Developer: Still Games
Publisher: Still Games
Platform: PC [Reviewed], Mac, Linux, Wii U
Release Date: October 12th, 2015
Price: $9.99 [Standard], $14.99 [Deluxe]
Animal Gods is the first game from the small studio, built out on the country side, Still Games. Being backed by Kickstarter, and approved through Steam Greenlight, Animal Gods has followed the path that many other games have into the limelight.
With promising visuals, and an interesting concept, the West Virginia based studio quickly saw money pour into their campaign, raising just shy of $27,000. However, success on these platforms doesn’t make for a great game necessarily, and while on paper Animal Gods seems like an answer to so many PC Zelda fans, it may just miss that mark in reality.
Animal Gods is kind of interesting in where its story lies. Players assume the role of Thistle, during the Bronze Age, and are sent to set the now fallen animal gods free from the industrial era that is unfolding. The story of Animal Gods is arguably the most important part of the game. While there are certainly other factors that are essential, the plot is what everything funnels into. Without giving too many spoilers, I can simply say that there is a very clear message that the game gives off, and sometimes it seems like that is the only intention of the game.
Despite giving off a very mysterious aura, Animal Gods isn’t hard to figure out at all. The story is half-finished, presenting the illusion of depth, without anything to discover underneath. This is partly due to the fact that the game takes less than three hours to complete, offering little in the way of story besides diaries that can be discovered in levels, serving not the story of the game, but the message of the developer.
Thistle is dropped into a world where he can explore any dungeon of his choosing, to rescue the animal gods from the industrial sludge. Each of these dungeons comes with its own set of abilities or weapons, making each area feel like a tutorial instead of a level. There was never a big picture in terms of gameplay. Each interaction I had with an enemy or obstacle just seemed like it was put there to justify the game being called a game, again putting the attention back on the intention of the developer.
The gameplay is dull, completely thrown in for the fact that it needed to be there. The combat was never interesting, consisting of me standing on the edge of an enemy’s movement path until they crossed my sight, and using whatever I was granted in that particular dungeon to kill them. For a game that prides itself in bringing a Zelda-esque feel, Animal Gods certainly doesn’t deliver.
However, Animal Gods does shine in some areas. The game attracted an audience largely because of its hand-drawn art style. I can say without a doubt that the game looks beautiful, combining so many different elements that blend magically into scenes that are minimal, while also being incredibly intricate. Sometimes the camera pans back, making Thistle a small speck on an epically large landscape, giving a massive sense of scale.
Messages are inscribed in the floors and walls of dungeons, again making mention of the intention of the developer, but on this particular aspect of the game, I didn’t care. The art style is so moving that the overwhelming ‘point’ of the game takes a backseat. While the clear message of the game can be an annoyance, the aesthetics of the game can be equally as soothing.
Accompanying this is a soundtrack that is almost haunting in some areas. The sound design is perfectly executed in places like the overworld. With just subtle wind and chirping birds, the stripped back sounds that come from nature give a completely vulnerable feel, making the player feel exposed. This almost ghostly feeling is carried throughout most of the game, allowing players to begin to immerse themselves in the world of Animal Gods (despite the game being cut off at about two and a half hours).
Collectively, Animal Gods does provide some interesting elements in the way of visuals, perfectly marrying the sound design and visual design together.Thus, making for a world that seems like it has literal depth to it, feeling like the levels somehow extend beyond what players can see and interact with.
However, Animal Gods is a game, not an art piece, and I will judge it accordingly. The overwhelmingly bombastic message, combined with gameplay that is at the best dull, leads to a sense that players put their money down on something they could easily watch on YouTube, allowing them to experience the only real draw of the game.
Stepping into the shoes of Thistle changes nothing, because Animals Gods isn’t about him. It isn’t about me or you; it is about exactly what Still Games wants it to be about, which, to put it plainly, is obnoxious.
The Bottom Line
Animal Gods may be an amazing spectacle, but is an excuse for a game. It’s truly a shame because there is so much potential in Animal Gods that is being husked by the wayside in order to promote something that could be promoted without gamers having to pull out their wallets. While I would love to see a version of Animal Gods with more content, in its current state, I simply cannot recommend it.