Despotism 3K

When I mentioned I was playing a game that took inspiration from I Have No Mouth, And I Must Scream, I was alluding to today’s subject: Despotism 3K.

In this indie title by Russian developer Konfa Games, you play as an evil AI in a post-apocalyptic setting, who is looking to enslave humanity to achieve its ultimate goal: figuring out why its algorithms are obsessed with making butter.

It’s a real-time management simulator in which human life is your core resource. You assign your human slaves to one of four “jobs”, this being the hamster wheel that generates electricity, the burger machine that generates food, the breeding room where the orgies never end, or the bioreactor where people don’t so much work as they melt away to be turned into electricity and afternoon snacks for the survivors.

Humans get tired from working and need to rest up in the holding area where newly-bred people also spawn in, so gameplay mostly involves watching their meters and deciding when to swap people around to keep your processes optimized. You see, each 20 seconds you use up some electricity and this amount increases with each passing day, so you need to be sure the wheel keeps spinning. Meanwhile, people also need food or some will perish after the next time block, so that’s another vital resource to stay on top of. When either of those starts looking dire, it may be time to condemn some people to the bioreactor for a quick burst. A sacrifice for the greater good, you could say.

Complicating this matter is the fact that electricity is also your upgrade resource for improving each of the facilities, as well as for adding extra arms that allow you to move people around faster. This can make progress feel rigid, as there is a cap on how much energy you can store that increases alongside your daily consumption of it. You can’t save up and rush out some upgrades early on and it’s easy to get into a loop where you are generating just enough to get through each time block while saving a little extra for a rainy day.

The game’s initial campaign tasks you with surviving for 25 days and that is surprisingly tough, especially when you mix in the daily random event where you are presented some outrageous scenario and need to make a decision on how to proceed. Many of these are referential jokes, but even the funniest of references to the Cthulhu mythos can easily kill a dozen or so of your people and completely disrupt your operation, or they might give you some new perk that could guarantee victory. These events are static, so you can memorize the solutions for subsequent runs to get the best results. Still, there are a lot of them and I was still seeing new ones after 3 hours of play.

The second campaign is a different beast entirely, as it removes focus on the core gameplay in favor of doing expeditions to a randomized grid of locations where you loot food, energy, and have a chance of finding the components to a time machine, which ends the campaign once completed. The expeditions have a percentage chance of succeeding based on how many humans you are willing to risk and failure will instantly kill all of them.

It’s a change of pace, but the expeditions aren’t very involving at all. You just play the odds and wait a minute, with no option of sending out multiple parties to spread your chances and speed things up. The second campaign removes the caps on resources, so you have more freedom here to pace the game out the way you want to, which can be fun when mixed with some of the alternate AIs you unlock that give interesting gameplay buffs. Still, you are constantly walking a thin line where a single failure could wipe out an expedition team of 30 despite a 90% chance of success.

It’s strenuous and challenging, but both stories are fun to play through once and Despotism 3K‘s humor is something I could appreciate. It’s cool to play the role of the evil, mechanical villain for once and abuse the filthy human slaves, even if the gameplay is a bit limited in places. Despotism 3K is surprisingly difficult and it doesn’t last very long, so I can recommend it as a snack for experienced fans of management sims and strategy games.

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