Under the lights of moon and gas, skulking in shadows and pilfering unattended coffers, are the downtrodden and forgotten. These Dickensian societal wastes don't let an oppressive government and cruel police force get them down, because at night – they rule. Criminal enterprises scour the street for gold and victory, taking back what's theirs and what wasn't (but is now). Men, women, and even children smirk slyly while moving stealthily to dip their fingers into pockets or their daggers into backs.
In Antihero, you play as a variety of cutthroat criminals who are tired of being told to live a poor life just because of where, and to whom, they were born. Trying to live an "honest" life is more criminal than actually stealing, so they've taken the lesser of two evils and opt to be creatures of the night. You'll build up your gangs and enlist urchins to rough up rival crooks and take over businesses, siphoning off resources to keep the cycle going. Either through murderous skullduggery or stealthy thievery, you'll be able to claim the title of Master Criminal while taking out your competition. Blackmail, bounties, and boat-loads of booty await you on the cobblestone streets in Antihero!
You can purchase Antihero on Steam for $14.99.
There are many unique faces within the streets of Antihero, all of which can be unlocked for multiplayer use once you meet and beat them in the campaign. The story takes you through the streets of London, navigating from map to map, each one offering up a different challenge or win condition. Though there are plenty of avatars to choose from in multiplayer, during the campaign you'll be given control of two: Lightfinger and Emma.
Lightfinger is the leader of your guild, crafty and nimble and never without a full purse. Emma is a street urchin, one of the many recruited by the guild's second-in-command, Hyde. She stands out from the others, and is trusted with missions concerning taking down rival thieves and those who would see the guild's fall.
The campaign is simple, without much in the way of twists and turns or deep examinations of self or society. It serves as a vehicle to move the player from one map to the next, showing off the various features so they aren't surprised when it comes up in multiplayer. That's not to say the story is bad, though. It's told through cutscenes every other map, narrated and displayed as comic panels. The style fits with the visual aesthetic.
You'll be going through 12 maps during your criminal crusade, facing up against different master thieves who specialize in different areas. One bloke is aggressive and violent, favoring victory through assassination contracts and filling the streets with thugs and gangs. Another is sneaky and crafty, setting traps in her claimed businesses to keep you from going where you don't belong. These missions serve as good introductions into ways your real life opponents, in multiplayer, may behave, and how you should tackle dealing with them. Each map can be set to Easy, Normal, or Hard difficulty, awarding 1-3 stars, respectfully. Though I personally wasn't able to do all the maps on hard, or even normal, it's implied that there is a secret level to be gained, presumably unlocked by getting enough stars.
Antihero is described as a board game, and it's a description I myself made in a preview article. Though the comparison is not far off, it's not as close as you may think. There are no dice or cards or any random elements that decide your progression and ultimate fate. Board games come in varieties ranging from high strategy to pure luck, and Antihero definitely falls on the former's side of the spectrum. This does not count against it, it just should be noted in case you were looking forward to rolling dice or spinning spinners.
The game will have you against an opponent, though the developers have expressed interest in adding in 3+ player matches in the future. Turns go in order, back and forth rather than in real time, making this a turn-based strategy (TBS) game. Turns last for as long as a player has moves they can perform with their various criminals. Your hired help will have one action they can take, each, like guarding street corners, infiltrating businesses, taking out targets, etc., depending on the specific help you've hired. The main thief can have anywhere from 2 to 5 actions, and has far more they can do on a turn. With your leader, you will scout out streets and buildings, rob homes and businesses, and, assuming you've bought a dagger, kill.
Movement is completely free, so long as you've scouted the street out first.
The game starts with the city's streets covered in a thick fog. Your character will have to clear out this fog, street by street, in order for your gangs, goons, and children to move around. Where your opponent has moved to will be visible as well, shown as red footprints that permanently paint ground. This helps if you want to hide your pieces from your opponent, so if you can, keep your criminals standing on tiles without footprints, to keep your foe guessing. It won't just be the rival criminals who inhabit the streets with you. Random thugs will appear on the board, blocking off streets until they are dealt with. Along with these roadblocks are the assassination targets you can go after. The targets and goons will get progressively stronger as they die or the match goes on, respectively. There is no law enforcement to impede your efforts. The night belongs to the underbelly of society!
As you play, you'll want to gain as much money and lanterns as you can, as these will help grow and strengthen your crew. Coins are gained by killing thugs and robbing homes. Lanterns are generated by certain infiltrated buildings and occasionally will be found in homes. New members of your crew are hired by paying them off with coins, and new upgrades are gained by spending lanterns. Don't get too crazy with your spending, though. The more you spend on a turn, the more expensive that person, or the next upgrade, will get. If you'd rather just wait and build up your reserves, you can take some gold or lanterns from charity. There's no risk of losing your resources to a pickpocket.
So how do you win? Similar to other board games like Settlers of Catan, the game ends when one player earns enough victory points. Victory points are earned in a variety of ways, some of which are exclusive to specific maps. The main methods, found on all maps, are bribes, blackmail, and bounties. Bribes are bought with lanterns, blackmail is earned by occupying a church fully, and bounties are gained when you assassinate a target. Some maps have other means of gaining points, some of which are voluntary and the rest are mandatory.
