Cliffski is back with a sleek, sexy update to Positech's life sim game Kudos. For those of you who don't already own Kudos, it is a turn-based sim which, although beautifully illustrated, is basically text, unlike The Sims where your avatar moves around and interacts with objects and other players.
The basic premise is still the same — you start as a bouncy, enthusiastic 20 year old waiting tables in a cruddy restaurant for minimum wage and tips. You have four friends with varying characteristics, and the choice of one activity a day (two at weekends). You can try to get a promotion at the restaurant, study medicine, law, performing arts, or just beef up your meditation chops. You also need to maintain yourself — keep fit, bathe, go to the dentist and so on, all whilst maintaining your social life... which can get expensive.
The play screen allows you to select the way you get to work, and one activity to do in the evening. The activity buttons allow you to pick something to do — sign up for classes, look for work, socialise with friends or chill out on your own. You can shop for things that will 'enhance' your personality and skills — for instance, books on confidence boosting or a set of barbells for good health. You need to keep a close eye on how your activities are affecting your characteristics — for instance, if you apply for a job with low confidence, the employers will think you're not really up to it and reject the application.
This is quite a challenging game, and I'm not entirely sure if it's strictly "casual" given how long you'd have to play to get through the ten years of the character's life. Its replay value is immense — OK, you've "won" the game as a TV chef, now give it a go as a computer programmer with an interest in ballet. Although it is tempting to play the game as a clickfest, you will be rewarded for paying attention to the text. Firstly, keeping a close watch on friend's personalities and who they get along with will help you create successful events, which will increase your positive characteristics and make your character more popular. Secondly, it's funny — although Cliffski has mentioned that he's deliberately made the game more upbeat, the acerbic sense of humour still shines through.
Analysis: So... what's so special about Kudos 2 if you do already own Kudos? The most noticeable thing is the artwork, a clean, sharp comic style very different from the 3D style of Kudos and Kudos: Rock Legend. If you like it as much as I do, it's by a couple of artists named Chris Hildenbrand and Jamie McKelvie, whose work can be viewed on his blog. Mostly, Kudos 2 is — as Cliffski freely admits — an enhanced and more sophisticated version of Kudos, rather than a completely new game. The character AI is more sophisticated, and characters will drop hints about activities that should be taken in or avoided. There are also new mini-games and more depth to previous activities.
I have a few quibbles about the activities. I know the prices of things can't be realistic in an independent game like this, but, for instance, why does it cost $2 to take a bath? Even allowing for utility bills, it doesn't cost that much to sit in a tub of hot water! It also makes me somewhat upset that there are so few cheap or free activities — one is soccer in the park, another is to go jogging alone — even though in the real world people do low-cost stuff together all the time (let's hang out in the park and drink goon!). Then your friends get snarky and leave you because you can't spend all your time socialising! Similarly, "Go to church" to increase your honesty and relaxation levels didn't impress me much, being a godless heathen. However, the beauty of the Kudos series is how easy it is to mod, so if I want to switch church with a vigorous session of ashtanga yoga, I can just change a line of code.