Underrail promises to be a more old-school approach to post-apocalyptic scenarios of the variety seen in Metro 2033 and Fallout. Unlike those specific games and their follow-ups, Underrail follows a more turn-based structure in terms of gameplay much like the Ultima games of decades past. So it was under a chance of fate that I was afforded the opportunity to evaluate an early alpha of the Underrail game (originally developed under the identity structure of Timelapse Vertigo prior to a change of plans and structural direction).
Before I started my Underrail play session, I selected the new game trigger and set my initial feats, stats and skills. Once that’s done I proceed to start my game session, view the opening cutscene and get ready for a scheduled mission briefing (after securing my residential unit’s access key, that is).
However, before I can get my first task I have to run some errands within the station facilities. Apparently the resident medical lead, Dr. Pasquale, wants to go over some of my character’s test results. Evidently, it sounds as if something’s wrong with me at first – but instead of sickness reports (and thankfully so), I find out that I have in-game psionic abilities. Of course, they have to be unlocked in some way due to inhibitors that keep them dormant – something about being too much for infants to control, hence the need to awaken them over time. Medical progress in the world of the Underrail, on the other hand, now has a more efficient solution in the form of a red pill that I’m quickly provided with, similarly to a certain scene from The Matrix (and with an eerily similar result, since my in-game avatar blacks out and drops to the ground).
Upon recovering, I find out more about the psionic genetics of the Underrail game world. First off, the disabling of the neural inhibitor resulted in a somewhat unexpected psionic rush, but no real damage was done – I just have some rather decent psionic capabilities in the game world. I’m then provided with three decent choices for psionic education: Quinton, who’s versed in Metathermics; Bisson, who teaches psychokinetics; and Ezra, who apparently knows about mind control.
From there it’s down to Agronomy and Pens to see Quinton, who makes a promise to provide me with some training in exchange for killing a rathound for science. Evidently a prior experiement with live specimens ended in disaster, so I obviously have to pick up where Quinton left off. I receive some muscular degeneration darts for that – however, I was expecting a crossbow as well so I check one of the shelves to see if I can get one with that approach
Big mistake: I only get meager supplies in exchange for a can of whoop-ass. Turns out that stealing supplies in the world of the Underrail will leave you with more problems than you get in benefits, so it’s not like Dragon Quest games where you can pickpocket the belongings of NPCs with implied permission to do so. As indicated by a red hand-with-raised-finger icon when hovering over the shelves (as opposed to a black one that gives the all clear), making that mistake draws immediate opposition from the responsible authorities, owner, etc.. I obviously didn’t want to have my reputation marked with that goof-up (or worse), so I abandoned my unsaved game with an intent to start over later on.
Once I did get a fresh start (and had repeated the processes up to that point without triggering the gaffe again, of course) I manage to get things right the second time by using the locker as opposed to the shelves to get the crossbow that I need. From there I headed to the armory, picked up my gun and headed to the shooting range (though I did take a few minutes to get my bearings – and to load up, which didn’t happen until I had the gun in hand and loaded through the reload current weapon option). After hitting the targeting panel enough times for ten hits, I return to Tanner’s office to get my first assignment in the Underrail world. Basically, I have to get rid of some rathounds in order to proceed to another location within the game where I will need to reactivate outpost facilities by flipping the power switches back on.
Unfortunately, I don’t even make it that far: three rathounds immediately ambush, overpower, bite and knock me down to the ground in either the first or second wave, dead as doornails are. And by that, I mean repeatedly. Over and over again, with absolutely no end whatsoever. Even picking up (and equipping) my personal body armor from my own quarters room did absolutely nothing to even my odds, nor did going to Bission to learn about telekinetic punch-bagging. Hopefully, the game developer will have this rebalanced later on – I’m damn near close to using those muscular degeneration darts to help, and even then I’m not sure if they’re going to help me out in that respect.
Even so, I was able to get a handle on combat relatively quickly. Depending on the weapon used and/or distance moved, you can get one, two, three or however many shots at a foe (or however much distance) out of a turn before you have to let the other side do whatever it wants to you. This is as indicated by an on-screen turn progress meter, and thus is part of how I got beat up due to those rathounds and their maneuverability/attack ratios.
I did also try bartering for supplies of course, but as it stands that could be a real pain in the a**. That’s because you barter with items that you have in your inventory, rather than with a cash or credit system. In fact, even though you do get credits to use for certain actions, they’re only really used for specific instances (such as learning that telekinetic punch that I mentioned earlier). Not only that, but they even appear to be station-state specific, much like 2012-era dollars and euros.
Problem is, the current implementation was stacked against me, since I was unable to barter for the blood boost item that would have allowed me to refill my HP mid-battle. Even with the credits that I started with, the refusal/acceptance meter stayed in the red – thus making the bartering process a definite no-go for me. Again, it’s an issue that could use some more work in the future.
As it stands, Underrail looks to be a promising old-school RPG adventure that could be a definitive Ultima-style answer to Metro 2033 and Fallout. Considering this is alpha code that we’re talking about, some of the game structure is currently a bit rough as described herein. With some extra polish, Underrail could become one of the big throwback games with a chance to invigorate the masses who remember the turn-based RPG experiences of decades past. The full version has yet to be released, but you can buy in now and get the alpha from Desura for $9.99 or GamersGate for $9.95.