Editor's Note: In the interests of full disclosure, we wanted to mention that Trever did an interview with the developers on his own website. You can find it here.
Afterlife Empire is a tower defense / building management hybrid game developed by Autobotika and published by The Fine Young Capiyalists. An eclectic mix of tower defense and Sims, Afterlife Empire is a fun game with a bit of a mobile feel. In this game you play a newly dead ghost setting up your own haunted house. You gain scare points, which you spend to add to your house, but that are also used to activate your scares. The objective is to scare the right people to keep them away, while scaring just enough of the rest to gain points without your awareness stat getting too high. The game blends humor, jabs at celebrities, journalists, and reality shows while you play your way through unlocking a huge cast of characters to scare.
Afterlife Empire has a characterful and colourful art style
By far the best quality of the game is the bright, vibrant graphics and unique art style. Animations are smooth and humorous at times. I particularly liked watching the idiot character randomly open his mouth wide enough to shove his own fist in it. The style is certainly something that would appeal to a broad audience of various ages, cute without looking childish, clever and detailed enough to appeal to adult gamers.
The sound and music are decent, but they age quickly. It reminds me of older console games with a fun musical score, but one that grows repetitive. Thankfully if you feel the same way it’s easy to turn down, or off, both the music and effects. During some points in the game the music because dire, indicating something bad is going on, but once you resolve the issue through game play, the dramatic music doesn’t always go away which can become distracting. The sound effects themselves are well done, but suffer from the same problem as the music. Your ghost avatar has some great sound effects, but eventually you are scaring people in the dozens and the chorus of high-pitched screams takes its toll on the hearing and nerves.
The overall feel of the game is a lot like a mobile game rather than a PC game. The menu layout, limited view, and awkward mouse control makes me feel like it would be easier to play on a touch screen. I was unable to find any sort of screen rotation, or zoom out to a level I really wanted to, all of which made it feel like I was playing on a tablet rather than a PC.
As with many casual games,
the design of the game is fun, but gets repetitive
Overall the game was fun for the first half hour to forty five minutes. The game is challenging when you’re learning to play, and it’s easy to find yourself overwhelmed with it and lose. Once I got the hang of the game, and a good strategy going, it became a bit stale. That said, some gamers do enjoy some of the mobile games available that play in a similar fashion. Toward the end it started to remind me of a game that never has an end, no matter what you do. The goal to the next level increases exponentially, and I played until I reached a point where I realized it was just going to be more of the same for who knows how long.
I think the biggest hurdle the game has for longevity is options. There is quite a bit you can do to build your house, make it bigger and better, but the best strategy I found used a tiny percentage of the build options. Added content and mods would go a long way to increasing the replay factor of the game. As it is, for me, I would not replay this game without some additional content, increased challenge, or possibly a co-op mode.
The mechanics themselves are well done. You are required to manage a level of scare points, while keeping your awareness points below a certain threshold. Too many awareness points, the measurement of people believing in your existence, and cops and bulldozers show up. Too few scare points and you will find yourself unable to scare people to increase your scare points, or build additions to your house. There are a few balance issues. As I stated above, the game loses its challenge once you get a good strategy going. I got to a point where I had surplus scare points and could add rooms and traps to my house with increasing frequency, and keeping the bad people out of the house wasn’t very difficult. While you want people to go in and get scared, there are a handful of characters you don’t want anywhere near it.
Controls are fairly limited and a bit buggy
The actual controls themselves were fairly limited. Mouse clicking had a couple of glitches later in the game, where clicking on the menu item did not switch to that option. I also did not like being unable to zoom out further, especially as the size of the house increases. Those two were the major frustrations, along with not being able to turn the camera or objects. What was there, however, was intuitive. Moving the camera from side to side and top to bottom worked just like any other game, and you could make it go faster by pushing the mouse to the edge of the screen and using the arrow keys. Menus weren’t cluttered, so finding what you needed was easy, and the interface was simple and easy to read. The general point and click movement, and menu selection is easy to learn so that you can focus on watching the game rather than trying to remember what button does what. I hit a rocky start after picking the game up, running into a bug that made the mouse inoperable while in the tutorial, although it is worth mentioning that the developers update regularly and have stated they are working on this one. Unfortunately the only way to currently play it for me, and many others, is to escape out of the tutorial. Once past that hitch, game play went relatively smooth for me.
All that said I think one thing that could bring players back would be the challenge to build the house differently, try out different flow for the living visitors, and see how the different traps might work. A lot of gamers enjoy seeing how many different ways there are to play a fairly simple puzzle game, and this game has just enough options to appeal to them. Adding competition, opposing spirits, or other twists would also make the game something to return to.
The plot hook is simple but effective
All in all there isn’t much of a story. You learn, at the beginning of the game, that you have recently died. The game begins with a mentor, of sorts, who is easier to just call Bob. Bob, a zombie rather than a ghost, helps the player through the tutorial, which I did see part of, with humorous jabs at the living, and your sort of noob-ghost status. Throughout the game Bob introduces the new characters you’ve unlocked, and gives you some hints on how to deal with them. Often the introduction of a new character includes some snarky remark about what they do, or how their human faults will be a hindrance or a boon to your spectral pursuits. The story itself though, seems pretty bland. You’re a ghost, your job is to scare people, make your house bigger, and scare more people, and that’s about it.