After raking in $2.3 million in Kickstarter funding in 2019, adult game Subverse released in Early Access last Friday at the top of Steam's bestseller list—at least for those whose Steam preferences allow "Adult Only" games to appear in the store. It briefly made Steam's Top 100 concurrents list, where I saw it hit 25,318 simultaneous players at one point, putting it right next to The Witcher 3. Many of those players were surely Kickstarter backers, but I think it's still fair to call this the biggest adult game launch on Steam since Valve opened the platform to animated sex a few years ago.
It isn't hard to understand why. The audience for Subverse—hentai enthusiasts who like animated women with exaggerated proportions—is hardly underserved, but many adult games are simplistic, templated, or crudely-animated, especially 3D ones. Other than VR, mainstream adult games haven't changed a whole lot in the last decade, at least to an outside observer. Subverse drew so much interest and funding because it appeared to offer high-quality 3D animation in a proper sci-fi RPG, something that looked like a Mass Effect porn parody.
I've now played a bit of Subverse, and I can confirm that there is an actual game to it, as promised, with numerous pre-rendered (non-sex) cutscenes and visual novel-style dialogue segments, decent twin-stick-style space shooting, and turn-based ground combat missions. This unfinished Early Access release includes a six chapter opening act, and most of it isn't sex.
Don't get the impression that Subverse is a sweeping, BioWare-style RPG that happens to have explicit sex scenes, though. You won't find coy relationship-building or foreplay between Subverse's cast of women and its protagonist, the Captain, whose smarmy voice and masked face are reminiscent of Deadpool (except Australian and the mask is a pair of panties). During the combat tutorial at the start of the game, robot companion Demi sets the tone when she reassures the Captain (but really the player) that there will be "something to jerk off to" as soon as the mission ends. Subverse is porn, or as developer Studio FOW recently put it, a "monumental fuck project."
Sex scenes with each character are unlocked by—and I'm not joking about the name here—earning Pooter Points by completing missions. Once unlocked, scenes can be arranged in a playlist and then viewed in sequence or skipping around. Individually, the scenes are looping 3D animations of one sex act or another. Some can be modified by moving a slider toward climax, but otherwise they repeat mechanically from a fixed camera angle. It seems more like the Captain is watching himself have sex, or imagining it, than actually hooking up. And the Captain isn't always involved in the scenes. The first crew member to join his ship, Lily, is a scientist who's more into having sex with the alien creatures she genetically engineers.
On Steam, Studio FOW describes Subverse's adult content as being fetish-oriented and "hand-crafted by a team of degenerate neckbeards," and that seems like an honest self-assessment, given that the first two sexual partners are a robot augmented for sex and a woman who mind controls pseudo-animals to fulfill her desires. Fortune, an elite hacker also introduced at the start of Subverse, does have a personality distinct from a sexual fetish, though as one of Subverse's advertised "waifus," she must join the crew eventually (I don't know what her deal ends up being, so I'll leave a question mark there). The human characters, at least, are confident, consenting adults, described as "perpetually horny," which of course enables the fantasy of grazing among a crew of women who are always eager to put on sexual performances, even for a self-described "loser" like the Captain.
Otherwise, well, you play the game, which is a mix of storytelling, chitchat, and combat missions. Much of the opening two hours are spent watching cutscenes and listening to voiced dialogue as the lead characters are introduced and the setting is established. In short, there are bad guys who don't like sex and drugs, and Fortune tasks you with building a team of "sexy lady rebels" to fight them. It's complex enough to include a codex, the voice acting isn't terrible (which surprised me, to be honest), and the self-referential jokes about narrative devices and sex wouldn't be all that out of place in one of the actual Deadpool movies (I will leave you to decide whether or not that's good). Other parts make me think of Borderlands 3, if its sense of wackiness were entirely tuned for sex jokes. There's a bit where out-of-control "fuccbotts" with "laser cockswords" attack a space station that looks like a giant ass, for example.
The top-down space shooting is reasonably fun. I enjoyed slipping behind asteroids to take cover from incoming energy beams, and frantically intercepting penis missile clusters during the butt station defense. The turn-based tactical combat I found less fun. In the first missions, I directed Lily and her creatures against waves of space pirates, using the typical move, attack, and guard actions with considerations for range, environmental hazards, and protecting weaker characters. An amount of strategy was involved, and I appreciate that Lily's melee attack always does 69 damage, but my first impression is that the grid-based combat feels like a side activity—nothing I'd recommend on its own merits, especially not with favorites like XCOM and Into the Breach around.
Together, the space and ground combat give the player something to accomplish on the way to meeting new characters and earning more Pooter Points (look, it's what they're called). I think you've got to want to unlock and watch 3D animated porn for any of it feel worthwhile, but there's clearly an audience for that.
It feels like Subverse could only really have been made today. Steam's recent willingness to sell adult content has opened up a huge untapped market, and crowdfunding allows small developers to find budgets for adult games without any restrictions on taste—or, at least, not many restrictions, as Valve isn't highly selective about what appears on Steam. Recently, the company did deny a Steam release to Super Seducer 3, but not on the basis that it's gross. The problem according to Valve was that it featured "sexually explicit images of real people," although the creator's offer to remove such scenes was apparently not accepted.
There are interesting adult games on PC already. Coming Out On Top, Ladykiller in a Bind, and Radiator 2 are among the more thoughtful games we've previously recommended. There are also pages and pages of hentai games on Steam and elsewhere, such as dedicated adult game site Nutaku. (And in the historical archives, who can forget Sierra's famous Softporn Adventure?) Adult gaming is nowhere near new, but Subverse does feel like the herald of a new chapter for adult gaming as an industry. On top of the more literary explorations of sex with videogames, it seems inevitable that the future will include big mainstream Steam games that look like EA and Activision blockbusters, but have all the character of the internet porn business.