Clutch: Artifacts, my ass! This is a kill car!

, | Game diaries

My diary informs me that I’ve come to Atom-city to face my fears and then return. It never goes into what those fears might be, but presumably they involve the natural fear anyone would have about staying in the company of a city of high-energy physics zombies. That kind of living situation presents various problems that you don’t have to deal with outside of it, so anyone would have some fears about whether or not they’re up to whatever they turn out to be. There is a certain amount of inference and interpretation in appreciating Clutch’s story.

Like any game, Clutch presents the player with a variety of problems and teaches them the tools and approaches to solve them through a combination of handholding and player exploration. One of the smaller problems and its solution is presented in the picture up above. Problem: there’s a zombie in front of your car. Solution: run over it. Problem: how do you get the maximum benefit out of hitting a zombie head-on? Solution: have the front guard grill option equipped on your vehicle, so that not only does the zombie get killed, it also gets sucked into the engine to be converted into turbo boost. You can see how this ties rather elegantly into further problems such as, how do I go faster to win this race?

After the jump, hunting problems and solutions

The first episode of Clutch unfolds its unlockables at a brisk pace. With each mission done, map markers will appear for further side missions, which will reward me with money to spend on a small choice of other cars and upgrades. In between missions, I’m left to my own devices.

For the most part, the open city serves as a backdrop to race to different mission starting points in and not much else, but there are other cars zooming about. They’re collecting artifacts, one of the major pastimes of the Hunter faction. Artifacts are small objects that spawn in various semi-random locations, floating quietly in midair. They’re a side effect of the collider accident, and in great demand to both sell outside the city after smuggling (apparently, they’re good power sources), and for religious reasons by the crazy cult of “Reapers” who operate by the docks. (Problem: how does one collect artifacts? Solution: by hitting them with your car. Sometimes when you have a hammer, everything really is a nail!) I can collect the artifacts before they get to them for a money boost, and I can destroy the other cars for more money as well.

Specially marked clones of my car, identical except for a different paint job, spawn fairly often, and if I chase them down and hit them hard and repeatedly enough to make them explode, I can use that paint job for myself. This is one of the more satisfying mini-challenges in the game, as the final high-speed crunch and bursting into flame releases the tension from umpty near-misses from misjudging the paint job’s vector. It’s a small disappointment each time I realize I’ve acquired all the skins available for a given car this way.

Each plot mission in the Hunter episode presents a new event. A demolition derby here, a basic circuit race there, competing against the clock to collect artifacts, competing against other racers to grab a certain number out of a finite pool of artifacts, elimination races, etc. None of the events are exercises in precision and control, tuned instead to present a general state of violence and forgiving sloppiness. Racers smash into each other, positions are easily gained and lost and gained again. “That was…Wow! Damn crazy thing. It’s like in the F1, but together with blackjack and whores,” my diary informs me after one early race. My character is clearly already feeling the effects of so many collisions, but he’s having a good time, and so am I.

After a few more story missions, my character’s not so sure he’s having a good time. It’s not that he’s having a bad one, but more that he’s getting overwhelmed. Originally, he felt that he had a place in the world, knew where he was in the scheme of things, but as he gets deeper into the Hunters, that sense of place is gone. Those cultists are troubling, and there’s not much of a sense of progress. He’s locked into an endless circle, it seems.

This meshes well with my gameplay experience. Part of the rapid unfolding of new game elements makes the upgrade treadmill stretch further than I make progress on it. The cost of the two new cars available take away the short term option of buying the more advanced upgrades. Some of the event types are, in the early phases of learning them, decidedly more entertaining than the others. There’s an event that involves racing against a pack of other cars for artifacts, and as soon as one is collected, another spawns at one of a number of locations in the rest of the city. As it goes along, the other cars are increasingly spread out, and much of the time, as soon as I get my bearings toward the next target, it’s been collected and I have to reacquire bearings to the next one. Especially at the first times playing them, it feels frustratingly random.
But things do come together, and I figure out my place in things again. Fittingly, this coincides almost perfectly with the story transitioning into Episode 2, the Reapers.

Next, I feel myself a part of the Army of God.
(Click here for the previous Clutch entry.)

Gary Achenbach posts as Drastic pretty much everywhere that he does, which makes it a lousy disguise.