From the Hip: The Last Dogma

The interesting story presented by The Last Dogma is somewhat let down by the technical problems of the way in which you experience it.  The engine seems to have technical issues, the animations where present are kind of bad at best, and the world while functional is mostly sparse.  The surrealist story, however, was interesting enough to carry me through the experience.  One for the sale list if the idea of an odd but interesting surreal story is to your tastes.
From the Hip: The Last Dogma
Date published: Jul 2, 2015
2 / 3 stars

Editor's Note: Maiyannah's copy of this game was provided free of charge by the developer.

The Last Dogma is a first-person shooter with adventure elements developed and published by Sasha Darko.  I wasn't really sure what to make of this one going out, and I gotta admit, I still aren't 100% even after having a think on it having completed it.  This is one people will either strongly disclaim for the low production values, or enjoy for the surrealist story.  That story is where the game hangs it's hat, so if you're a more mechanical gamer than you can probably safely give it a pass, but if you enjoy an interesting story, well, read on.

The engine seems pretty dire in places

I've seen a lot of different games in Unity by now, that you think I'd be used to it, but the fact of the matter is that Unity, much like UnrealEngine 3/4, is an engine that looks and works about as good or as badly as the scripting and shaders allow.  While there's sections of the game that look rather pretty - the first section in some mountainous woods for example - the game has a lot of technical problems with the engine such as decal flickering (the fact that the game makes a point of pointing it out doesn't really make it any better in my opinion) and some fairly low quality assets.  It feels like there was definitely some attempt to make some paid assets work well together - it mostly all "fits" and there's some definitely unique stuff in there - they're not the highest quality in either polycount or fidelity, and the texture resolution is abhorrently low in some places.  Knowing Unity optimisation issues I've encountered, I suspect that's a lot to do with not being able to overcome the technical problems of the engine.

The one really dire thing - in my opinion - is the utter lack of much animation at all, and when there is animation, it seems pretty bad.  There's a few movile enemies for example, but their animations are fairly bad (and the blood from them was grossly exagerrated.)  No doubt this is somewhat intentional, given the surrealist nature of the game, but frankly, I felt it only detracted from the experience.  it made the game feel a little "cheap", which is a bit of a pity given I actually found the story itself rather interesting.

Now to it's credit, there are some particularly nice looking sections in the game, and some obvious spit and polish so to speak on the shaders - it makes some quite beautiful screenshots at points and the framerate is always a pretty solid number well above 60, so it's hardly a technically incompetent game; I just know that many of you would consider the assets and in particular the lack of strong animation a big strike against that game.

As an aside for those of you wondering how I knew this is Unity: along with the usual tics of the engine, in particular the uncanny and overdone shine off "shiny" textures, the game advertises in it's opening screens that it uses UFPS, a set of Unity programming scripts and assets for FPS game rapid development.

Adventure game elements are the chief addition
to the formula here, and they're interestingly done

Comparisons have been drawn in the promotional material to the likes of Normality, and honestly, that seems a pretty apt comparison, as they were both very odd, kind of rough-around the edges adventure games that have a certain cult appeal for their presentation of a bizzare world.  While Normality's had a very sort of "quirky" feel to it, The Last Dogma is a much more "grimdark" one, and rife with plenty of social commentary.  It's subtle enough outside of a couple exposition dumps that you might miss it - but more on that later.  Let's examine the tools with which you look at that world first: the adventure game elements.

Now, don't get me wrong - the sort of "look / use / talk" trifecta of adventure games is hardly a revolution, but they are rather easily used, just hotkeys, and they add quite a bit to what would otherwise be a fairly dull game.  The game is full of little bits of "flavour text" and while it breaks the fourth wall a bit too much for my liking in places, the game does a good job of at least making it's bizzare world seem interesting.

The world is strange and interesting,
but a little over-wrought in places with exposition dumps

Right, that done with, lets look at simultaneously the strongest element: the story.  Obviously there's only so much I can comment on it without venturing into the territory olf the kind of spoilers that get me spat on in the street, but suffice to say it's a very surrealist take on a rapid descent into madness of current political affairs.  It's rather interesting and I have to confess I found it captivating enough to sit through a game whose production values otherwise would have me give it a pass, so it's certainly notable if only for that fact.  Irrespective of that, however, it's not perfect.

The biggest problem with the story is that it has something of a habit of being overly-reliant on exposition dumps - they're not too bad except for the introduction framing device, and you usually can continue the game as you listen to them and as a result they don't hold you up, but I'd rather the game showed me rather than told me.  There seems to have been a real concern in the direction that gamers wouldn't "get it" and while that is usually the kind of stance that makes me very leery (we've heard it often enough out of the likes of Tale of Tales whom seem to have a hate-on for gamers) I can kind of understand it here.  There's enough plot ends going at any given time that it can be a bit confusing, but for my part, I rather quite enjoyed the sense of working out this bizarre world, and to it's credit it does work out.  I also enjoyed the fact that beyond a simple overaching point there really isn't any judgement made here, but I won't comment further on that, it'd be a bit of an ending spoiler.

The last fact worth mentioning in this case is there is some very good voice acting at work here, including a British one rather like the Stanley Parable's, and I was actually a little taken aback.  Except for one particular voice acting, and some rough mixing, this is some voice acting coming from a place of real talent, and I certainly didn't expect that given the visual elements of the game's quality.

The Final Word: Neutral - In the end, it’s hard to recommend The Last Dogma, as I know that the problems it has will kill it for many people: poor resolution textures, low-poly models, and a lack of animation all are some very rough craft.  Yet, if you can get past those rough edges, there’s an  interesting enough surrealistic story here to warrant a look, if one a little over-reliant on exposition dumps. One for the sale pile, if the idea of a surrealist first-person shooter/adventure game appeals to you.