Hey Seb. Are you really going to write out your detailed and in-depth thoughts about a satirical video game that’s absolutely unabashedly just high-grade wanking material?
Are you actually, genuinely, sincerely, going to make it public that you not only played a porn game but are properly analysing it? Aren’t you aware what that makes you look like? I mean, you’re taking a game seriously when it doesn’t even do that itself? And actually, as I’ve already said, it’s a BLOODY PORN GAME. WHY ARE YOU TAKING A PORN GAME SERIOUSLY???
Well, me, yes. I am indeed going to do all of those things and absolutely destroy my credibility in the process. So strap in for the most unnecessarily detailed analysis of a game that by it’s own admission is for wanking purposes and having a laugh.
Subverse is, to date, the only thing I have ever funded on Kickstarter. Not that this reflects extremely highly on it, I just don’t really do Kickstarter. I funded it for the memes and didn’t really think that much more of it until it finally launched v0.1 into Early Access on Steam last Friday.
On the Kickstarter the game was promised to be “a tactical RPG/SHMUP hybrid that takes place in a fully explorable galaxy where you get to be the Captain of your very own ship…which is crewed by the sexiest and deadliest waifus you can recruit.”
So, if you got the impression from that this would be Mass Effect But With Lots of Tiddies then you are in the same boat I was when I bought in. The reality is, however, somewhat different. The game plays a little more like a visual novel, with you watching dialogue (fully voiced, thank fuck) from your faceless, 4th-wall breaking Captain and your various waifus. The tone is about as far removed from Mass Effect as you can imagine, and instead feels much more like the Deadpool movies both in terms of style and sense of humour.
And in a day and age where Mass Effect remasters are removing some of the more egregious displays of the female form, it seems like a good thing to have an alternative.
On top of the visual novel dialogue bits, there is also a lot of cinematic cut-scenes and then two flavours of actual gameplay: a top down bullet-hell spaceship piloting shooter, and a grid-based turn-based tactical combat thing.
“But Seb” I hear you cry, “What about the porn? Tell me about the PORN!!!” So… Yes… There is porn in it. I mean, during the first 30 minutes your big-tiddy android AI companion asks if she can “please suck your cock” so… Yeah…
The porn exists in a viewing station thingy called the Pandora. In this you select whatever waifu you want and then choose from a bunch of “cards” to select the scenes you want to view. Sort of a pick-n-mix dispenser of smut. Then you get to engage in them in any order. The smutty stuff basically amounts to each scene being a short 5-8 second looping gif with only a tiny amount of interaction for a few special cards which allow you to speed up and down and cum…
Fuck me, I can’t believe I’m writing this…
You also unlock more smutty scenes from your waifus by using them in the combat gameplay missions, levelling them up and also increasing their “devotion” which earns you “PP points” for buying more sexy scenes. Heh… PP… (Yes, that is the level of humour on display here).
The currently released v0.1 is only the very first chapter of the game, including maybe around 5-6 hours of content. It also was enough for me to get a decent impression of every aspect of the game and come to a few conclusions about it’s current state and whether it’s worth anybody’s time. Because, I’m sure that if you are reading this, you’re dying to know whether the spaceship SHMUP (shoot-em-up) is any good in the porn game…
Well, actually it isn’t!
Or at least, it’s not great. Both the SHMUP aspects and the turn-based combat stuff are perfectly functional. But both suffer from an absolutely crippling lack of depth. They’re basically totally fine for what they are, but after you’ve played both once or twice then you will experienced everything there is to see from either.
The SHMUP aspects has you fighting one of three different factions (including dick-shaped spaceships that throw themselves head-first at you) and your ship will have a different special attack depending on which waifu is brought with you. But the variations of enemy ship are very limited and after you’ve done one set of waves, you’ve done them all. It doesn’t help as well that the backgrounds are all painfully generic. There’s no power-ups, the music is fine but not absolutely hyper, there’s very little life-or-death struggle in the moment-to-moment gameplay. Basically, the nicest thing you can say about it is that it’s fine.
