a bloated corpse in the wasteland sun.

Desert Law’s narrative makes Wasteland Angel look complex by comparison. After the apocalypse, tribes of road warriors kill each other over booze and car parts. What kind of apocalypse is this? We don’t really know. The entire world is a desert and some places are populated by angry sentient zombies napping beneath the sand.
Here’s the story: Generic wastelander Brad wants to woo a girl for mating season, but rival tribes of gangsters and pre-apocalypse military keep mucking up his plans. Brad convinces his tribe to kill everyone in their way until Jane (the love interest) notices him.

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The Postal Dude shoots Gengis Khan

The story is told in comic-book format. Make of the art style what you will. Speech bubbles appear and pages turn automatically. I personally found the speed of these sections to be a little too fast. I wasn’t able to read all the text before the page change. However, considering the prevalence of misused and misspelled words, it’s clear the game doesn’t care about the story and the player shouldn’t either.

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Gameplay revolves around commanding a handful of buggies and armored hotrods with swivel turrets. In an interesting twist, drivers can exit vehicles and continue on foot. Hero units drive standard cars, but grant slight bonuses to different vehicles. Like Starcraft, there are a few infiltrator style missions where you abandon your convoy and explore ruined settlements on foot.

Unfortunately, Desert Law is difficult for all the wrong reasons. A great source of difficulty comes from bugged pathfinding. Without micro-management, units will drive directly into scenery. Exciting chases are impossible because cars regularly bump into each other. Destroyed units act as physical barriers. Although the monster-truck unit can smash through concrete walls and small buildings, it cannot drive over destroyed cars. This makes defense missions incredibly difficult as your army is quickly boxed in.

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See the one car facing the opposite direction? The pathfinding made it crash into friendly units.

Units disobey orders and tend to chase enemies, making command options (stand ground, ambush, etc) completely useless. There’s no UI feedback to indicate you’ve given a unit orders. On multiple occasions, I’ve set up a defense line around a stationary turret. Despite being set to “stand ground” my weakest unit rushed into the fray before enemies entered the turret’s range. Even worse, this was a hero unit.

The game enters a fail state whenever a hero is killed. This wouldn’t be a problem in most RTS games, but in Desert Law hero units make up the majority of your army. Take, for example, the first real mission of the game. You start the quest with five units, three of them are heroes. As you progress through the quest, you’ll pick up another three heroes. You have a total army size of eight, but only two of your units are permitted to die during the quest. In most RTS games, hero units are exceptionally powerful, giving them enhanced survivability. In Desert Law heroes grant slight bonuses to standard vehicles. All these problems are only exacerbated by generally squishy units.

Enemies are comparable to player units, but are far more numerous. Units can be repaired by the mechanic hero, but there’s a catch. First, the mechanic doesn’t appear in every mission. Second, reflecting the post-apocalyptic setting, every unit has a set amount of ammo per level. The mechanic has no guns, but uses ammo by repairing vehicles.

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See the tiny health bar under the monster truck? That’s a foot soldier.

Just to recap, Desert Law is a strategy game where you instantly fail if any hero unit dies. The majority of your army is comprised of heroes who are only slightly better than standard units. You’re outnumbered 5:1 by enemies who are just as powerful as you. You can repair your vehicles, but can only make 3-4 repairs per mission. The game has no base building, but reinforcements occasionally appear after completing objectives.

There’s not a lot to say about Desert Law. It’s a single player blitzkrieg-style strategy game with an irrelevant story, no voice acting, and poor optimization.  Fortunately, the game is only $2.99, frequently goes on sale, and includes 29 missions. If you’re looking for a cheap distraction or compulsively buy post-apocalyptic games, give it a look.

If you’re interested in Desert Law, you can get it here

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Judge Dredd Predicts the Future: Part 2

1704131-dredd  For 40 years, 2000 AD has provided high concept (and often silly) post-apocalyptic sci-fi with Judge Dredd.  Somehow 2000 AD  writers have always been ahead of the curve on technological and social change. Looking at the series as a whole, it is easy to see where our own world has crossed into that of Mega-City One. With over 2000 Judge Dredd stories, it’s no surprise that some of them have overlapped with reality, but it is still fun to observe and dissect the parallels. For this series, we will periodically look at three different Judge Dredd stories and their real life counterparts.

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Undercover Santa: This one might be a little too fresh, but its parallel is oddly specific. New Year’s Eve 2016: a gunman dressed as Santa Claus attacked a nightclub in Istanbul. Near the attack were several undercover police officers also dressed as Santa Claus. In 2000 AD, Dredd donned the famous red robe and white beard to catch a group of robbers dressed as Saint Nick. Dredd’s story ends on a somewhat happier note, with the lead robber (Fatt Blatt) murdered by a sniper. Unfortunately, the Istanbul shooter was able to kill nearly 40 people.

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Futsie: This one hasn’t quite pierced our reality yet, but we’re starting to see the first signs. In the Dredd universe, there is a mental condition known as “Futsie” or “Future Shock.” Victims of this illness cannot handle living in the stressful conditions of the 22nd century, which usually causes them to embark on a killing spree. In reality, emerging research suggests that our brains are rewiring themselves in response to 21st century technology.

At this time, I would point to two examples. The first is phantom vibration syndrome, a feeling that your phone has buzzed, even if it is not in your pocket. The validation that comes with new technologies is causing our brains to create false alarms.It’s an interesting subject and worth a look at the source.

Second, I would look to studies on social media usage and depression. One study from the University of Pittsburgh suggests that obsession with social media usage is linked to depression. Another study suggests that after a certain number of social media friends, your enjoyment quickly declines. This relates to Dunbar’s number, a theory that human mental capacity is limited to roughly 150 social relations. Initial research suggests that there is a rising possibility of depression as humans continue to expand their social structures through substantial virtual interaction. This, in one way or another is a kind of trauma that would not be possible without future technology. Therefore in some small way it seems to be the start of future shock or futsie.

It’s important to remember that this research is in its infancy, but it still represents a disturbing trend.

Source: Phantom Vibration

Source: Social Media Depression

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Gainers and Feeders: Although Fat Acceptance was mentioned in “Dredd Predicts the Future: Part 1,” this is a little different. “Two Ton” Tony Tubbs appeared in 2000 AD on October 19, 1985. At that time, having a character obsessed with gaining weight was a joke. Indeed, the fatties were often used for humor. At one point in Dredd’s history, fatties hijacked a food convoy by jumping from a cliff and crushing the trucks beneath their bulk. 31 years later, gainers and feeders are a real life trend and relationship status.

As you may imagine, the gainer is someone who is overfed for the purpose of gaining weight. The feeder provides the food. Though not hugely prevalent, this trend has launched web shows, documentaries, and even a dating site exclusively for gainers. Regardless of your stance on the trend, it is interesting to see how some couples display affection in a manner that was originally perceived as a form of dark comedy.

How else has Judge Dredd predicted the future? Tell us in the comments!