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DLC Quest

I’m curious, is there a cosmic entity I specifically peeved by sticking primarily with big-budget games, and not paying any mind to the indie game market until now? I’m only asking because every time I’ve actually tried an indie game, I’ve come away feeling like the $100 or so spent on various Call of Duties over the years was probably a waste.  DLC Quest not only continues this trend, but raises an important question in my mind: what, in gaming, constitutes our Pulp Fiction?

I should probably explain.  In every medium, there is a certifiable genre-buster, a piece of media that opens the floor to intelligent discussion by both lampooning and championing its medium’s most notable conventions.  For film there was Pulp Fiction, for TV there is Community, for gaming… well, um, thanks for playing.  The issue, from what I gather, stems not from the creative types but from the pre-conceived notions that publishers hold dear.  They don’t want change, they don’t want to think about what they’re doing wrong or right – they just enjoy the financial payoff that comes from a game doing well, and they think AAA games are the key to that.  Publishers are so stuck in their ways that any time something small-scale yet revelatory or innovative comes along, it’s almost guaranteed to not get attention and not make money because the people selling us on any given game just don’t care.

That, in essence, is why I’m thankful DLC Quest came along at all, being an entirely in-house developing/publishing affair by Going Loud Studios.  More important than its origins and its existence, however, is the fact that it’s a game I hope is financially successful, because it wholeheartedly deserves to be successful.  Here’s some perspective: In the two hours spent playing the PC version of DLC Quest, I felt as enlightened as I was with Spec Ops: The Line, and more entertained than with Sam & Max Save the World and Hector: Badge of Carnage combined – and they were both damn funny games.  Just goes to show you, a little can go a long way.

But how, you may ask, does the game play? Well, it’s a 2D platformer through-and-through, complete with cute little 16-bit graphics and a Super Mario World-lovin’ colour palate that fits with the throwback style of the game.  It’s not reinventing the wheel by any means – the key to platforming here is the same “time your jumps right or risk frustration” mentality as ever, the controls consist of a total four buttons for movement and interaction, and save for some unique additions I’ll discuss in a moment it’s very typical of the genre in every imaginable way – but from a technical standpoint Going Loud Studios has a solid little reminder of one of gaming’s most beloved genres on their hands.

However, the studio also recognizes that settling just ain’t gonna cut it – not with the potential for so much satire.  See, the game’s premise stems from what I believe is the growing fear of many gamers: that DLC (downloadable content) for games will continue to cut into our experiences, changing the way we enjoy and interpret games, until we are ultimately consumed by this trend and actually buy into publishers’ BS statements about how it “provide[s] more flexible and efficient gameplay.”*

DLC Quest‘s greatest challenge is that in order to stand out, it has to tackle this highly controversial and discussion-inducing topic head-on.  It has to take what might be gamers’ greatest pet peeve about the industry and turn it into something meaningful and palatable for today’s audiences.   Luckily, as I mentioned before, this is an indie game – the lower budget and limited reach mean Going Loud has all the more reason to use the gameplay for the sake of the script and the overall message.   From the game’s outset, the experience is that of a stereotypical action-adventure game: you are the player character named Player, your princess has been kidnapped by a villain, and you must rescue her.   A certain tone of mostly teasing, slightly serious feelings comes to light from that moment on, since no other game has the guts to outright highlight who the player is, what the motivation is, et cetera.

It’s a game all about subtext, and about conveying how weary everyone has gotten with current industry standards.  DLC Quest goes the extra mile by showing, rather than always telling, what is wrong with a DLC-oriented society;  in the game, certain abilities like double jumping, use of a sword, and the ability to move left on the screen are only accessible by collecting coins and purchasing in-game “DLC packs”.  As the campaign progresses, the kind of stuff designated as DLC reaches preposterous levels – some (like left-side movement) seem removed rather idiotically, others (such as one linked to a Pokemon allusion) feel like unnecessary padding, while still others simply “break” the game with how absurdly overpowered they make the player.

Which, by the way, is entirely the point.  Every DLC pack purchased adds another unnecessary layer of complexity to the game, which in turn makes the game funnier because of how unnecessary it is.   Essential content is walled off until arbitrary milestones are achieved, and additional content is billed as being “game-changing” or “essential to the experience”, as is the trend with most game publishers; the trick here is that the underlying message about understanding a game’s true value, and the level of satire on display, makes this kind of game design not only warranted but also worth the price of admission on sincerity and strength alone.

And that’s to say nothing of the script – by god, they must’ve had a laugh.  Between the writing and the gameplay, the former is definitely the more risk-taking of the two, since it plays as both an homage to classic gaming tropes and a clever deconstruction of game design in general.   There’s some lines spoken by purposefully stereotypical characters that seem rather blunt, but actually convey a lot of underlying meaning.  These characters symbolize the mindless NPCs of old, not to mention the shrewd business-minded publishers, the token add-on characters, the pop-culture fanatics, and so forth;  thus, to take them at face-value would be to miss what the developer is trying to say.  Additionally, as you progress the references and allusions to gaming’s most well-known memes becomes more apparent, particularly when you start up the second campaign, Live Freemium or Die.   This comes to light in both campaigns’ conclusions, again reminding us why post-game DLC is more or less a slap to the collective face of the gaming community.

I was mildly amused by the core DLC Quest campaign, but the second campaign bundled with the PC version – Live Freemium or Die – really sold me on the concept.  The entire structure of the PC package seems based around the idea that DLC Quest sets up a joke, the punchline of which is Live Freemium or Die.   That might seem like a complaint but upon reflection it’s more of a complement – Going Loud Studios has found a way to creatively illustrate the dangers of current trends in a two-chapter package, and the fact that it comes at the more-than-reasonable price of $2.99 makes it a steal.

No, this game is not perfect, but its place in history is clear: it’s a reflection of our society’s values, for better or worse.  I expect some will simply pass it by – either because of its deceptive simplicity or its status as an indie title – but I honestly believe that would be a mistake of grand proportions.  DLC Quest is fresh, rewarding and all-around entertaining, without forgetting that it’s a game about something.  If you’re on Steam anytime soon, cough up some damn cash and GET THIS GAME.

five-stars

Recommendation: Buy It!

*This is an actual statement by an actual publisher/developer.  The article in question’s about a crossover fighting game involving two big-name fighting game franchises – sound familiar?

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