‘Reus’ Review: People are the Mysterious Ones

Reus

Have you ever gotten the feeling that your whole life is the great cosmic game of some enormous rock giant? No? Just me? Well, Reus will help you experience the existential dread which I feel every day in the form of an intricately designed god game. Created by developer Abbey Games, Reus has the same smooth design of recent popular indie games such as FTL and feels akin to its spiritual ancestor, Populous.

In Reus, (which means giant in dutch) the player takes control of four titan-like beings: swamp, ocean, forest, and mountain. Each titan has an ability hotbar which allows the player to create different biomes from the initially deserted planet on which the game begins. These biomes come down with a satisfying thud and begin to attract nomads, lone humans wandering the sphere searching for a place to settle… possibly the only survivors of a titan-generated holocaust. Without too many assets to mess around with, Reus feels polished. Instead of a million and one abilities to get lost in, the game gives you four lumbering titans with abilities which mix and match to create a million and one results. The game teaches you as you go, coaxing skill from you through the calming gameplay. It seems simple enough, and it is. However, once symbiosis comes into play, the game becomes engaging and appropriately challenging for a time. Each item you can drop down into the world can associate with another item in some way, and learning how to appropriately place trees with animals and people is the key to a successful era.

Reus allows the player to learn at their own pace, with the goal of pleasing your humans at the fore. Your humans choose projects in the game semi-randomly, and your assistance with these projects helps them to progress. Once you learn how to accommodate their needs with swift accuracy, though, the little buggers start acting entitled. The concept of greed rears its ugly head, and sometimes you need to throw a little giant enemy crab god smackdown to put the puny humans in their place.

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There is a strange dichotomy to Reus. On the one hand, you are playing a god game with a sandbox environment, and you have control over these powerful forces. On the other hand, there are the humans, completely beyond your control; you, the god, are subject to their will and not the other way around. It is your desire to please them which allows the game to function, because if the planet does not provide, the people will die. If the planet provides too much, the people will go to war. There is a great sense of responsibility within Reus which is marred by the arbitrary symbioses later in the game.

Initially it is simple and slightly mechanical: placing strawberries next to strawberries on the map generates godly “Awe”. Either those strawberries are on fire or the human population has a daiquiri fixation. The symbioses tend to detract from the flow of the game, especially when, as has happened to me several times, I had to open up a window to the wiki just so I could know how to progress down a certain tech tree. This brought me out of my trance, I realized my tea had gotten cold, and by the time I had gotten back I was less inclined to continue my playthrough. That being said, if you can push through the arbitrarily-complex mechanics, the game shines in the end. Fighting against the humans which you fought so hard to raise up is a unique experience that only god-game players will understand. Your humans will go to war if you don’t keep them from succumbing to greed, and they might even attack the titans which gave them so much. Once it is over however, you begin again on a flat and tiny planet. The games don’t last long and you can always start fresh. There isn’t much past the initial tribal stage of humanity in this world, although you can attempt to create an opera which will perform better if there is a marten nearby.

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This is a game which I could, and will, keep installed for a very long time. However, I don’t plan on playing it constantly. The techniques behind success in this game can be fiddly at best, with no visible tech tree integrated into the game. There is a wiki which tells you what abilities do and which are most useful, but the lack of availability is a serious oversight. The ability to pause the game while giving the player time to deliver commands to their titans mitigates the generally ponderous pace of the gods. This is not a fast game, not by any means. The shortest level of challenge mode lasts for thirty minutes and it can extend into two hours of gameplay. Now, this is not necessarily a negative trait: the game is entertaining and calming by nature. Your heart will slow down, your eyes lose focus, and there is only you and  your titans guiding a world into prosperity. There are abilities which allow your titans to move slightly faster, but still, speed is a strange stumbling block in what is an otherwise elegant game.

Reus’ elegant design is what makes it shine, and unfortunately right now the mechanics of the game keep it from shining as brightly as it can. Perhaps if you are a supreme micro-manager you will be able to remember all of the skill trees and how to best optimize the symbiosis sections, but what then? Well, there are 103 achievements to unlock, some much more difficult than others. That being said however, I play Reus for the relaxing joy of it, and if I happen to do something right enough to unlock an achievement, then all the better. So it might not be perfect, but Reus will give you a sense of calming certainty as you crush your humans under the uncompromising heel of a rock giant.

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[review pros="Simple gameplay. Beautiful art design. Engaging flow" cons="Two hours maximum game. The giants are too slow. Arbitrarily complex mechanics" score=64]



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