Restricted Area is an action RPG set in the Dark Future, a world torn by ravaging wars and global catastrophe. The world’s traditional countries have dissolved, to be replaced by governing mega-corporations. These corporations control city-states, islands of humanity surrounded by mutant-infested wastelands. Of course, like any action RPG, these wastelands are also filled with destroyed cities, warehouses, and bunkers. All of these are perfect “dungeons” for a post-apocalyptic shooter.
Not wanting to venture too far from stereotype, Restricted Area keeps things nice and familiar in their selection of characters. Players can choose to play the Heavy Weapons Guy, the Amazing-Mind-Powers Gal, the Futuristic Samurai, or the Elite-Hacker-with-Her-Pet-Robot. Each of these characters has their own unique feel, at least after a bit of leveling and customized upgrades. Most players should be able to find at least one or two characters to fit their playing style. For example, Heavy Weapons Guy just wades into combat, guns blazing. I became a bit bored with my first playthrough using him, and was pleasantly surprised at how much different and refreshing it was to try again with the Hacker character.
The gameplay is classic, Diablo-style blast-n-slash. This is in no way a bad thing, as this style game managed to suck me in with the classic carrot-and-stick approach of “kill things and take their stuff.” Restricted Area does fumble a bit, though, with a limited number of monsters and goodies. After an hour or so of gameplay, I saw almost all of the monster and item types. A Level 5 Fat Mutant looks and acts in all ways like a level 12 Fat Mutant, differing only in the amount of damage it can dish out and absorb. Likewise, item acquisition became dull all too quickly, as there is only one “type” of each weapon or cyber-enhancement. Each item differs widely in statistics, but the feeling of sameness as yet another “Pistol” or “Cyber-Heart” falls to the ground is tough to shake.
On an amusing note, armor in the Dark World of Tomorrow is non-existent. Through the miracle of technology, characters are able to protect and enhance themselves by swapping out their sorry, low-grade original body parts for the shiny new cyberware or bio-engineered replacements that just happened to be carried by the gibbering face-hugger mutants. In addition, installation of these body parts couldn’t be easier. Even when hip-deep in the corpses of freshly-slain mutants, characters can quickly change that pesky old leg for a brand-new, shiny Cyberleg. And if that isn’t amazing enough, characters can even swap out their skin, hearts, and brains on the field of battle.
Combat is very straightforward. Shoot and/or slash at the hoards of ravening mutants until everything stops moving. Monster AI is rather poor, as just about every enemy acts in exactly the same fashion. Melee monsters charge headlong into withering fire, while ranged monsters stand back and shoot. Occasionally I would notice a wounded monster try to wander away, but more often than not most monsters would just keep advancing until dead. This resulted in combat being fairly easy, although large swarms of enemies and the occasional boss monster could prove to be difficult.
In typical RPG fashion, monsters die, experience builds up, and characters advance in levels. Levelling is rewarded by attribute bonuses and advancement points to be spent on the characters’ skill trees. Each character has two trees, one generic tree available to all characters and a special tree. Generic skills focus on things like increased speed, simple weapon efficiency, and better item finding ability. The character-specific trees were much more interesting. Heavy Weapons Guy specializes in, well, bigger and better weapons, such as the flame-thrower and plasma gun. In addition, he gets several flavors of grenade to help round things out. In contrast, Psi-Girl gets a host of magic-like abilities, such as self-healing and stunning or damaging enemies with her thoughts. Hacker Gal gets to increase her abilities in Cyberspace, a separate world that only she can enter. In addition, she can upgrade her robot into a truly frightening death machine. At higher levels each of the characters has a very unique feel which encourages multiple plays.
Unfortunately, characters need to slog through a great deal of similar-looking dungeon in order to gain these levels. Repetitive gamely is to be expected in this type of game, but Restricted Area goes a bit too far. Players have a base of operations, complete with doctor, arms dealer, and a smattering of other NPC characters. From here, players can sign on for one of the (surprisingly few) main-story missions, or one of the random (and quite necessary) side missions. Missions all seem to boil down to a few variations on a theme. Characters are dropped off in a small wilderness/wasteland map, whereupon they need to fight their way into the underground area. Each underground area is a randomly-generated twisting of passages and monsters, usually about 2-4 levels deep. At the bottom level is the target, which needs to be retrieved or killed, depending on the type of mission. Once the target is dealt with, characters can instantly zip back to town to pick up the reward. Except for a few main-story levels, there’s way too much repetition in the mission designs. When coupled with the limited monster and item variety, things can get a little dull.
Restricted Area looks decent, with a slick 2D engine keeping everything flowing very smoothly, even when the screen is flooded with monsters. Characters and enemies are fairly well animated, although some of the attack animations seem a bit off. Weapon effects are solid, and enemies take wounds in satisfyingly gory fashion. Once again, though, repetitiveness is the bane of this game. Dungeon levels are all too similar; there are too few monster and item types to keep things looking fresh and interesting. The game’s audio falls into this same pit, with some rather uninteresting combat sounds and some fairly atrocious voice acting and dialogue.
Although there was a great deal of repetition and “sameness” to the game, Restricted Area did manage to keep my attention for much longer than I had initially anticipated. There’s just something addictive to me about the Diablo-esque style of game, and Restricted Area manages to capture that feeling fairly well. Although I would have greatly appreciated some more variety in the monsters, dungeons, and goodies, I ended up enjoying my post-apocalyptic romp. Restricted Area isn’t a great game by any means, but this non-fantasy action RPG might appeal to those willing to overlook the game’s shortcomings.
A post-apocalyptic action RPG with too much repetition. Still, a fair bit of fun for those wanting a non-fantasy Diablo-esque game.
Rating: 6.5 Mediocre
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
I'm an old-school gamer, and have been at it ever since the days of the Atari 2600. I took a hiatus from the console world to focus on PC games after that, but I've come back into the fold with the PS2. I'm an RPG and strategy fan, and could probably live my gaming life off a diet of nothing else. I also have soft spot for those off-the-wall, independent-developer games, so I get to see more than my share of innovative (and often strange) titles.
Away from the computer, I'm an avid boardgamer, thoroughly enjoying the sound of dice clattering across a table. I also enjoy birdwatching and just mucking around in the Great Outdoors.