The game plays quickly in singleplayer, but in multiplayer it can take between 30 and 45 minutes (according to the tooltip). You can even choose to skip watching your opponent's turn, in singleplayer, if you just want to get back in control. Options like that are welcomed in turn based games, though be careful you don't miss how and when something happened by using that option.
The rules and mechanics are very easy to pick up and understand, a trait not shared by most strategy board games. However, the difficulty comes in mastering everything you can do and knowing how and when to stop your opponent from making progress. It's easy to forget your opponent is even there, as early on they'll be obscured by the fog, rarely making an appearance. You may get so focused on building up your empire that you fail to build up defenses and offenses for when your opponent finally does start making a move on you. Soon it becomes a game of balancing your limited actions. Do you use your gang to evict some urchins from a building, or send them to attack a target? Do you send an urchin to fill out the last slot on a church, gaining you a victory point (so long as you own the church), or send one into a newly emptied tavern so you can get cheaper goons? As the game goes on, you realize just how limited you are, and how carefully you need to plan things out if you don't want your foe to get the upper hand.
Things move quickly early on, but turns will take longer as you get more thugs and urchins to manage and have to decide what to do with them. You're limited in how many gangs you can have, usually only have one but can have up to two if you nab that upgrade. This makes it so no one player can just start growing huge gangs until they have an army that they'll use to wipe the board out. There's a smart design in how much freedom the player has versus how much they don't. The limitations never feel like they're restricting you from playing the game the way you want, they only exist to keep you from breaking the game.
With a story that only takes a few hours, at most, most of your time is meant to be spent in multiplayer. Within this mode, you can play with friends or against matched strangers online. You can either get matched with players of relatively similar skill, or you can go for a casual match. The ranked matches play out like the single player, with each person taking their turn to move their pieces around, seeking to take over banks, orphanages, taverns, etc., until they get all the points they need.
Casual match is by far the most casual form of casual mode I've seen. In casual mode, you don't even need to be playing for the game to be going. Like other modes, two players are matched up together. One player makes their turn and then selects to pass to the other player. That first player can then just turn off the game if they want. How it works is that the other player now has as much time as they want to open up the game, make their turn, and finish. When your opponent has finished their turn, you'll be notified via e-mail that it's your turn. It's bringing back the "Play-by-Email" method of proto-online gaming, and I find that very amusing.
Overall the game is very enjoyable. It's easy to pick up, but difficult to master, the hallmark of a well designed and balanced board game. A few times actions were taken that I didn't intend because I wanted to target one character, but they were standing behind another and my gang ended up wasting their one attack on the wrong person. It's rare, though, that your turn will be wasted due to a situation like that. By making things color coded, you know exactly what a building has to offer, even at a quick glance. Players of all skill levels will be able to find a fair challenge or a simple match, depending on the difficulty setting or who they're matched with.
The world of Antihero is depicted with a hand drawn style. Characters have large heads and distinct styles, so no two look similar. Animations are quick and smooth, and the story told through a comic book style adds more charm to an already criminally adorable aesthetic. The simplistic art style means most computers will be able to run this game with no performance issues. Little details are appreciated, like how when you upgrade your gang's attack power, they are given a new, stronger, weapon.
Musically the game does very well, with its period-appropriate score that is both fun and haunting. The tracks are relaxing to the twilight setting of a Dickensian age, despite the rampant crime and murder going on. The only voice work is done by the narrator and those voicing the grunts and quick words made by the characters on the board, all of whom do a good job.
The art and musical styles blend well together, creating a atmosphere that's both appropriately dark but charmingly fun. This is, after all, a board game, so nothing is taken too seriously. They could have easily added in satire or parody, or god-forbid loaded it with pop culture references, but they kept all of that to a minimum, at most. You might recognize some faces as being inspired by those from movies and books, but nothing ever feels like "remember this guy" kind of references. It pays tribute to its inspirations, it doesn't grab onto the coat tails of them.
Antihero is a very accessible and enjoyable game for both casual and hardcore players alike. With the right community and developer support, this game could easily become very popular. The balanced blend of strategy involving taking down your opponent and plans to build up your own empire works very well. The game is simple in its appearance, and is thus easily adaptable to other platforms, should the developers decide to go that route.
The campaign is disappointingly short, unfortunately, and acts mostly as a showcase of the different maps you'll see in multiplayer. Locking multiplayer content behind singleplayer progress, and vice versa, is usually a big no-no, but the only things you unlock in single player are avatars, which have no effect on gameplay, so all is well. Modes that support more than two players are an absolute must, so it's unfortunate the support doesn't exist in the game yet. Though the devs have expressed interest in implementing said support, it's never wise to get a game based on what might get added.
Thankfully, what already exists is enjoyable, but your mileage will vary based on whether or not you give the multiplayer mode your attention. DLC is already planned for the game, and will include new characters, maps, and more. Though the characters don't technically add any strategic value, their variations of appearances means everyone will be able to find one that appeals to them. Different skill trees and different ways to obtain victory means there's room for aggressive players and for players who want to go for the long con. If you're a fan of board games, this is a solid buy. Fans of a more casual experience won't be disappointed either.
|+ Charming art and fitting music.||– Disappointingly short campaign.|
|+ Simple to learn, difficult to master.|
|+ Satisfying variety in ways to play and win.|