And unfortunately the turn-based tactical stuff is exactly the same. Your Captain is never on the field, a huge mistake in my eyes, and so you only can have one waifu and a number of replaceable monster foot soldiers. But all of the models have one or two moves at absolute best, so it really is just constantly: move and attack, move and attack. There’s very little tactical thought going in because once again there’s no depth here. The maps are generic and tiny, there’s no stealthy options, no cover, to power-ups, no new abilities. It’s just, again, fine, but dull.
There’s so few options in terms of levelling up. There’s no equipment, no character skill trees. Anything that might encourage you to pick one particular waifu or mix and match different sets of soldiers. Nothing like that. It’s the sort of basic level of design I would expect from a game in the early 2000s…
So the gameplay stuff has a lot of room for improvement, and honestly I sincerely hope they do improve it. The biggest issue here is not that the gameplay is mediocre, but rather that you are expected to do both. A LOT. If you want to unlock a lot of devotion you need to grind those missions, and that pushes the “fine” gameplay over the edge into “absolutely tedious”.
So, how about the rest of the game? Surely the story is where the game actually is supposed to shine. After all, it’s all going to be an RPG where you get close to your different waifus and then have a depraved sex party where you all end up massively dehydrated… Right?
Thus far it’s difficult to say a lot about the story as it’s still early days and still just setting up, however I feel like it also isn’t really that great. It jumps around a lot from your ship to other areas of the Galaxy where important things are happening. These jumps have a way of killing the pacing when you are trying to get to know your crew and your ship, so that in itself isn’t great. It’s early days though, so criticising the story itself thus far doesn’t feel reasonable, we just have to hope they use the set-up to grow outwards and make it even better.
What IS good at least is the visuals and the voice acting. It’s not some static, rubbish visual novel with anime cut-out characters with no ability to emote. Instead they all look pretty awesome and the voices are equally all brilliant.
Then there’s the humour… And this is going to be a tough one. I feel like the humour is super hit and miss. As I mentioned, it most closely resembles Deadpool in tone and I feel that’s a very difficult line to tread. They want to go super explicit, break the 4th wall, make absolutely outrageous dirty jokes, then that’s all fine and dandy. Unfortunately, it’s totally possible to push those things too far and make it cringey and annoying. Playing around with the 4th wall is also pretty risky in that it can totally remove any stakes from a story.
For my part I didn’t find it that funny, unfortunately. The humour and references fell flat for me more often than not and while I may have cracked a smile a couple of times, I’m not sure it ever outright elicited more than a chuckle. However, I wouldn’t go so far as to describe it as unfunny, after all it takes a lot of shots so missing a lot is sort of expected. What I do worry about though is that if they keep up the current level of humour, it will be fine for a few hours, but if the game is as big as it seems like it will be, by hour 30 it might begin to seriously grate. So I hope, much like with the gameplay, that they have more in their repertoire than is currently on display.
Another couple of complaints I have include the fact that there are no subtitles during the cinematic cut-scenes. Which, I’m sorry, have we regressed 20 years? That’s no longer okay… And also the sheer number of loading screens in the game which repeatedly blows my mind that you basically can’t move for loading screens…
So, that’s Subverse…
Okay, no it isn’t… There’s one thing I have yet to talk about. A fairly central component which I have yet to cover. And boy, do I have some thoughts on THAT aspect. I realise that taking the porn in a porn game seriously seems basically like a ludicrous concept at the best of times, and even more so when the game itself claims to be a piss-take. But godammit I have some opinions!
These opinions come with a couple of disclaimers though. 1. The aforementioned acceptance that I’m aware this is fucking ridiculous and 2. The sort of stuff people enjoy in porn is broader even than senses of humour, it’s extraordinarily subjective and difficult to criticise even taking into account the taboo nature of talking about it. What one person does like, somebody else would hate. Such is the nature of fantasy. I just have to do my best to avoid not actually getting too much into the “kinky” side of it and focus on the objective stuff. “Don’t yuck my yums” and all that…
So, let’s get into the coomer shit! First and foremost: is the porn hot?
