Back in 2008, I had my hands dipped in several indie games. While this exposed me to games I may have missed on my radar, I had no money to indulge in them past the demo. This brings the review to one game that I completely forgot about: Hinterland.
Hinterland follows the adventures of a character of your own creation. He (or she) has been sent to a remote location by order of the king to cultivate the furtile land into a budding town. The rewards for doing this daunting task is fame, fortune, favor among the king and running the town. Failure results in death. Let's be honest with each other, that's all there is to the plot.
And this game isn't fun because of the plot. This game is fun because it mixes two genres together: town building strategy and the hack-and-slash RPG. You begin with some weak equipment and some resources. The first thing you need to do is to create a base (hiring farmers, hunters and rancher so the village has food) while conquering the surrounding sites. This awards your character with fame, which is important as potential villagers will not join without a certain amount being reached. This fickle resource can be gained as quickly as it lost (dying and failing to fulfill requests).
At least it controls decently. All that's needed is a mouse and you point-and-click to what you want to do. After so many monster deaths, your character levels up. This allows some customization as a stat increases and the character gains a trait. Then you can go back into town and hire various citizens. Blacksmiths create weaponry and armor (depending on their specialization), priests pray for bonuses, alchemists create rare potions, merchants improve the economy, inn owners allow more visitors to stay at once, bards entertain the citizens and guards, well, guard.
However, the monsters are all at different levels across the board. Thus, you need to recruit your townsfolk to join you into battle. This is an awesome idea because it allows the character to travel further and defeat monsters more effeciently. This is an idea that is rarely used in a single player campaign.
There are problems with this game. First of all, there is no need to grab and hold onto loot as whatever you sell is only a gold piece. This makes it more difficult to hire townsfolk. Second, the level consistency is uneven. This means that a requested resource may be across the map and monsters that are at a higher level than you can handle as they are closer to town than they should be. As written earlier, this encourages you to create a party. On the other hand, it is very easy to get sent back to town unconscious. Finally, there's no method to control your party as the AI is quite simplistic: they attack until they run out of health. That means no team retreats, no micromanaging and no way to help them save for those rare health potions.
The graphics continue this trend as being mixed as well. The game looks good for an '08 indie game. The game has a nice retro charm as this would look great on an early PS1. The monsters are of the usual fantasy flair: ogres, bandits, wolves, skeletons, haunted scarecrows and orcs. The two issues with the graphics engine is two-fold and fall on both extremes of the spectrum. The first one is that the running animations are not that smooth, so it's a bit laughable though not game breaking. The other is much more severe: I have started a new game twice and my avatar slowly falls onto a black background with only the environmental decorations and characters seen. Once he lands, the gameplay resumes as normal until you quit and reload. Then the entire cycle begins again. I hate it because it break immersion.
Sound design is just plain decent and generic. Some of the sounds do not really fit, such as an ogre sounding like a dying dragon. At least the few tracks present are good. The main that is heard during gameplay is remarkably subtle. It starts low and slowly crescendos into a full blown epic piece before returning to its quiet state.
So is Hinterland worth your time? The answer is that it depends on your perspective on hack-n-slash RPGs. Yes, it can be completely engrossing when everything flows together. When it falls apart, the game collapses faster than a deck of cards.
Is this Hinterland worth the original asking price of $20? No. The game is too rough around the edges for the asking price. Now that it is on Desura for $10, it's a solid choice if you're in the mood for a different take on the hack-n-slash genre. In this regard, you make demands and navigate a wild countryside. How neat is that?