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Indie Nation: Drug Wars

12:00 PM on 07.10.2009 // Anthony Burch

Indie Nation is about independent games. You could have probably guessed that.

To the best of my recollection, I've never played a game quite like Drug Wars. After a remarkably turbulent, accidental release on Steam a couple of months ago, the game formerly known as Merchants of Brooklyn has finally been uploaded under a new title.

And it's awful.

And it's awesome.

It has one of the most epic multiplayer modes I've ever seen from an indie title. It has an abysmal singleplayer mode. The graphics are wonderfully weird. The hand-to-hand combat is like the bastard stepchild of Zeno Clash. The guns are ridiculously satisfying. You can grab a human foot, charge it with energy, and throw it like a grenade. 

You can grab a human foot, charge it with energy, and throw it like a grenade.  

For all Drug Wars' many, many faults, it's been quite a while since I've seen a game with such a weirdly alluring style. It's over-the-top in nearly every way possible, so fully dedicated to the art of being alternately ridiculous and brutal that it becomes surprisingly easy to ignore design faults that would easily ruin less imaginative games.

Get the game off Steam if you're so inclined, or keep reading for my further thoughts on this weird indie specimen.

Never before have I played a game so enjoyable, in spite of itself. The singleplayer mode takes place in what basically amounts to a Blade Runner universe, except everyone looks like a caveman. This single fact alone somehow made me forgive the fact that the entire backstory is delivered through an overly long, noninteractive cut scene with awful voice acting.

It's like every single thing the game does wrong -- and it does a lot wrong -- is almost immediately counteracted by something so beautifully insane, so fearlessly ridiculous, that the whole product somehow feels greater than the some of its parts.

The guns, for instance, all feel weirdly familiar -- there are obvious shotgun, sniper rifle, and rocket launcher equivalents -- but they've got such a brutality to them, such bizarrely fast firing rates, that they feel way more goddamn enjoyable than they have any right to.

And, yeah, gibbing your enemies means you can pick up their individual bodyparts, infuse them with explosive power by using your Super Awesome Robot Hellboy Arm, and throw them at other baddies. This is probably one of the few reasonably new things Drug Wars does, and it's satisfying as shit. I think I literally laughed aloud the first time I took out three thugs by tossing a psychokineticized arm at them. I felt like a grindhouse version of Gambit.

The singleplayer really only exists to show off the basic mechanics that exist in the multiplayer (this is, presumably, the main reason the singleplayer is a buggy, weirdly structured, instadeath-filled mess). I knew Drug Wars was a multiplayer game first and foremost, but I nonetheless couldn't contain my audible surprise upon entering a multiplayer match and seeing a Battlefield 1942-sized map full of motorcycles, cars, hoverboats, and flying, machine-gun-armed death machines. Indie games that attempt Drug Wars' level of sheer scale, especially in terms of multiplayer, almost always end up collapsing inward on themselves from overambitiousness. That Drug Wars' multiplayer is as goddamn huge and fun as it is, is truly remarkable.

The multiplayer doesn't save everything wrong with the base mechanics (the fistfighting sucks whether you're online or off), but it puts a greater focus on the cool stuff. The multiplayer, in my experience, felt much less buggy than the singleplayer version. Granted, I was only able to play with about three other people at a time, so your mileage may vary. 

It's a truly weird thing, seeing a massive multiplayer map filled only by two or three people. I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel a twinge of sadness upon seeing this hugely detailed, interestingly designed game map with numerous vehicles and weapons with damn near no one inside of it. It could be that Drug Wars will eventually garner a more definite and permanent fan base -- I can definitely see it becoming something of a cult classic -- but it'd be somewhat heartbreaking to see these maps remain permanently unpopulated.

Anyway, Drug Wars is one of the shittiest enjoyable games I've played (or perhaps one of the most enjoyably shitty), and it may be worth looking into if you've got a fair amount of patience and a few friends to play with. It's only $10 on Steam -- a price which is honestly a bit surprising, given the amount of content -- so it may be worth a leap of faith.


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