Citizen Grim is a new Facebook offering from Eruptive Games. The game opened up to all Facebook users as a “soft launch” earlier this year and has now officially launched on both Facebook and Zynga.com. The game’s release marks a partnership between Eruptive and Zynga, though it does not carry any Zynga branding anywhere.
Citizen Grim is clearly aimed at core gamers who usually get their interactive kicks from standalone computer and console titles. While many social game developers display an astonishing lack of understanding of what this demographic really wants from a Facebook game, Eruptive Games has pretty much nailed the formula with this game, providing an experience that is accessible to casual players, yet is not condescending, patronizing and boring to core gamers.
Citizen Grim casts players in the role of a custom avatar that is attempting to fend off waves of zombies — sorry, “Reapers” — from a small town. Gameplay has two main components: light strategic base-building and resource management; and action-RPG/arcade-style combat. When the game originally soft launched, a player-vs-player component was implemented, but this was rather underdeveloped, consisting solely of two avatars standing on the spot shooting at each other until one of them fell over. It has since been removed from the game and marked as “coming soon,” so presumably Eruptive is looking at a better implementation of competitive play.
The base-building/resource management aspect of gameplay involves wandering around the town, constructing resource-generating buildings on empty lots, collecting ammo and health pack resources from said buildings, and searching empty buildings for supplies, money and experience. While exploring, players may also come across caches of weapons that are lying on the ground or mercenaries that are standing around — clicking on these allows the player to take them for a “test drive” for a couple of minutes and then purchase them for a reduction on their usual price. Most of these “preview” objects are premium items, allowing players to get a feel for how their gameplay might unfold if they were willing to spend a little money — an excellent, very friendly means of giving players a gentle nudge in the direction of the game’s monetization options.
At any point, players can kick off the Reaper invasion by clicking a big red button at the top of the screen. When this happens, increasingly-large waves of Reapers start attacking the town, and the player must defeat them. Reapers will attack either the player character or any resource-generating buildings they currently own. If a resource-generating building is destroyed, it no longer produces ammunition or health packs and must be repaired before it will work again. Unfortunately, there is no way to tell exactly how much “health” a building has remaining — the map tile looks battered and broken when it has taken a certain degree of damage, but it is impossible to know exactly how much longer it has left. Given that players can only repair destroyed, not damaged, buildings, however, this is a relatively minor issue.
Once the Reaper invasion has begun, defeating a wave causes a countdown timer to start before the next arrives. During this “downtime,” players can continue to search empty buildings, collect resources and repair buildings but do so with the risk of being poorly-positioned to deal with the next wave. Alternatively, if the player has nothing to do, they can immediately summon the next wave or even “stack” waves to arrive simultaneously.
The player may use health packs generated by pharmacy buildings (or purchased using hard currency) to restore their health in combat sequences, but if they are defeated the invasion is over and their total score is calculated. Purchasable “revive” items, a handful of which are given to the player upon starting the game for the first time, allow the player an arcade-style “continue” with their progress and score intact, but otherwise dying causes the invasion to stop and not begin again in earnest until the next time the player clicks the big red button — though small groups of Reapers wander the map and occasionally attack buildings or the player even when the invasion mode is not active. This ensures the player is kept on their toes and is never truly “safe,” which makes the game much more exciting.
Citizen Grim does a number of things right that will help the game appeal to both core and casual gamers. Firstly, it carries the risk of failure, but not to a frustrating degree. Many Facebook games have no “fail state,” meaning that there is no tension in the gameplay. Core gamers enjoy demonstrating their skill, and if it is impossible to fail, there is no real means of doing this. Citizen Grim strikes a good balance where death is an inconvenience — players lose their score and wave progress in the action sequences — but not frustratingly game-breaking, making the game also friendly to casual players. Players retain their experience levels, purchased weapons and collected resources if they die, so can simply pick back up where they left off.
On a related note, many other Facebook titles that involve combat take a “turn-based” approach where players click on enemies and then the enemy might attack them back. All too often we have seen games where attacking an enemy is pretty much the same process as chopping down a tree or harvesting a crop. In Citizen Grim, enemies actively pursue the player and hunt them down, meaning it is necessary to find good vantage points and prevent from getting surrounded. It is also important to prioritize targets effectively — when larger waves show up, it is a good idea for the player to lure the hordes near to an exploding barrel, for example. However, once again the game strikes a good balance here — while the player is often confronted with significant challenges, it’s rare that they become dauntingly overwhelming.
Alongside this, the game’s monetization avenues are clearly signposted, but not rammed down the player’s throat. Many core gamers who are used to paying once for a game and not having to open their wallets again are resistant to the idea of microtransactions — particularly when it’s not entirely clear what they are getting — so Citizen Grim’s implementation of “trial” items is an excellent idea, particularly as trying a weapon or mercenary offers a small discount on its usual price.
The game has a few flaws — pathfinding is a little wonky, and the computer-controlled mercenaries have artificial intelligence that can be politely described as “rudimentary” — but despite this it is an excellent, fun experience for core and casual, non-paying and paying players alike. It sets a great example for other developers keen to court the “core” market to follow, and with Zynga’s marketing clout will almost certainly enjoy a strong degree of success now it has officially launched.
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A fine example of striking an excellent balance between core and casual gameplay.