A popular genre of games from the early days of PC gaming was text-based adventures, more recently known as Interactive Fiction. Typically containing no visual component besides text, these games were story heavy games that also featured a significant amount of puzzles. Those sorts of games are making a comeback, of a sort, but with a modern twist. That’s where The Huntsman: Winter’s Curse comes into play.
The steam page for the game has this to say about it:
The Huntsman: Winter’s Curse is a narrative-driven, interactive fantasy fiction game with a card based combat system set in the universe of Snow White and the Huntsman.
An accurate description, because there isn’t really much more to the game than that. It is a mostly linear story with some choice in what happens through dialogue options, interspersed with the ‘card-based strategic combat system’. It contains some RPG elements such as choosing certain skills for the characters and deciding what equipment to use. Each section of the story is a ‘quest’, with only one quest being active at a time. There are also side quests, but these are optional and very minor, with maybe only two or three per book, granting a couple of XP and maybe an item.
The game is being released episodically, with the first three episodes – called Books – already out and the other two to follow. The first book is free, to entice you to play, with subsequent books being $5 USD each, or $18 USD for the Season Pass. When I buy a game, I expect to get an hour of play for every dollar I pay. This game does not hold up to that at all. I finished the first three books in less than three hours, with the second book done in less than thirty minutes. I would have been sorely disappointed if I had paid $5 to get that second book and only gotten a half hour of gameplay from it. I doubt the last two books to come out will have 15+ hours of gameplay between them.
Graphics and Style
The main graphical style of The Huntsman: Winter’s Curse is done in a book illustration format, a series of still backgrounds with largely static images imposed over the top, accompanied by a text box at the bottom where all dialogue and other story elements take place. The characters that appear on-screen are meant to appear drawn, though are also slightly animated, but only in a repetitive, breathing style movement. Combat is represented in pretty much the same manner, with a couple more overlays to represent buffs or debuffs. One good factor of the simplicity of this game is that it will run on pretty much any system running Windows 7 or higher, though I would not be surprised if it ran on older systems too. My machine, built for more heftier games, barely noticed that it was running. Overall, the visuals are sufficient, but really add little to the game as a whole, and are somewhat lacklustre. If a game is trying to invoke a certain style, which this game is (mentioned earlier, being set in the universe of Snow White and the Huntsman), then a good deal of effort should be put into getting that style correct, which it falls short of. Hand drawn backgrounds along with more detailed and interesting character images would have improved it a lot. I’m not saying the artwork is bad, is it certainly better than I could do, but it could be better. If this had been a text adventure with no visual aspect, I would have enjoyed it no less.
Sound and Music
Since there is something visual on this text adventure, there has to be something audio too. The music is suitable, fitting the given situation and not appearing overpowering, but once again, it is nothing fantastic. I turned it off at one point and continued playing, and didn’t really notice a difference. There is even less of a presence of SFX. Combat contains the most sounds, including noises for the various attacks, actions, and to signal victory. Outside of combat there are few sounds, most of which are involved with certain story events. The quality of the audio is good, but once again, underwhelming when it comes to having an impact on the game. You really don’t lose anything if those components are not there.
So far I have compared this to a text adventure, but really, it isn’t even close. Even a text adventure requires the player to do more than click and read. The non-combat sections are basically just dialogue between two characters, which is all text, nothing audio. Sometimes you can choose between two or three options to continue the story, though often I had no idea what difference it made to the rest of the game. I encountered one puzzle which was so easy and obvious that a blind, deaf individual with no hands, sitting in a different room could have completed it first go.
Combat is more interesting, seeing as you do actually have to think. The system used, which is turn based, is quite interesting, running on some sort of background rules that define when the combatants have their turns. The equipment the characters have -Weapon, Armour, Accessory One and Accessory Two – define the abilities the characters possess, as well as points spent on skills. These abilities are represented as ‘cards’ during combat. Each character is essentially dealt a fresh hand at the beginning of each of their turns, being three to five cards dependent on skills, and can choose one of those cards to use in the turn. The cards can contain attacks, healing, status effects or means to improve turn order, and are dealt randomly. This is where the strategy is meant to come in, to decide what you must do to win the combat from what cards you are dealt. For example, as a part of a boss fight, one must stay alive for a number of rounds, rather than defeat the boss. In that situation one would focus on using abilities that either reduce the damage the boss deals or reduce damage the character takes, as well as using lots of healing, rather than attacking.
I played this game on easy, and had an easy time of the combat, only coming close to losing a character once when I wasn’t really paying attention to his health. Medium and hard would pose more of a challenge, obviously, and I would suggest at least medium if you are going to play this game.
As mentioned earlier, this is a “narrative-driven, interactive fantasy fiction game”, so one would assume it has an abundance of rich story and deep, detailed narrative. In this case, that assumption would be wrong. To say the story is mediocre is giving it too much credit. Some chick wanders off to find her brothers, shenanigans ensue. Sure, there is a little more to it than that, but not much. The story feels more like connective tissue, there to join the combat sections together. Since the story is mainly delivered in the form of dialogue between two characters at any given time (and not necessarily all that much dialogue sometimes) it is nowhere near as detailed as it should be. The basic premise for the story is solid, from what I could gather, but it remains that; basic.
The game purports to be set in the universe of Snow White and the Huntsman, and while I know very little about that universe, I didn’t get any hint of it at all. The setting just seems to be generic fantasy medieval Europe. No Huntsman was mentioned at any point in the story, and while there is perhaps something in there relating to a curse, it doesn’t have anything to do with Winter, just some icy broad who is only mentioned a couple of times, never seen.
The game is available on Steam here.
Reviewed On: PC
Review System: Nvidia 770GTX, i5 4690, 16GB RAM
Playtime: Less than 3 Hours
SUMMARY: Average, lacklustre, humdrum, middling, other synonyms for passable. If this were ice cream, it would be vanilla. If the price were cheaper, I would have given it a higher rating. There are better games at the same price, and the same level of games a a cheaper price. If you play the free book and like the game, wait until the rest comes on special before buying it. The replay-ability is minimal, and the whole thing is too short for the cost. But the card combat system is quite good, I would like to see more of that.