GAMING: Half Hour Games – Expat

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Expat is a game released on June 2, 2014 by Blendo Games for the Space Cowboy Game Jam, a collaborative game design event inspired by Cowboy Bebop with the theme of combining both the American and final frontiers.

We’re always excited to play games by Blendo, as they always have a massive amount of charm that we feel represents the best qualities of the independent game market. Expat is no exception, as it’s a game about a real rough-rockin’ hombre out to earn a little extra scratch with one of the oldest professions in the world: knocking troublemakers on their heads and turning them in for cash. Fly across the solar system and make friends, hunt enemies, and get wads of cash or die trying.

After the jump, we’ll blast off after the most valuable bounty of all: a game review.

The half hour

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Expat, first and foremost, is mostly unfinished. Even its readme outright states that lots of things are broken, and the game’s visual effects are primitive and not entirely rendered. Even at the very beginning, we were greeted with a profoundly broken main screen (not pictured). It’s not until we resized the game resolution to our monitor’s size that we saw the menu in its uncompressed form.

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Expat begins in an unnamed and randomized solar system, where you are alone in your ship. From there, the game tells you nothing. There is no hand holding here! It took us some time to figure out exactly what to do and where to go to begin playing, but once we got the gist of it, the game flowed easily from there.

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The game doesn’t have anything in the way of storyline, so the standard routine is to find a bounty, hunt it, and get the reward. The first place you need to go is to the local bounty station on a nearby planet. Accept a bounty, and a list of contacts is added to your cellular phone. Each one is a certain person related to the perp – a parent, a friend, a lover, an ex-lover – and will gladly rat out the mark as soon as you call them.
Once you’ve discovered your perp’s location, you land on the planet they’re hiding out on and find information at the various bars and taverns dotting the surface to pinpoint their location. After some hunting, you’ll find the guy and engage in combat.

Combat is very simple: you stay in a circle area close to your target to do damage to them, while also avoiding the little dots they shoot at you that cause body damage. When you take damage, an amusing list of injuries along the lines of a “splintered wrist” or an “enflamed kidney”. If you manage to stay in the circle to do enough damage, you pick up their body and can carry it back to the bounty station for your cash reward.

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Of course, nothing in space is that easy. If the target manages to get away from you, they can hijack a nearby spaceship and take off into orbit. You’ll have to follow them in your own ship, and battle them in the void of space. The rules are the same as on foot, but take place on a larger scale and with much more enemy hit points. If you can defeat them while in space, you’ll still get their body to take back to the station. If you fail, they can move into the system’s warp gate and warp off to safety, never to be seen again.

No boundy hunter should have to do their job alone, and fortunately the local bar The Born Loser is a popular hangout for members of your profession. Buy a fellow bounty hunter a Space Beer, or maybe a costly bowl of Space Ramen, and they’ll become a friend for life. You can call on them to help out as a second pair of fists and/or lasers when picking up your bounties – but it comes with a cost. They’ll expect you to help them out as well, calling you randomly to help nab a target that’s taken off into space.

After the fact…

From here, you’ll get stuck in a loop. Get a bounty, hunt the bounty, nab the bounty, turn the bounty in. You’ll have to jump out into space every now and then to help out your bounty hunter friends, and quite often your marks will manage to escape from your clutches, but overall the game has a steady rhythm that can get kind of tedious after some time.

The game was designed for a jam, and is hugely unpolished. The graphics are incredibly simplistic – planets are represented by simple circles with names on them, and people walking around on the surface are just dots. This lo-fi charm is something we love about Blendo Games, but the lack of detail runs much deeper than graphics alone.

Expat is riddled with simple oversight glitches that can make the game unplayable. If a bounty escapes through a warp gate, you’ll never see them again, but they will never be removed from your menu and bartenders on the planet they were spotted on will still tell you where they were last seen. You can die in space, but if your spaceship is still flying and it manages to float over to The Born Loser, you can heal up and fly away just fine. There was even an option that you could ask your bounty hunter friends out for romantic dates, but we never got that to work no matter how many times we tried or helped our friends catch their targets.

Completable in half an hour: Sort of?
You can get the full Expat experience within the first half hour, as the arcade-style gameplay simply loops while your job risks and monetary concerns get sequentially larger. We hesitate to call it completable as there’s no ending, but we’re sure that you’ll feel done by then.

3.5 out of 5 – Worth Trying (Wouldn’t Play It Again)
We felt tempted to skew the rating as Expat has all the wonderful charm of a Blendo game, but we can’t overlook the fact that many people may not like it as it’s simply not a finished game. We sense a huge amount of potential in this game, and desperately hope that Brendon will return to it sometime after Quadrilateral Cowboy has been finished.

That said, we still hope you’ll give it a try – and please, feel free to leave your thoughts about this game in the comments!

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