Left Behind: Eternal Forces Demo
Remember that Left Behind video game I mentioned a while ago? Well, the game’s producers have released a beta version for demo, and I was compelled to download and play it, to see if it lived up to the hype.
The game begins with a brief animation intro for the logo of their brand, Left Behind games. The camera opens on a view of Earth from high orbit, and begins panning around its circumference as tiny streaks of light rise from the surface, gather into what can only be considered a flock, and shoot out into space. I can only assume that this is a representation of what the Rapture will look like, although the number of “souls” is a lot smaller that I would have expected (a couple hundred), but maybe Jesus is more of a stickler than I thought he was. Incidentally, is “flock” the correct term for a group of souls? I guess souls are close enough to angels for a group of them to be called a “host,” but I prefer a “collective” of souls. At any rate, the shimmering streaks of light all head out into space (what planet, exactly is Heaven?) and thus the game begins.
If you’re at all familiar with the Left Behind books or the Left Behind movie franchise, then you probably know what to expect in terms of production value: pretty good, but nothing terribly special. Left Behind in all its media incarnations seems to be a quality equivalent of a just-below-professional job. A lot of this has to do with, in my opinion, the poor writing that began this whole enterprise, and yet I know that a good film can be made from a bad book, and likewise with a video game. This is somewhat disappointing, because Christian eschatology can be pretty exciting stuff, and I could easily see a compelling story being made out of any of the many scenarios envisioned for the End Times.
The game itself follows in this tradition of slightly-below-average. The graphics are three-dimensional, and sufficiently detailed to be engaging, but are nothing more advanced than what existed in games five years ago. The control system is typical of a real-time simulation game- left click on a unit to select it, right click on a location of the screen to make him move there. There’s a control panel at the bottom of the screen, with a minimap, unit stats, items, and actions, and game options. Action is set in a post-Raptured New York City, and so you’re going to be staring down at buildings most of the time.
The demo allows you to play the tutorial (unnecessary if you’ve played this type of game before), and three levels of the Story Mode. The levels themselves are really boring, as is somewhat typical of the beginning of a game, so I’ll just summarize the plot and then I can talk about some of the more amusing aspects. You control a newly-minted Christian (the only kind available following the Rapture) who’s filled with the spirit and working for the Tribulation Force. (As an aside, the game goes to the extra trouble of clarifying that the Tribulation Force are, in fact, the “good” guys, and the Global Peacekeepers are the “bad” guys. With names like those, the clarification is necessary) You spend the beginning of the game recruiting other Christians to your cause, founding a base of operations, and protecting that base from the bad guys.
At first, you’re the lone Christian in New York (or, at least, on the screen). Everyone else on the map is either neutral or evil. As a level 1 disciple, you can convert any neutral person to Christianity just by preaching at them. Just walk up to them and click on the “convert” button, and shards of white light will fall down from above onto their head, and within a few seconds they become a Christian. This is accompanied by an increase in their “Spirit” attribute- an attribute that, as a Christian, can be increased simply by prayer, and can be decreased by simply listening to rock music. Post-conversion, their costume changes- most neutral characters walk around wearing jeans, a sports jacket, and a sports cap. Once they’ve converted to Christianity, however, there’s a brief flash and they’re wearing khakis, a button-up shirt, and a sweater vest. Oh, and each one looks the same. And if you select a group of Christians to control, they all speak in unison. Kinda creepy, if you ask me.
Once you have your new recruits, you can use them to expand your power. But you have to be careful- if their Spirit level drops too low, they may revert to neutrality again- the game frowns on that. The best way to keep them Christians is to force them to pray pretty constantly, or send them to a church where they can get a Bible, which gives them a twenty-point boost. While they’re praying, you can take a look at their life story- even though each Christian looks exactly the same, each one has a unique 300-word life story, detailing their religious background and how they were affected by the Rapture. After that, send them off to be trained for the Tribulation Force. This involves purchasing buildings and converting them for your purposes- but first, you need Builders. These can be trained by sending Christians to your initial camp. Interestingly, Builders seem to be a male-only class; no converted Christian women can be trained as Builders, nor it seems as anything else worthwhile. The only vocation available to the fairer sex was as a medic, but since this was a redundant position (males could be trained as medics also), I eventually quit proselytizing women, since they were completely worthless to my cause.
Builders can build housing(apartments or high-rise complexes), offices(banks or mission bases), churches(chapels or big churches), cafes, and military training camps. These can only be built in those buildings that are already compatible with those specific uses, so you have to look around for them. Once you have your infrastructure in place, you can really put those converted Christians to good use. Train them as Disciples (go out and convert more neutrals), musicians (use the power of song to weaken evil influence), Medics (heal physical damage), and Soldiers (shoot guns and kill the enemy).
The enemy has these same positions available, but just in “evil” form. For example, whereas the Tribulation Force employs Musicians which go out and sing Christian music (Stephen Curtis Chapman and Michael W. Smith, I assume), the Global Peacekeeper Force employs Musicians which go out and play rock music (Black Sabbath and Bad Religion, I assume). Such a tactic seems fruitless to most, but bear in mind that “spiritual” warfare is an important component of the game, and so the music one hears does influence one’s Spirit level. For example, I kept losing one level because my character, a Christian Disciple, had to walk past a group of street toughs playing rock music, and having to listen to it made him forcibly deconvert into neutrality, failing the mission.
Having such a strong spiritual component in the game raises problems, because most Christians consider things spiritual to be immaterial, and thus invisible, or at least unable to be represented by natural means. However, this is a video game, so a certain amount of visual panache is expected- this is why actions of spiritual import are much flashier than in real life. As I mentioned already, the act of conversion causes shards of white light to fall on the head of the proselyte, and after the conversion is complete, a bright glow surrounds the Disciple and new Christian, presumably as more spiritual wisdom is imparted. Likewise, whenever a Christian is engaged in prayer, in addition to folding his hands and bending his head, a white glowing ball of light appears above his head. Similar displays are made apparent when Musicians sing, although there is a difference in color between the “good” and “evil” sides. I certainly don’t need to point out that it would be awfully nice if these obvious markers were present in the real world whenever Christians engaged in prayer, or witnessed to unbelievers. I can’t tell if this represents wishful thinking on the part of the game developers, or a real assumption about how obvious spirituality is to Christians.
Although it’s tough to appraise a full game based on a beta, I doubt my opinion would change much even if I was able to play the whole thing. By the last demo level, I was so bored that I probably wouldn’t want to play the rest of the levels anyway. It seems harmless enough to me, and likely represents (just as do the books) the psychological yearnings of some Christians for comeuppance.