Besides being a mouthful, Judgment: Apocalypse Survival Simulation is a management game with combat, crafting, base building, and demonic hordes looking to rip you a new one. Still in early access, Judgment is hands-down the most polished early access game I have ever come across. It wasn't until I saw a small "Coming Soon!" marker under one of the most advanced crafting skill trees that I even remembered the game was still in production! Indie developer Suncrash has done this title a lot of service already, and the result is more functional that some AAA games that have dropped recently.
Still, polish doesn't matter if the gameplay sucks, and I'm happy to say that Judgment doesn't suck in the least. In fact, I think it's a great indie answer to X-Com. That's high praise, but the game is tons of fun–I'm having to force myself away from it to write this preview, as I'd rather dive back in and work on reinforcing my woodland base. Those damn Reapers are coming!
I'd suggest grabbing Judgment: Apocalypse Survival Simulation from Steam while the price is set at $14.99.
The story starts pretty simply, dropping you right into the middle of nowhere with a brief message about how your three starting characters were on a camping trip when–bummer of the century–the apocalypse happened. Demons are everywhere, and they've already chewed your friend Ned to death.
You're tasked with building, housing and gathering resources enough to survive, thrive, and eventually research the origins of the apocalypse so as to stop it. Tall order for a bunch of people who probably don't even have enough toilet paper to last the week.
When you start up a new game, you are rolled three characters, a.k.a. "survivors," each of which has a randomly assigned class and traits. You can choose to re-roll a new batch of characters should you so choose.
A lot of the classes are very tailored to the game, such as Occultist–really, how many of those do you come across on your daily commute? There are Survivalists, Fighters, and Engineers, too, but the skills are where things get fun. Some of the traits are "Alien Abductee," "Meat Lover," "Vegan," and "Addict," each of which has their own positives and negatives. For instance, the Vegan trait gives a negative to strength, but a positive to gardening skills.
I was also happy to see that there's a lot of women that get randomly generated, so it's not the typical "group of strong men saves world" scenario. There are also randomly generated skin colors, hair colors, and clothing options, so your people are fairly differentiated from one another.
With Judgment being billed as a survival game from a depreciated top-down view, I went in expecting a Don't Starve feel. I was surprised, however, when I realized the game took me back to Warcraft II more than Klei's opus; while this could've been disappointing to me, it was actually a breath of fresh air that works exceptionally well.
Basically, all of your survivors act as grunts, doing whatever you tell them, such as building a new room, cots, research tables, etc, and the progress of each task is shown by a slowly-filling gear emblem over the appropriate location/item.
However, depending on the character's class and traits, they will prefer to do the tasks they enjoy. Often these are skills they have bonuses in (an Occultist, for example, may get a +30% speed bonus when tasked with researching the occult.) Sometimes, however, they just like the tasks, meaning they have no efficiency bonuses, but they'll level up faster. When a character levels up in Judgment, you get to choose a new positive skill, some of which are stackable (i.e., a +30% occult research bonus may become a +50%). This is critical to take advantage of, as skills such as fast healing and research bonuses save huge amounts of time and resources.
Because each character has different preferences, they'll do what they prefer unless you alter their priorities. The Priorities menu is where you can view (and sort by) each character's buffed skills, normal proficient skills, and nerfed skills. You can set tasks for buildings and crafted items all you want, but unless you set a character's priorities to complete those actions before they do something else, they'll ignore it. You can turn this "automatic" action trait off for each character, but it's unwise to do so; if you do, and they complete the task you asked them to do, they'll literally stand around doing nothing. Better to leave it on and order their priorities wisely, so they'll get to work on something else once one task is done. This system is excellently implemented and works so much better than any AI system in recent memory.
Crafting is separated from building in Judgment, and for good reason. Building refers to constructing rooms, stations inside rooms (such as workbenches and infirmaries,) and outdoor constructs such as altars. Crafting refers to the making of usable items, such as weapons, medicine, foodstuffs (of which there are many with various boosts,) and building supplies (scrap, boards, bricks, gunpowder, etc.)
