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Adv: Steer Madness [by Veggie Games Inc.]

Game Review: Steer Madness
Release Date: December 1, 2004
Developer: Veggie Games Inc.
Genre: Quest
System Requirements: 900 MHZ, 128 mb RAM, 16 mb Video Card, Windows 98/ME/2000/XP, DirectX 7.0+
Players: 1
Price: $19.95


Steer Madness is like the animal activist version of Grand Theft Auto. Cruising on your environmentally friendly bicycle to the accompaniment of a driving rock soundtrack, you, Bryce the Steer, race to complete timed missions of breaking-and-entering, theft, and sabotage in an attempt to force your city to go vegan and animal-friendly. Framing the missions is a poignant, if somewhat sparse, story about your escape from a slaughter-house bound truck and adaptation to life as a free animal, and growth and then sad ending of your friendship with the vegan girl who took you in. (Maybe I'm just weird, but I saw hints of a doomed romance here – after all you're a steer, and she’s human?)

While Steer Madness, like many indie games, suffers from being somewhat buggy and in need of some final editing and polish, I was very impressed with its unique concept, its use of humor and emotion, and the technical excellence of its soundtrack. I am not a vegetarian or particularly in favor of animal rights, and I was leery of being asked to do recklessly illegal missions, but I liked this game anyway. I was always discovering something new and interesting that I could do inside the game, like compete in a stunt-bike competition at the local skate park and operate a giant crane at a skyscraper construction site. It was extremely interesting and fairly fun and playable.

Graphics: 7
The graphics for this game were of irregular quality. Certain models like the bicycles and the baby seal were perfect, others like the humans and some of the architecture looked rough, and a few, such as the lab rabbits, were just plain deformed. Beyond the models, the intersection between the graphics engine and the physics engine for this game is rather buggy and unstable. There were various places where you could walk through an apparently solid object, and a few times I 'fell through' a wall only to discover that I was now the only thing on the ground, and all the buildings, cars, trees, and pedestrians were floating 50 feet above me where I couldn't interact with them. I also encountered the astonishing sight of a milk truck which had gotten stuck in a gyroscopic spin about 2/3 submerged in the street, such that only a corner or a tire occasionally rose through the surface of the street and then dove back under again. But fortunately serious graphical errors were not that common, and the game was playable and looked fairly good.

Sound: 10
I was totally blown away by the soundtrack for this game! Steer Madness was the award winner for innovation in audio at the 2005 Independent Games Festival and it was with good reason!  Steer Madness features radio-quality rock songs complete with lyrics, by indie musicians Angie Inglis, Anita Athavale, Feisty, Hector and The Winks. The voice actors for Bryce the Steer and Jacklyn the Vegan Girl were both appropriate to their characters and good at not sounding 'emotionally fake', a problem that often plagues voice acting. The sound effects for traffic, bicycle, and footsteps were quite realistic and blended well with the music. Essentially (and I have never said this about an indie game before) this game's sound is flawless. I can't find a single way in which it could have been improved, and I can only hope that the sound for my own game design project turns out as well.

Game Play: 7
Other than the buggyness (one of the missions is actually impossible to complete unless you download a patch from the game's website), the major problem with this game was that the auto-save points were too far apart. There should have been one at the successful completion of every objective, especially every timed objective. I got really darn sick of having to replay several minutes of game and skip 2 movies before I could re-attempt the particular objective I had failed at before. An option to skip a mission would also have been useful. The driving-the-soy-milk-truck mission in particular had a short time limit, and I failed at it 4 times (not counting 2 times the graphics engine crashed in the middle of the mission) before I gave up entirely. I realize I am not particularly quick or coordinated, but some of the timing challenges seemed excessively difficult when you take into account the fact that this game is being marketed to children as well as adults. (I won't comment on the dubiousness of giving children a game where most of the missions are illegal.) A choice between 'easy' and 'difficult' time limits would have been nice.

Another minor problem was that when a movie started playing the physics engine of the game did not get paused, and occasionally your bicycle, sometimes with you on it, rolled away while the movie was playing.

This game did have gamepad support, although puzzlingly the gamepad only worked in the game itself; for the game's menus I had to use the keyboard. Except for crashes and difficulty issues, the game was fun and playable, and it did have some features which worked really well, like the corner compass map and the bus/bike shop system for replacing a misplaced bicycle.

Value: 8
Twenty bucks seems like a fair price for this game, and, if you happen to be looking particularly for a game which teaches green values and awareness, it's a bargain.

Concept: 9
You play a steer who accidentally escaped being turned into hamburgers and now is a bicycle-mounted warrior for animal rights activism and other environmental issues – how much more creative can you get? The concept could have been developed a bit more thoroughly (Why is the steer humanoid? Is he traumatized from having been neutered?) but the development it did have was very interesting and made good use of humor (some of the street and store signs are hilarious) and pathos (although a few scenes were a bit melodramatic for my taste).

Fun: 7
Well, the bugs I mentioned above did make the game a bit less fun to play. And for a driving game, the driving wasn't all that interesting – the worst that could happen was that you ran into something and fell off your bicycle. Driving on the wrong side of the road should have at least resulted in honking, or preferably, being chased by the nearest police car. The stakes weren't very high and the tasks didn't challenge my intellect or dexterity that much – basically the concept was fun, but the gameplay could be improved.

Overall: 8
In conclusion, Steer Madness is unique, interesting, fun, and worth its purchase price, and it is a must-have if you are interested in indie music or animal rights activism.
Added: May 28th 2005
Reviewer: Mare Kuntz
Score:
Hits: 4770
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