What do you say about a game like Antihero? On the surface, that’s easy. It’s an electronic board game that has a really simple premise: you’re a thief trying to take over everything and there are other thieves trying to stop you. It should be simple. Ah, but if only the developers at Versus Evil were not evil masterminds hell bent on making you weep noisily and messily into your keyboard through the sheer frustration of losing at such a brilliant game, I’m sure that would be the case.
Antihero is a turn based strategy game set in a thoroughly Dickensian world of urchins, dodgy priests, assassinations, and lovable yet stabby thugs. The gameplay is driven solely by victory conditions and the ability to outwit your opponent. In each stage, you must attain a combination of conditions along the lines of Bribery, Assassination, and Blackmail.
These are achieved by building up your gangs, recruiting urchins to work in your various buildings and moving through the skill trees to create assassins.
The artwork is perfectly suited to the premise and lends a lot of atmosphere to the game. Hand drawn, big headed and stylish, every character looks different and as a bonus, generate very little drag on even a modestly good graphics card.
The whole game feels very much like a long and interesting comic book: dark and fun with splashes of colour that are just muted enough to make you feel like you’re in a pre-clean industrial London.
The story campaign is immediately understandable and, although it gets repetitive fairly quickly, remains engaging the whole way through. The key, as you’ll see, is the vindictive way in which Antihero finishes you off in a thousand little ways; not so much at the closing of a level, but at the crumbling of a carefully laid plan that you were sure was going to work.
Whether you’re carefully building a beautifully strong gang or cramming an urchin army inside a building, something completely out of left field will crop up and absolutely ruin your day. The game is written in such a way that this never becomes wearying and, although the campaign is worryingly short, there are several other ways to enjoy yourself.
Speaking of enjoying yourself, multiplayer is where Antihero really shines. It’s almost as if the whole of the story campaign was built to teach you how to play against others. The frustration component also rises when you’re playing against fellow humans and Versus Evil have done well to keep the game as simple and well-paced as in the single player campaign.
Both the hot seat mode (players take turns at the same PC) and online are great fun and I’ve taken several lunchtimes to get a quick game in. Having someone around to the house who is able to play with you is an unexpected joy and definitely lends an extra layer of vindictiveness to the gameplay.
That said, even multiplayer begins to feel the same after a few games: strategies don’t differ much unless you’re changing opponents often and this can lead to some boredom. If you’re going to play with fellow humans, I suggest you change your own strategy each game to keep things fresh.
The “Skirmish against AI” mode opens up a few more possibilities and allows some pretty decent practice rounds while you’re whiling away the time between opponents. Customisable rules mean that you can tailor the game to your tastes and this gives some longevity to the process. Unfortunately, not even the hard level AIs are all that difficult to beat so you’ll quickly find yourself hunting online players or replaying the campaign.
Antihero is a game I’ll keep coming back to. It’s fun, simple, and easy to get going in a respectably short amount of time. I’ve found it to be challenging on the higher levels and I live in hope of expansions to lift the gameplay and breathe new life into what is already an excellent title.