The Waste Land
Gameplay 8
Graphics 9
Sound 7

The Waste Land is a great entry in the genre and while it is not without its flaws has plenty to offer fans. The gameworld is absolutely huge and the retro inspired visuals are spot on. There are also plenty of enemies to battle as well as huge bosses that take some skill to take down. The open world design is great for players who want to forge their own routes through the game, but can be confusing to those who don’t. Some areas, such as the combat, could have been made more engaging, but fans of the genre will still find plenty to enjoy.

Graphics: Imaginative, gory and very true to the 8-bit titles from which it draws inspiration.

Sound: Some nice tunes, but they repeat way too often which causes repetition.

Gameplay: Challenging and entertaining, but could have been a little more rewarding

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The Waste Land

Developer: Fledermaus | Publisher: Digital Tribe  |Release Date: 2014 | Genre: Indie / Platformer / Action |Website: Official Website | Format: Digital Download

Games based on modernist poetry are not exactly a common occurrence, which makes The Waste Land, inspired by the prose of T.S Eliot, all the more interesting. Although the game shares the name of the T.S Eliot classic it thankfully isn’t a literal interpretation as, let’s face it, that would have been pretty bizarre. Instead, the developer attempted to imbue the game with the same feelings of despair and lost innocence invoked by the poem. In case this sounds too pretentious for your taste, rest assured, it translates to running around killing lots of monstrous creatures in spectacularly gory fashion.

Cast in the role of King Zyron III, you have to traverse seven large regions in order to vanquish the evil that has infested your kingdom. It is through your own careless actions that the kingdom was plunged into darkness, so you only have yourself to blame. The game is rather stingy with revealing much of the story as it prefers to let you get on with the job of exploring and fighting Metroidvania style. Anyone that has played Castlevania II on the NES will feel right at home here, but newcomers might find themselves a little bit overwhelmed by the huge gameworld. With an estimated 15 hours of gameplay, this is the type of game where you can get very, very lost.

The Waste Land is essential a 2-D platform title, with a retro themed visual style and an aversion to hand holding. There is no fast travelling, enemies reappear when you return to an area and despite the abundance of things to kill you won’t get any loot. There is no experience to be gained either and the only thing that vanquished foes drop is food, albeit with a 50% chance that it is putrid and will hurt you instead of heal you. As the game pretty much leaves you to your own devices after a brief tutorial you will also encounter plenty of backtracking and dead ends if you get lost. While all of this might make it sound like the game is terribly it actually has plenty going for it.

Retro inspired visuals are so common these days that the novelty has really worn off, but it is still nice to encounter titles that pull it off well. The Waste Land looks like it was ripped straight out of the 8-bit era with only the multiple layers of parallax and increased animations giving it away. There is a diverse range of enemies to fight, ranging from oversized ravens and bats to more exotic fare, such as hellhounds and all manner of insectoid foes. In total you will be squaring off against something like 30 different creatures and five enormous bosses.

Each of your enemies have some pretty gruesome death animations with some of them literally splitting apart or vomiting blood before keeling over. It might all be in 8-bits, but if you are the squeamish type you might find it a bit disturbing. My only issue with the enemies is that some of them blend in a little too well with the backgrounds due to the limited color palette employed by the game. You learn to spot the moths and bats that blend in with the forest or cave landscapes after a while, but it is still easy to get caught off guard.

Apart from the aforementioned forests and caves you will also be exploring graveyards, snowy landscapes, mountains, towns and deserts. Visuals highlights include a day and night cycle, with an imposing moon looming in the background as night falls as well as weather effects, such as rain and snow. The bosses are also massive creatures that tower over our hero and require persistence to take down. The game features a few towns, but just like in the 8-bit classics of yesteryear, these are sparsely populated by non player characters that each only has one or two lines of (written) dialogue. Don’t expect any side quests or meaningful conversations from this game.

Plunging into The Waste Land is quite a daunting experience, especially if you are new to the genre, as it never attempts to hold your hand. You can simply pick a direction and continue along it until you encounter something interesting, a dead end or a massive boss. Some players will love the freedom while those who like a little more structure in their games will probably get hopelessly lost and frustrated. The first time I encountered a boss it wiped the floor with me, so naturally I presumed that I must have missed some super special weapon that would make the fight easier. After some fruitless searching it became clear that I would have to take it down the hard way, which with some persistence, I was eventually able to do. If you find the “1986” mode too hard you can thankfully drop the difficulty down to the more manageable “1994” mode or even “2014” if you prefer a casual experience.

The controls in The Waste Land is mercifully a lot more responsive than the games from the era which it is based on as there’s no denying that some of them controlled very stiffly. Apart from jumping, and eventually double jumping, Zyron can crouch and use either a ranged or melee attack. Defeating enemies is a question of learning their attack patterns, staying out of reach and then leaping in for an attack before retreating and repeating.

As you have absolutely nothing to gain from killing enemies when you are at full health it is often easier, not to mention faster, to simply avoid them and dash through an area. This is not always possible in confined spaces, so overall I wish a bit more was done to make the combat more interesting or relevant. I would usually kill new enemies I encountered just to see what kind of death animation they had and after that dodge them if possible to save time and effort.

In total there are five types of swords to find and five arrow variations, but apart from some life extending hearts, nothing else. The lack of loot or collectibles drains a bit of the fun of exploring the vast gameworld, so players who like to feel rewarded for their efforts will probably be a bit disappointed by what The Waste Land has to offer.

The audio is quite good, but the amount of different tracks is a little on the low side for such a vast game. As there is only something like ten tracks you’ll be hearing the same tunes over and over. This means that even though the tunes are not bad, they do become repetitive as you’ll only hear one per area and the areas are absolutely huge.  The sound effects are pretty decent, although hearing the constant loud footsteps of the character can become a bit distracting. Once again, this is probably purely because the game is so vast and you spend so much time simply traveling from one area to the next. Because there isn’t a lot of buttons to worry about the game works just as well with a keyboard as it does with a controller. As always, using a controller for platform titles such as these is highly recommended.

The Waste Land is an enjoyable experience, especially if you grew up with these kinds of titles, but it’s probably not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. As a whole the game is remarkable, but it just feels like it could have been even better with some tweaks. Due to the invincibility frames of enemies, and the lack of any for the hero, combat becomes rather tedious after a few hours and the lack of loot makes it even more annoying. The vastness of the game is also slightly marred by the fact that thorough exploration rarely yields anything useful or notable. The game is still quite an achievement, but perhaps the most impressive thing about it is that it was almost completely designed by a single person in his spare time over a period of more than five years. That kind of dedication certainly deserves a closer look.

*Anyone interested in checking out the poem which served as the inspiration for the game can do so HERE.

System Requirements

  • OS: Windows XP/Vista 7/8
  • Processor: 1.2GHz processor
  • Memory: 1 GB RAM
  • Graphics: DirectX 9.0 compliant
  • DirectX: Version 9.0c
  • Hard Drive: 50 MB available space
  • Sound Card: DirectSound compliant
  • OS: Windows XP
  • Processor: 1.4GHz processor or faster
  • Memory: 2 GB RAM
  • Graphics: DirectX 9.0 compliant
  • DirectX: Version 9.0c
  • Hard Drive: 50 MB available space
  • Sound Card: DirectSound compliant

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