Saturday, May 7, 2016

The Last Federation - 8/20 hours

I came so close. There are eight species in the world of The Last Federation and I managed to get seven of them on board with the idea of universal peace. The eighth, well they decided to blow up their whole planet rather than join the Federation. So, yeah.

The really interesting thing about The Last Federation is the way it goes through the trouble of building a world with all these interesting characters and then the essential mechanics of the game set you apart from all of that. It's probably no coincidence that you are a "Hydral." You linger in the background of the setting, working from the shadows, a many-headed beast who intervenes with both aid and sabotage to bring about your ultimate goal.

It's a nice merger of gameplay and story. After awhile you start to feel like you are a superior sort of being, surrounded by short-sighted idiots and that it's your right to meddle with them to your heart's content. Whether you want to completely crash their economy or elevate them to near-godhood with a massive donation of technology, it's all the same. The only factor for consideration is whether such acts will bring them closer to unity.

I enjoy it. Call it my rarely (hah!) expressed megalomaniacal side. I will wield ultimate power in the solar system! And the puppets will dance to my tune! Interplanetary peace shall be the timeless legacy of the Hydral! Glory until the stars run cold!

Um . . . or something.

I also played the tech race mode from the Lost Technologies DLC. It was pretty much a waste of time. Though it got a little hairy towards the end when the ravenous bug-people got enough momentum to spread beyond their homeworld and there was a real possibility that they would overwhelm the solar system, it was still mostly just a straight beeline to the end of the tech tree. It didn't require any of the subtle politicking that made the base game so intriguing. I don't think I'm going to bother playing that mode again.

Which means that the next part of my agenda is the Betrayed Hope DLC, which introduces two new game modes - one where you try and get revenge for the destruction of the Hydral homeworld and another where you have to take your completed Federation and fend off an invasion from another star.

I'm a little wary of these new modes because they both seem to eschew the big central idea that makes The Last Federation so unique - that success depends on the reconciliation of diverse points of view. I like that there is a game that treats peace-making as a worthwhile and narratively interesting goal in itself. It just feels fundamentally different than, say, Civilization's diplomatic victory. It's not just about strong-arming the AI into saying how great you are. You actually have to care about the individual species' history. You have to address their needs (or make them worse and then exploit their desperation) and resolve their differences. To replace that with a military scenario kind of misses the point about what makes the game so great.

It's possible, though, that these expansion modes will surprise me. They could take the game's other unique strength - the sensation of being at the center of a web of conspiracy - and run with it to create a new kind of war game. I do kind of like the idea of fighting a war from the shadows, manipulating the various forces towards destruction through the use of spies, bribes, and political influence.

We'll see how it turns out. Tense political thriller or retread of the same military-is-everything story that's been told in strategy games since the beginning of the genre? Either way, it should kill some time.

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