Left Behind: Eternal Forces

Let me just start by saying I really wanted this to be a good game. I dig post-apocalyptic games, and the world after a biblical rapture would be a great place to set a post-apocalyptic game. If nothing else, it would be good to have an example of a religously-themed game that wasn't dreadful.

LBEF is not another dreadful game based on Christianity, it is instead a dreadful game based on the Left Behind book series, which is an important distinction, and one the developers do stress in their FAQ. However, it will inevitably be classified as a Christian game, and while it's not the worst I've seen, it does little for the credibility of the genre.

Disclaimer: This assessment comes from playing the beta demo, which may not reflect the final state of the game.

In the interest of getting this post written, I'm going to go ahead with a quick outline that summarizes what the game does right, wrong, and wrong, in the time-honored "Good, Bad and Ugly" format.

The Good:

One thing I really dig about LB:EF is that each unit, regardless of alignment, has their own name and life story, which the player can view if so desired. Honestly, this is a really fascinating direction: making the player see each unit as an individual person, even if it is a little haphazardly implemented, such as your white soldier being named "Jamal" (naturally, all of your units are white).

Also, the theme song is catchy. I don't know if it's from the movies or not, but it's a good theme tune.

The Bad:

Much like the apocalyptophiliac subset of Christianity Left Behind represents, the game involves a great deal of waiting. It takes quite a long time for one's units to get anywhere. It takes a long time to convert a building into a food court to feed your units. It can take a long time to find a wandering "undecided" unit to convince to join your side. Oddly, actually converting units is the only thing that's done quickly; a couple seconds of street-corner proselytizing and they've accepted Jesus into their hearts and are thus ready to do the player's bidding. Waiting for progress bars to finish up is not unusual in RTS games, but typically the player has something else to do while waiting. The mission structure in LBEF was so linear that often I had to spend 5 minutes making a disciple wander the streets trying to find an unsaved soul. Who knew they could be so difficult to find?

Despite taking on the role of... well, God, I guess, the player is far from omnipotent. It can be really difficult to pick out friendly units from the distant view required to see over the towering skyscrapers blocking the view. Buildings which can be purchased are difficult to distinguish from the buildings that merely get in the way. Furthermore, the music can't be turned off. It can be turned way way down, but not off. Ugh.

While the mechanic of converting units to the faith is intriguing, these units have the frailest conviction ever. Merely walking my units past some enemy musicians who played their "screaming guitars" (actually, a ball of light silently hovered over their heads), caused them to forsake Jesus and disappear, probably to fornicate.

And the sound design is pretty terrible. Despite the fact that they apparently inspire satanism, "screaming guitars" announce the arrival of a new soldier, or medic, or musician or construction workers. I was trying to play a merciful God, but every time one of my medics said "I'm prepping for surgery!" anytime they were ordered to walk somewhere, I searched in vain for the Smite hotkey. Amateurish voice acting is not uncommon in video games, but I had hoped they could at least get Kirk Cameron to participate.

The Ugly:

Despite the developers' assertions that they are aiming for an E or T rating, they've already committed the cardinal error of allowing the player to order his units to kill civilians. In most cases, being able to kill innocent humans with impunity will earn an M-rating, but this game may get a pass. We'll see. Soldiers do apparently take a spiritual hit of about 1 point out of 100, but a quick prayer will clear that right up. To summarize: Listening to rock music = rapid loss of faith, Being ordered to kill non-combatants = minor twitch of the conscience.

In fact, I don't know if this is an official trailer or not, but you can view the game in action in this trailer. The green units are Tribulation Force members (God's army, essentially), the white units are neutral, and the red units are enemies... wait... there are no red units in that trailer. That's right, every single person you see fired upon by the Tribulation Force in this trailer is an innocent civilian.

One other thing that seems like an unusual decision is that, after converting an undecided unit into either a "Friend" (male) or "Friend Woman" (female), the player chooses which profession they must train in. "Friends" can become soldiers, musicians, medics, construction workers, you name it. "Friend Women", however, have the career option of medic, and that's apparently it. I suppose the devs had a hard time working the "homemaker" unit class into the game. That's right, even in post-apocalyptic 21st century New York, women still got to know their place.


With five years in development, they either put a lot of time and effort into this game, or spent a lot of time dicking around with marketing and licensing nonsense. Given the apparent state of the game, I'd say it's most likely the latter. Everything about this title has the unmistakable aura of simply not trying very hard.

To be fair, it was destined to fail (and for all I know, it could still succeed financially, I'm just making an educated guess here that it won't be lauded as an instant classic). Franchise titles are always hard, since you have to wrap gameplay around pre-existing themes and stories, and considering the garbage they had to shoehorn into this game, they had an uphill battle towards fun.

I don't think I'm making too outrageous an assumption when I say that the overlap between the Left Behind audience and the audience for video games in general is not too large. And to pick a typically more hardcore genre like an RTS for their first game really shows great confidence or poor judgement, which is also reflected in the fact that an expansion pack is already planned. Let's hope that the demo discs they plan to hand out at churches (always a great place to advertise) convince some of the flock to shell out fifty bucks.

The developers have put themselves in an interesting position, though. If the gaming press pans the game (which they most likely will, because it's not a very good game), they can always claim it's bias against a Christian-themed game that generated the poor reviews. We'll have to wait until next month to see if this is the tactic they adopt, or if they simply take their lumps and try to improve their next title.


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