Yes. In short. It’s a bunch of ridiculously proportioned waifus with lovely silky voices and genuinely very nice graphical design. Yes, the porn is visually hot.
I personally think that the v0.1 set of available scenes is super limited, with a bit too much focus on monster-fucking and tentacle porn (yes, you heard me right). This is a kink-specific thing of course, I just don’t like that stuff, but others will. HOWEVER, I think this is something that FOW Interactive need to take on board. If I were to have a harem of waifus, I personally would not be best pleased if they were also going off and shagging monsters as well as me… So I feel like the devs need to seriously re-examine how they present certain kinks both in and out of the Pandora system.
A tag system seems like the best option here, have the player say “yes, I’m totally on board with sharing my waifus” and then it triggers specific dialogue bits, otherwise have them excluded. Just as an example.
More importantly though is the whole concept of the Pandora system in general is flawed, in my mind. After you “recruit” each waifu you get an initial “recruitment” scene which happens as part of the story. However, for the rest of the time you need to travel around your ship and make the conscious decision to go and access the Pandora system.
It makes the porn stuff feel like a completely separate aspect from every other bit of the game, including the main story. And this, right here, is my biggest problem with the game. Despite it being, more or less, a visual novel, there’s no indication of the sexy stuff being integrated into the plot. You do not get to speak to one of your girls and have the conversation get a bit steamy and end up moving to the bedroom (or not…). Instead you speak to them, go shoot down some baddies, then decide, “maybe I’ll have a wank” and you go and watch a couple of gifs of them shaking their boobs or something.
Like, you could legitimately have the same experience by watching Deadpool in one tab and then occasionally alt-tabbing to Pornhub. It doesn’t feel like you are interacting with the characters nor does it feel like you actually earn any of the sexy stuff.
The level of interaction within the scenes is pretty pitiful as well. This is a fucking porn GAME. Emphasis on the game. It’s supposed to be super interactive, and that ought to give it so many strengths over regular porn. This is a medium after all that ought to allow you to very easily slide into the actual fantasy of YOU being the Captain with a harem of waifus. But instead, what you get is just a bunch of looping gifs. No choices or decisions during the scenes, except occasionally a speed slider. The girls also don’t talk during the scenes, which is yet another mixed trick because, once again, it removes that sense that you are actually interacting with characters. And c’mon… Dirty talk… HOW is there no dirty talk?
The whole thing has such a weird set-up that you could even interpret it as the Captain just going off to his quarters and daydreaming about shagging all the girls. Rather than it actually happening.
Interactivity in general is a big sticking point for me (not the only big sticky pointy thing around here, POG). There are, currently, no choices to be made. Not even minor dialogue decisions, and this is a huge problem. Visual novels in general, I feel, live or die on their interactivity. You can have some like Katawa Shoujo which present you with one decision an hour and that is just fucking boring. I might as well just read a book… This is a game godammit! And ostensibly an RPG! I want to be able to self-insert here and actually make decisions about who and what and when I’m shagging. And heck, even progress the relationships so that they actually become more meaningful. It might be an odd thing to hope for, but I was genuinely kind of hoping for the same sort of romance and depth of character that I got from Bioware… But, y’know… With more tits…
Maybe I’m asking too much, maybe it’s unrealistic to expect an ACTUAL Mass Effect But It’s A Porno with the same level of dialogue interactivity, choices and then also fully fleshed out gameplay as WELL as proper interactive and meaningful sexy stuff… But it doesn’t seem like a completely outrageous goal to aim for given the level of funding they achieved.
As a final note, I’m going to add that the most recent response to a lot of this criticism from the devs (as I am not alone in these thoughts) suggests that they intend to address a good chunk of the problems I have raised. And this is very promising if nothing else, but I imagine most of this will not be implemented for months.
As a final note I want to add that if the games current state closely mirrors it’s state upon release I would most likely be telling you to save your money and time and avoid it. Here’s hoping the situation improves!