We Are The Caretakers—and We Are Boring
"We Are The Caretakers is a prime example of experimentation with gaming concepts, and I applaud it for that; but only for that."
Games like this are difficult to review from a moral standpoint. It’s clearly part of the developer’s fledgling game development journey, a reflection of their abilities and knowledge at the time. Do you coach or critique, do you be polite or blunt?
I have encountered this situation enough times in my life that being blunt is just more efficient for all parties involved. So, allow me to be blunt.
I have not finished this game. I am well-aware of the annoyance that people get when a reviewer says they didn’t finish X but put out a review acting like they know the full package. Let me reassure you that I don’t know the full package, and I don’t wish to know it. I have played bad Next Fest demos for longer than this game was struggling to keep my interest.
Caretakers' gameplay is a hodgepodge with two layers: Home Base, with team management and research trees; and The Field, which itself has two layers: the field map for territory control, and turn-based combat. If Home Base sounds similar to XCOM, congratulations; you got suckered like I did.
You play as the eponymous caretakers and begin with the tutorial mission of finding out who is poaching a species that can only be described very loosely as chibi rhinos. This mission will clue you into two aspects that are incredibly tedious about this game.
Fog of War in Caretakers acts differently than most games you’ve played. Instead of a sight radius around your units, each map of the Field is divided into regions that all require scouting before you can enter them.
Scouting them reveals the region for the rest of the mission but requires your units to stand on the edge of the region to begin the process. Wait for somewhere near 10 seconds and you can enter the area.
If it sounds tedious, you’re right. The shapes of regions look like gerrymandering happened here, and maps can have double digit numbers of regions. Your units can bumble into the tips of regions and forced into scouting an area you’re not even interested in, on the way to your destination.
When you have to path around the quickest route, something very stupid is going on. The game is very janky, and nothing displays this better than the turn-based combat.
Turn-based combat lives and dies depending on its visual or audio feedback. Advance Wars has still sprites that flash upon taking non-lethal damage, but the sound design compliments these sprites by actually making them sound like vehicles or weapons of war. In Caretakers, you have animations with weird visual indications of the attack and disappointing sounds effects.
Guy spins around and unfurls an arm? This translates into a meteor shower attack with pathetic impact. Want to do a bum rush charge? Move the character across the ground like all you programmed was two coordinate key-frames but sped it up. No attacks feel satisfying to use, nor support abilities. Everything feels either flat or unintentionally silly.
This sounds like nitpicking, but with how often you’ll be fighting, this becomes numbing to the point of boredom. The developer seemingly was aware of this, which is why one of the earliest tutorials was explaining how to turn on auto-combat and how to increase the game speed to “breeze through low level fights”. It reflects a feeling that the developers had little faith in the combat being entertaining.
When You Want to Pause the Game...
The game is not well built, and nothing explains this fact better than the “Pause Menu.” It is in quotes for a specific reason, it’s a pause menu in only name, as the game continues to play in the background. “Not every escape menu is a pause menu, you know.” True, but I didn’t name it.
The only aspect of this game that I can wring some positive opinion from is the character designs, specifically their attire. It’s fairly unique and I liked what I saw in the marketing materials. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t match that graphical fidelity.
We Are The Caretakers is a prime example of experimentation with gaming concepts, and I applaud it for that; but only for that. As I've said, I don't like dunking on fledgling projects, but it's really the best way to learn what works and what doesn't. Nothing about its mechanics are fun to engage with. All I know is that I hope these aren't the caretakers I get meet when I'm older. I'll die of boredom.