Early Impressions: THE OTHER 99
In this Crossfader series, our video games staff takes a look at early versions of upcoming releases so that you can know which hype trains to board.
As a culture, we have become fascinated with characters who are forced to survive in circumstances outside of their control. The idea of survival and moral dilemmas in the face of pure evil captivates the imagination in ways that, to some, only video games can satisfy. THE OTHER 99, currently in Steam Early Access, is an incredibly promising title that puts the survival fantasies of BATTLE ROYALE or YA titan THE HUNGER GAMES into interactive form. Like the aforementioned IPs, THE OTHER 99 presents a scenario in which you are forced into a Darwinian nightmare that presents killing as an act of self-preservation, and the protagonist (in this case, the player) must decide whether to buy into that or to look for a way out. The reason THE OTHER 99 has the potential to be special is that the game has some serious genre-bending ambitions, taking cues from the aesthetics and the run-and-hide gameplay of survival horror, the combat stylings of a multiplayer hack-and-slash, and many of the game mechanics of a FALLOUT-style first-person RPG. The resulting product is still very much in progress, but could come together into a surprisingly replayable and unique game.
The basic premise is fairly straightforward—you wake up to find yourself marooned on an island with a note that reads, “The only way off of the island is through the other 99.” That’s right! You’ve been chosen to fight to the death with 99 other random people on a dark and rainy island. While the story and early encounters definitely seem to be on rails, the player is soon set free to roam the entire island and discover elements that tease what the main plot, as well as some of the in-game lore regarding the survivors and the island you’ve found yourself on. However, the game (wisely) seems to be keeping any plot twists about the island or the other survivors close to the vest.
The current iteration of the game forces you to work with bare materials as weapons—sharpened sticks, bone clubs, and the occasional found tool, like hatchets or screwdrivers. I never found myself in a situation where my character became over encumbered, because the scarcity of items in general makes that a non-issue. Additionally, the inventory screen suggests that there are plans to include a crafting system, which is as of yet unavailable, but the ability to make rudimentary survival tools, as well as weapons and consumables, would certainly be a nice touch to the game, adding a bit to the realism and immersion.
Though, really, all you’ll ever need is your trusty Survival Stick™
Image Source: Press Kit
THE OTHER 99’s strongest card so far is its philosophy of refusing to hold the player’s hand. The world, though small, is fully open, and there are no gimmicky item crates or ways to get out of fighting hand-to-hand like the other survivors. Your character will get hungry and thirsty as well, which can be remedied by scavenging canned food, painkillers, and other supplies from slain characters, as well as, presumably, through the upcoming crafting system. The hunger/thirst feature strikes a nice balance between realism and being overly intrusive into the game, which is a good sign considering that Steam Early Access is full of games peddling those kinds of mechanics, with few ever getting them right. Additionally, the scarcity of supplies is just about right as well, as you will find enough tools to progress through the game at a reasonable pace and difficulty that doesn’t remove from the immersion of the game. THE OTHER 99 is dedicated to making survival a challenge, though not an insurmountable one.
You are going to murder this gentleman with this screwdriver, and you will LIKE it
Image Source: Press Kit
Nevertheless, at this point, the game still feels very much in development. As of my last playthrough, the game will only allow you to play down to 70 remaining survivors (you can see how many are left on a digital watch on your player’s wrist), and many of the mechanics of the game, particularly the combat system and the control scheme, need some work. The knife combat is solid, allowing you to use the buttons on your mouse to execute different types of attacks like in CHIVALRY, but there are few ways to repel an enemy attack other than simply stabbing frantically in their direction.
Additionally, the game could use more in the way of stealth—the gameplay would lend itself nicely to guerilla tactics, and I could think of few things more satisfying than the possibility of sneaking up behind some poor soul in his cave and taking him out. A more diverse combat system in general would also add a lot of enjoyment to the game. However, Burning Arrow is doing an excellent job of following player response to the game and seems intent on actually following through with feedback, which is encouraging.
What time is it? 98 O’CLOCK?
Image Source: Press Kit
But more than anything else, I would like to see the devs ramp up the game’s role playing elements, particularly with the other 99 themselves. Right now, there’s really not much variation between the survivors, and as a result, killing them feels more like a chore than an exciting in-game encounter. For one, their combat skill was fairly low, and the AI certainly could have been more responsive in battle. Most of the NPCs I encountered seemed to have the same body and face models, and were immediately hostile upon encounter. This isn’t to say that the NPCs shouldn’t be hostile more often than not, but some diversity in the encounters, at least the ones that aren’t as relevant to the plot, would really add a lot to the game.
There have already been steps taken towards this—individual characters and personalities are often hinted at by things like notes and journals that dispense in-game lore and story, and I would hazard a guess that there is at least one significantly fleshed-out NPC somewhere within the final workings of the plot. However, if the game were to manage to give each survivor a different philosophy of survival—perhaps some are trying to hide, some are seeking out kills, and others are looking to form alliances—as well as something of a unique personality (like, say, a SKYRIM NPC), it would make it much more interesting. Some sort of radiant questing system (separate from the main quests already present in the game) could also help establish the NPCs’ characters more, as well as providing multiple ways to get to the game’s end-point.
As it is, THE OTHER 99 is poised towards perfecting its single-player experience. The developer’s commitment to creating an outstanding experience is a positive sign, as this is what will set THE OTHER 99 apart from other games, but I would be interested to see what a multiplayer version of this game would look like as well. While it doesn’t seem like THE OTHER 99 is any sort of finished product yet, it’s certainly a project worth following. The vision of the developers, even in the early stages, is clearer than most Early Access titles, and the game has the look of a sleeper hit if they are able to put all the pieces together.
THE OTHER 99 is available on Steam as an Early Access title.