Research is also critical in Judgment, as having characters research science and occultism give you research and occult points, which you can use to unlock new craft recipes, building plans, and special skills.
What it comes down to is this: if you don't make sure your survivors have food (and that the food has been crafted,) water, and a place to sleep, they'll never get your tasks done, and will probably die before you even encounter a demon. Likewise, if you just try grind research long enough to unlock the plans for a glock, you'll be sorely disappointed, as you need to work on your mining research in order to get the materials needed to actually build the glock.
If this sounds tedious to you, rest assured that it's not. There's an awesome time speed feature pulled from city sims, which allows you to rush through the boring parts of watching your survivors chop wood, collect water, or dig clay. Be careful, though, because it's real easy to speed along and not be ready for that "Low Food" or "Low Water" icon to pop up, and building reserves up again can take a while.
Random events are rare in Judgment, but happen a little more frequently the longer you live. They're quite interesting and range from Witchcraft curses that slow your workflows, to character-inflicted illnesses such as "Night Howls," which make a character randomly howl at the moon, which attracts demons.
There are the occasionally positive random events as well, such as a character walking with a revelation that gives you a one-time occult research boost.
All event effects (aside from bonus goods/points) will be removed via time–unless, of course, they kill you first.
While your base exists in a chunk of wild-land, there's a larger overworld map with randomly spawned locations like military bases, schools, hospitals, and residential neighborhoods. All of these have been overtaken by demonic forces, and you can click on each visible area to see the amount and type of enemy contained there, as well as the loot you'll acquire should you defeat the resident evils.
You only have a limited view of the map unless you send scouting parties out, which requires food; the more members you send (you must leave at least one survivor at your base,) the more food it will cost you. The fog of war clears more with each venturing party and doesn't re-darken when your party returns to roost. Occasionally, you'll be alerted to random events on the world map, such as a nearby demon scouting party that you'll want to kill quickly before they alert their bigger friends. The most useful random map event is a survivor sighting, as it allows you to recruit a new survivor if you successfully kill the demons at the event location.
Sometimes you may forgo survivor events, cruel as it seems, especially if the attacking demons are too powerful; no sense in trading the lives of experienced survivors for what could be a less useful one.
Combat and Looting
Thus far, all I've mentioned about Judgment: Apocalypse Survival Simulation has been exceptionally designed and executed, and is some of the best indie strategies I've seen in the last year. The combat and looting, while functional, is still a work in progress, though. There's currently no looting during combat missions, though each location is chocked full of destroyed buses, cars, bodies, structures, and trash bins. Each mission is currently the same type, as well (eradicate all demons.)
The good news? Suncrash says there are big changes and additions coming, and that they're working on searchable loot-spots in missions right now. The next major update will center around combat specifically and might include additional mission types, and the ability for players to sneak around demons and run from tougher enemies.
With those additions, and also late-game, large-scale battles being teased, Judgment will be right on track to have combat as satisfying and meaty as the building, crafting, and survival elements are now.
graphics and sound
The graphics are pleasing and retain an indie charm while also appearing very polished. Survivors and demons are 3D models, and the survivors' appearances are distinct, though the demons are a little muddy in texture, making them hard to differentiate. On that latter note, a future update promises additional enemy models, which should help this minor gripe. The environment and buildings are done in a "hand-drawn" sort of way–imagine if Borderlands and Warcraft II had a baby, and you've got it.
The music that's present is appropriately ominous, and the sound effects serve their purpose. There could be more of both, but those are likely to come as the game progresses towards its full release, and are good enough as it stands.
As Suncrash notes that Judgment: Apocalypse Survival Simulation is already fully funded (meaning early access funds aren't necessary for the game's ultimate completion,) I urge strategy and survival fans to give Judgment a try. There's a lot of content already, and the $14.99 price tag is worth it, especially as it may rise after a full launch.
It's excellent to play an early access game that didn't crash on me a single time and has mechanics that were not only functional but fun and satisfying. Hopefully, other indie devs will take a note from Suncrash–early access games can be well-rounded and fully playable (War Z, anyone?)