Gemcraft Chapter Two: Chasing Shadows

 

A CUT ABOVE

Journey with me now to 2008; the terabyte hard drive was spoken of only in whispers, Obama’s Hope Machine loomed upon the horizon, China proved it was massive, frightening, and coordinated in its Olympic Games, and I was a junior high school student shedding a pound a day and growing an inch a week. It was a tumultuous time for everyone, probably, but it was also at this time that games made for free and posted online, called “Flash games” (after Adobe Flash, the program which had a firm monopoly on cheap and easy homemade games) began to grow in ambition. Case in point was a new member of the popular “tower defense” genre: Gemcraft.

Gemcraft caught my eye, and the eye of many other bored, young idiots on the internet, because it stood out as having altogether more strategy involved than most cheap, online games. It featured the mechanic of creating and customizing your own towers to defend your base by combining different traits and ideas, added RPG elements of player progression, and by combining the player’s health and tower building resources together, created a game more focused on economy than simple placement. The Gemcraft series stands as part of the elite group of free, online flash games that have pages and pages of user-written guides, unique to every site that hosted them.

That, as those of us with calendars and arithmetic skills know, was six years ago. Since then, there have been three more Gemcraft titles, the latest of which came out mere days ago, and is (somewhat confusingly) numbered the second chapter in the series. Since then, the series’ creator and developer, known anonymously only as Gameinabottle, has been hard at work testing, creating, programming, and perhaps most importantly, communicating with their players and following their guides, high score strategies, and feedback closely.

The result is Chasing Shadows, and their efforts show. The game contains multitudes of mechanics, a comprehensive yet easy and aesthetic UI, strategically created levels, game modes, and mechanics. Going through it all, one gets the feeling of a master honing their craft. Chasing Shadows, like its predecessors, is free to play, but I’ve played much, much sloppier games that cost me $60. Everything is tight and orderly and locks into place, and despite being a nearly brand-new release, I’ve had zero bugs in three or four hours of gameplay.

I should note that while you can play the game from start to finish to secrets for free, there are some player skills only available to the premium edition, which stands at an exorbitant sum of $4.99. There’s also an in-game currency system that you can exchange your real currency for, because microtransactions can buy a lot of ramen for starving programmers. Even so, the game is optimized to prevent abuse of the currency to make the game too easy, and $5 is outrageously cheap for such a well-made game.

And if you’re not satisfied, don’t worry. Player feedback forums are already buzzing, the games developers are sending smiley faces to complaining players, and patches are already in the works. Failing that, you could always wait for it to make its way to Steam; it’s been greenlighted and will be ported over in October.

For now, it can be played at its original host: Armorgames.com.

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