The Witchfinder reviews Left Behind, a fun and much maligned series of Christian PC Games.
Left Behind IV – World at War – 70% (TWG Review Guidelines here)
The Left Behind franchise enrages left wingers. For those who don’t know, it is a future fiction setting based on a particular interpretation of the Book of Revelations – the last book of the Bible. The idea is that on a particular future day God dematerialises all true Christians and young children and takes them to heaven. Those ‘Left Behind’ are subject to the tender mercies of the Antichrist for the next 7 years (called the Tribulation) after he sets up a one-world dictatorship. A small group of people, calling themselves the ‘Tribulation Force’, attempt to spread the truth to the people as a last chance before Christ returns at the end of the 7 years.
Left Behind began as a lengthy series of books before being made into a set of films and then a series of computer games. A Big Budget Hollywood remake of the first film is scheduled for 2014.
The games themselves have attracted controversy with the game’s makers on one hand claiming this is a non-violent game featuring peaceful family friendly gameplay and on the other various left wingers claiming it is a theocratic death-fest where the dead pile up ‘like cordwood’. Rather than take either side’s word for it the Witchfinder decided to try it for himself.
Left Behind is available online at the publisher’s website. It can be downloaded or bought on CD and users are treated to a pretty standard installation menu and experience. On starting up players are treated to a cinematic opening sequence and a typical, high quality menu not dissimilar to Starcraft or other strategy games.
There are two campaigns provided (50 levels total) and the first is introduced with a cinematic quality video clip of the Global Community and their evil leader, Nicolae Carpathia.
Your reviewer played through the first 20 levels and then picked a couple of the later missions randomly. Both campaigns are set in a faithful, map accurate rendering of New York complete with signs and landmarks.
Mechanically the game plays a little bit like Gangsters 2. Each level is set in the city and players generally need to take over neutral buildings by purchasing them and then set up businesses, churches, training centres etc. The main difference is that Left Behind’s businesses are largely lawful, banks to provide money, churches to train disciples and musicians, food warehouses to feed the faithful etc.
The Witchfinder eagerly anticipated religious violence, but was sadly disappointed. This game largely delivers on its promises of non-violence. For the first 12 levels the player’s are only equipped with disciples (essentially street preachers) and musicians. The game’s mechanics largely revolve around religious conversion. Each character on the map has a unique name and a lengthy readable life story. They also have a ‘spirit’ level.
The good player must keep each of their units’ spirit levels above 60. The evil player must keep theirs below 40. If a character’s spirit level gets outside the permitted range the unit turns neutral in a literal puff of smoke. Disciples turn neutral units to your side, raising their spirit level as necessary. Musicians have an area effect attack, raising or lowering the spirit level of all units around them. This can enable them to turn hordes of heavily armed special forces into regular citizens.
Not until level 13 does the player get hold of so much as a single gun. Whilst later levels do allow tanks, humvees and gun-toting special forces they are prohibited from firing on civilians. As the screenshot below shows shooting unbelievers is simply not allowed. The left wingers were wrong. Who knew? The only valid targets are the announced minions of the antichrist, which include the black-clad soldiers of the ‘Global Community’ government and also occasional demons and evil spirits.
Even when guns are available musicians are a vastly superior tactical choice. An upgraded musician has an enormous area effect attack which increases the spirit level of the target. A squad of 7 together is enough to deal 42 points of damage, which means that they can literally turn hundreds of soldiers of the antichrist into spiritually tepid civilians with a single blast from their tambourines (the antichrist gets electric guitars). Soldiers on the other hand can only target the enemy one at a time.
Mission events are announced by video sequences in which a Global Community TV news anchor explains the events of each mission with steadily more implausible lies. (A plague of evil spirits that look vaguely like Lord Voldemort is described as an infestation of ‘wild dogs’). The quality of the character actors varies but overall it is pretty funny.
In short this is a fun, tactical game. Whilst there is some violence in later levels alternate solutions are provided and normally more effective. The game’s manufacturers are truthful in their description of the game as largely non-violent. It occurs the Witchfinder, however, that even if the game was a bloodbath they would have nothing to apologise for given what is considered acceptable in today’s game market.
The Witchfinder recalls one of his favourite games, Bloodrayne 2, featuring the eponymous heroine. Rayne is a lithe, pneumatic, red-headed half vampire wearing skin-tight black leather. The first level of Bloodrayne 2 features a level of violence reminiscent of an abattoir, with Rayne dismembering opponents, severing arms and legs as they run screaming with fountains of blood jetting from their stumps. Internal organs are displayed in great detail. If you bisect someone head to foot you can see the spine etc in both sides of the body. Rayne regains health by feeding on the blood of her enemies, whilst she moans orgasmically and she increases in power by performing acts of exceptional violence involving the scenery objects in order to earn ‘carnage points’ where other games have ‘experience’. The heroine’s bon-mots often mingle sex and violence.
The are no media campaigns against other, more recent violent games. So why the hell should a Christian game, uniquely, have to apologise for violence, let alone the tambourine fest that is Left Behind – World at War?
New York is rendered faithfully using accurate streetmaps in a workmanlike but slightly dated engine. The Witchfinder suggests that using higher resolution textures would improve matters. Extra marks are given for doing so much work to depict New York.
The game’s soundtrack is good, with a mix of Christian Rock and a driving guitar soundtrack on the main screen although there is a slight irony as the game depicts the musicians of the antichrist as guitar players. The soundtrack for the game was created by Emmy award-winning Chance Thomas, a well known musician who has worked on a slew of A-list titles. The investment clearly paid off.
Ease of Use / Glitches (10/25)
The game has some good UI features, for example it is possible to chain and partially automate unit movement between training buildings. It is fun and accessible with tooltips and in-game help and a tutorial.
The game has some glitches, which detract from what would otherwise be a higher gameplay score. For example in about 15 hours of play the reviewer encountered two or three crash-to-desktop halts and also minor bugs. For example the control icons for newly constructed buildings sometimes do not have a cool-down, allowing the player significant bonuses.
[The single player skirmish did not work for the Witchfinder. The game’s publishers were contacted and given the information they required, but have yet to provide a patch, bringing this category down to 10 marks.]
Conclusion – Overall 70%
Left Behind IV – World at War is a good game that largely delivers on its promises. It lost 10 points because single player skirmish would not work for the reviewer. The meat of the game is the single player campaign, but it would have got 80% otherwise. Not everyone will agree with the game’s theology, with even many Christians disagreeing on Left Behind’s particular interpretation. However the storyline is no more wacky than that of many purely fictional games. For secular parents and players it is a fun, thoughtful and significantly less violent than average game. For the more religious it may help to incite an interest in Christianity. Viewed purely as a game it is slightly off-beat, high-budget fun.