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Mad Max Meets Monkey Island

Before I downloaded this game, I read (I can no longer pinpoint where,) that it was originally conceived of as a first person shooter. What I expected from Gotterdammerung was a kind of East-Meets-West fusion of shooter/WRPG/JRPG elements in a post-apocalyptic setting. And Gotterdammerung is an East-Meets-West fusion, but not the sort I was expecting. Gotterdammerung treads the borderline between a JRPG and a classic Adventure Game.

Whereas the default modus operandi for RPG protagonists has always been to resolve problems by killing them dead, this game features problem solving more after the old Sierra/Lucasarts mold, where obstacles are navigated via long chains of seemingly unrelated tasks bound by internal logic which ranges from the whimsical to the near total non-sequitur. I spent the first hour or so of the game highly confused, but by the time I found myself playing an old school arcade game to beat the high score of a hulking, Frankensteinian behemoth-man so he would reward me with a spoon which I could give to a computer programmer so he could eat his cereal and recover from his torpor in order to hack the protagonists' names into a census database so they could fake citizenship in order to join an army to subvert it from the inside, I had pretty much learned what to expect from this game.

Gotterdammerung is nothing if not ambitious. It's commercial length, uses entirely or almost entirely custom resources, showcases an expansive game world, an interesting central plot, and features multiple styles of gameplay, including numerous minigames, arcade-style sub-games, even an optional text-based adventure game. However, it ends up shortchanged in some fundamental aspects which leave me feeling that the end product is rather less than it could have been.

Story and setting:
Gotterdammerung is set in our own world, about a hundred years after a nuclear war that nearly destroyed civilization. Since society has more or less started to get its legs back, the environment is not so much post-apocalyptic as post-post-apocalyptic. I have to give the creator credit for originality here, since, common as post-apocalyptic settings are in fiction, they usually amount to only a handful of cities or wastelands in which the protagonists eke out their existences. But the narrative of Gotterdammerung weaves through a large portion of the geography of our own planet.

Rather than functioning merely as a handwave to justify the game's premise, the war that reduced the world to its current state, and the reasons behind it, form an integral part of the game's core plot, and scattered relics throughout the game world give tantalizing hints at the circumstances during and in the immediate aftermath.

However, the impact that this core narrative might have had tends to be hampered by the fact that so much of the game is spent navigating byzantine problem solving chains so many steps removed from the core conflict that they severely limit the player's ability to focus on the central plot. The party may stumble upon a letter, several decades old, relating the experiences of a survivor of the apocalyptic war, while the player is focused on some immediate task that's half a dozen steps of inference removed from anything relating to the central conflict. Rather than all the party's seemingly disorganized actions tying together into what turns out to be some deeper purpose and direction, most of the separate quest threads only turn out to facilitate each other through sheer contrivance and coincidence. The lack of focus draws away force from what could have been a powerful story with a more serious presentation, while the characters are often too blasé and matter-of-fact about their bizarre adventures to extract the maximum comedy value from them.

The game's author shows the chops to write both a compelling dramatic story and an excellent comedic one- but only intermittently, and the two are often at odds with each other.

Gotterdammerung has a large cast of NPCs, some of whom have significant roles and personality in their own rights, but the core players in the narrative are a cast of five main characters. Which leads to an unfortunate conundrum, since the party only has room for four, and at the point where you have the opportunity to recruit the last one, you’ll be forced to choose between her and one of the other characters who’s accompanied you for most of the game. On the plus side, this results in a significant divergence in quest lines and dialogue from that point, which could result in significant replay value. On the minus side, this occurs far enough into the game that it’s too troublesome to be worth starting an entire new playthrough for, but far enough from the end that it’s still a large amount of game to replay if you try restarting from a save file at that point. All in all the attempt at offering multiple party construction setups isn’t implemented very well.

The interactions among party members, or between them and NPCs, are somewhat hit and miss. At their best, they’re highly entertaining, but at other times they feel rather perfunctory, like they’re simply connecting the dots of the intended plot points.

The development of relationships between the party members is also rather limited. While the characters all clearly have their own distinct voices and personalities, by the end of the game I found I still knew rather less about them than I would have liked to after following them through a journey of that length.

The story also suffers overall for a failure to develop any sort of coherent morality for the main cast. While at some points they go out of their way to give aid to others, at other points they engage in acts that are totally reprehensible, for little justification and without attention to any sort of moral conflict that should arise from this.

All in all, I feel like the characterization could have been much improved if the creator had applied the same sort of standards that appear in the better character interactions throughout the rest of the game, and taken the time to explore the protagonists’ relationships with each other more.

Gotterdammerung really offers several kinds of gameplay, but many of them feature only briefly over the course of the game.

The combat mechanics which feature throughout the course of the game as a whole are functional, but generally lacking in diversity or strategy. Most of the skills in the game can be separated out into "deal damage to one enemy" and "deal damage to all enemies" effects. The fact that physical attacks and skills deal separate types of damage, against which enemies have separate defense stats, offers some tactical relevance, but it takes very little attention to navigate this. Late in the game, combat becomes somewhat more complex and tactical, but it's difficult to catch up with the deficiency that's been present for most of the game.

The puzzle solving and minigame content, on the other hand, tends to be rather more engaging. Some of the puzzles are quite good, and the degree of work that must have gone into some of the minigames is really impressive. Most of the puzzle content is mandatory to complete the game, so if you're the sort of player who struggles to solve puzzles, and hates checking guides, you'll probably want to give this game a miss, but since the game download comes with the full guide, there's never any real danger of becoming permanently stuck.

Gotterdammerung is built out of, as far as I can tell, entirely custom visual resources. The quality of the animations is good, and the amount of work that appears to have gone into the mapping is simply staggering. There are points in the game where the maps may simply be too large, and are consequently difficult to navigate, but the creator generally avoids achieving that size at the cost of visual monotony, and later maps tend to be more practically proportioned.

The game's soundtrack is also almost entirely original (it does contain one classical piece which was not written for the game, but none of it is drawn from the soundtracks of other games.) Most of the music is metal-inspired (I'm far from qualified to critique the influences,) in fitting with the game's setting. The band that performed most of the game's music is featured on posters throughout the game world, and can even be seen in performing in concert. The overall quality of the background music is somewhat inconsistent though; while none of it is badly composed per se, in some areas, the loops are short enough that the music will tend to become tedious after a while. In the better areas though, especially the ones which feature live performances, the music quality is really exceptional.

Gotterdammerung is the product of an absolutely incredible amount of work, and in the stronger points of the game, it really shows it. But there are parts of the game that feel underdeveloped compared to what it seems the creator is capable of.

Based on my usual scoring standards, I'd prefer to award this game a 3.75, but RMN doesn't recognize that as a legitimate score, so I'm forced to round. Since I'm currently the sole arbiter of its rating, I'm awarding it a 4, since I think that all told, it does deserve a spot on this site's Highly Rated Games list, but I look forward to the creator's future works impressing me much more.