Antihero

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As always, I have a weakness for games that have a novel concept to them, and Antihero certainly features one of those. It’s a turn-based strategy game based on competing thief guilds in a slummy, Old London setting. Sounds great, doesn’t it? While the end product wasn’t all I hoped it would be, it’s certainly a game I had a great deal of fun playing through.

From Pickpocket to Master Thief

The story is about a thief called Lightfinger, who lives in an unnamed city. He’s a pretty noble guy, who knows thieving is wrong, but does it anyway because… hey, gotta make a living somehow, right? Together with his recruiter Hyde and his newest protégé Emma, he sets out to expand his territory and deal with rival thieves getting in on his turf.

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The campaign consists of about a dozen missions, about half of which feature fun introduction cutscenes with voiced narration. The story isn’t anything grand, yet takes you along on Lightfinger’s rise to power and has fun rivals for him to do battle against. The London-like setting is also appealing, featuring a lot of rough slums, poverty, and corrupt nobles who could do with being taken down a peg.

Story score: 7/10

Kill dudes, take their money, ransack their houses

Antihero is a competitive, strategic crime game. You command a thief guild and are placed in a map filled with streets and housing blocks. Your goal is to gain victory points, which are awarded for completing various actions throughout the map. You can choose to assassinate key targets with large health pools, take over churches, purchase increasingly expensive blackmail, or complete a game-mode specific task, such as looting merchant ships or infiltrating the royal palace.

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Your key character is the master thief, throughout the campaign mode either Ligthfinger or Emma. Initially most of the map is covered in fog of war, which you clear up by letting your thief scout the streets and survey the building blocks. This will reveal the streets, the thugs and characters that wander it, as well as the houses and special buildings. Your master thief can also rob houses for coins or you can invest in a knife to let him or her attack foes as well.

Robbing houses grants money that can be used to hire new helpers and you can also gain lamps that are used to advance the game’s tech tree. Of course you can’t do everything on your own, and your main source of help will be the impoverished street urchins. These rascals can be used to infiltrate buildings. The moment one is inside, the building is under your influence and grants a bonus, with a second reward being awarded when you fill it up with three urchins. Banks grant you money each turn, trading companies give lamps, orphanages and pubs make helpers cheaper, and churches will first give a little financial bonus, before granting you a victory point once full.

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Players can also hire thugs to block roads or gangs to attack guards and rival thugs with. Gangs can also kick urchins out off buildings, but you need to add extra thugs to the gang in order to refill health if the enemy decides to attack them. You can also hire a dude to trap buildings, so when the player scouts it or a gang shows up, they will be stunned and lose their action for that turn. One can also hire an assassin to do a massive amount of damage or a truancy officer that immediately clears out all urchins in a building, but these helpers are consumable and expensive. On top of raising the funds to hire these, players must also first unlock them via the game’s tech tree, though often you’ll get the first one for free.

I like the overall strategy here. You need to explore the city to figure out where you can put your urchins, and then compete against the other player to keep your little dudes there too. It’s possible to find a bank and immediately fill it up with 3 urchins in one turn, but each helper becomes increasingly more expensive if you buy multiple ones in one round. Meanwhile your master thief has so many different roles and only a few action-points to work with, demanding you prioritize what is more important. After all, you might enjoy robbing houses for money, but your goons can’t walk unexplored streets or enter buildings you haven’t scouted yet.

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I did notice it was a bit too easy for the game to get stuck in a loop that is difficult to escape from. Once the city is explored and you got most of the good upgrades, very often games devolve to a point where each turn you buy a gang to beat up something of the other player, who then buys a gang in their turn to kill yours. A combination of only having 1 action per helper pet turn, and only being able to attack once with your master thief too, makes it difficult, if not sometimes impossible, to create a game-tipping scenario where either party grabs the advantage and pushes their victory. This leads to some games going on for dozens of turns.

The mechanics of Anithero are fun to work with and certainly integrate thieving as a thematic element, but they aren’t refined enough to create a game with a truly lasting multiplayer appeal. Having no limit to the movement range of characters means it’s nearly impossible to make decent use of road-blocking thugs, as a gang can travel across the map in 1 turn and wipe out an assassination target if the player wants to. Trapping buildings is also rarely useful, as they last but a short while and it’s just guesswork where a rival player may decide to strike.

Gameplay score: 7.5/10

London classic

The game uses a very appealing cartoon style that gives the city a lot of atmosphere. Most of the maps are semi-randomly created for each play session and there is a good variety of buildings to find there, all of which look nice and well-drawn. The characters too are appealing, with their bobble-headed look giving them a lot of personality and making each character and helper easy to read. Helpers of different factions are then differentiated by the color of their outfit.

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While each map has its own unique concept, such as the palace grounds or the wharf, all of them reuse the same standard buildings to fill up the space between, and as a result each map also has the same atmosphere to it. It’s a feel I like, and it reminds me very much of the real-world portions of Alice: Madness Returns, but it’s a bit samey to get the same nighttime setting over and over again. I do really like the overly British voice-lines that characters use to confirm their actions. That stuff is cute and never gets old.

Presentation score: 6.5/10

A master thief only settles for gold stars

The campaign’s missions are quickly finished in an hour or two, after which the main reason to return is playing them again on hard mode. On Easy the AI just kind of muddles around pointlessly, whereas on Normal it puts up a good challenge. Hard mode is a step further up still and can likely keep you busy for a few extra hours if you dig the challenge.

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The game also offers a skirmish mode wherein you can play against the AI or another player in a variety of different game modes, including some not seen in the campaign. While a fun inclusion, these are exclusively 1 vs 1, so there is no getting together a bunch of friends to see who can outsmart the rest and become the true master thief.

Extras score: 6/10

Verdict

This is the kind of game that sales were made for. It has a novel idea and a lot of passion worked into it, but it’s a little too unrefined and has limited appeal after finishing the brief campaign. A multiplayer mode offers some solace, yet with only 1 vs 1 skirmishes it’s not really a breakout hit that will replace any of your current LAN-party favorites. The story campaign is definitely worth playing through, however, and its ideas are developed enough to warrant a revisit at some later point.

68/100

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