For a while there, things looked grim for Death Inc , the bubonic-plague-themed RTS. Its Kickstarter campaign fell a little short, despite releasing a promising prototype and endorsements from the likes of Peter Molyneux , leaving the fate of the project very uncertain. But the game is officially feeling much better, having now announced a release date of November and a pre-purchase scheme that allows early adopters to snag the alpha build, and subsequent updates, for $10 - half the price of the final game. You can get it right now .
I've been playing around with the alpha build - it's certainly been expanded a good deal since the prototype, with tweaked unit selection, more unit types, and a greater emphasis on strategy.
It's a surprisingly tough game, despite the chirpy aesthetic and simple interface. Your aim on a given level is to infect the region's nobleman with plague, but to do so, you'll need a formidable force of coughing, boil-covered minions. You start off with a handful of infected peasants - useless in small numbers, but a mob of them will overcome soldiers and turn them over to your cause. You'll need soldiers to be able to take on the hulking axe wielding brutes, who will otherwise obliterate your putrescent peasant swarm. Then there are archers - deadly at range, but easily crushed up close. Getting to them isn't always easy as they may be behind barricades, or have the advantage of elevation.
This much was in the prototype, but the alpha also introduces suicide cows - infected bovines who detonate upon contact, spreading the plague to all those nearby. Siege weapons can be commandeered, allowing you to plough inexorably through defences and close the distance between you and a line of pesky archers. Swarms of rats and pigeons can also be summoned.
It's also much clearer now which units you have selected, and they're much easier to keep together or separate into their different types. Micromanagement is still a bit of a fuss, however, while the scissor-paper-stone damage ratios seem a bit arbitrary and difficult to see. When two mobs collide it's pretty unclear how much damage is being dealt until the tussle is over.
Clearly defined DPS details aren't necessary if your goal is knockabout chaos, of course, but Death Inc is just difficult enough to make this lack of detail frustrating in its absence. But that's what alphas are for, of course - we'll be watching carefully as Death Inc's sticky, icky thrills incubate.