God games have had their demiurgic auras tarnished in recent years. The once-proud conduit to the heavens in Peter 'Populous' Molyneux is now allegedly in self-exile after a stinging collision with RPS' lumbering inquisitor John Walker.
The Old Gods have not had much to say, and when they do speak, it is in the form of quaint puzzlers or profound misfires. And when we do cast an eye back to big-hitters, they don't really sell much of the mystery of the divine. Black & White was ostensibly an RTS with perk-malleable super-units. Player omnipotence should not come from simply being the player. I've only played one true God Game prior, and it was savaged and quickly forgotten. Cryo Interactive's little-known Deo Gratias conveyed that divine distance, using decree and spiritual intervention rather than the undermining shorthand of direct interaction to lead the hearts and minds of a mythic people. What agency lacked in this French curiosity was more than made up for in whimsical ontological ambiance, an element that should arguably dominate titles dealing with the divine.
Crest has the propensity to be the next big God Game. Perhaps not a crowded pantheon, pardon the contextual quip, but nonetheless pleasant to see. More importantly, Crest's mechanics pose far more philosophical musings than you'd expect.
We find ourselves overlooking an island; a biome of mountain ranges and rivers that run to the sea. Cubic monsoons roll in over the ocean and whales breach on the horizon. Inspired by ancient Africa, Crest features an impeccable aesthetic where flat-shading meshes wonderfully with a cocktail of Nilotic and Urhobo-esque inferences. Austere polygons and their coats of simple flat shades do far more to evoke a sense of prehistory than anything rendered in greater detail or textural largess. Crest is gorgeous, and having an ethno-ambient score of wistful synths and tabla rolls sells the package as far more than a fastidiously angular Populous.
Players start with a single settlement, a tribal hall and concentric lodgings of the groups' population. Player agency is defined by the mere crafting of conditional phrases. A simple cocktail of logic to prod and direct the humble folk of this etiological sandbox. Using a selection of concepts and positions, a player plugs together decrees that aren't so much religious as they are sociological. Hunger can be sated by plugging together [hungry followers], [PRIORITIZE ACT] and [food]. The hungry followers element forms the target concept for the decree, with the prioritizing action connector making the correct outcome be foraging or farming. It sounds simplistic, but when you start combining active and reactive decrees for more complex scenarios, things get quite nuanced. Decrees might put preference on the young to mine for ore, with the elderly to farm. Happiness to lead to making children. Overfed followers to walk into the desert to start a new colony.
The niggle I have currently is the obfuscation of feedback, the cloudy efficacy of my decree. You can gauge what a village required by mousing over the settlement and seeing what each household is in need of or which requirements are being met. Food, ore stocks, ability to procreate on account of circumstance and good old smiles being the main driver in expansion. Maybe I'm being contradictory, championing the necessity of classical non-interventional Deism, but feeling the need to rib for just how my followers are feeling and how I can directly invest in the social structure of the tribe. Either way, a touch more feedback would be nice. At this stage, it's often tough to witness how effective a decree has been by the time it has run its course. Again, though, early days.
And while there's more to come, in particular the upcoming addition of animal herds, we really must pay note to Eat Create Sleep's clever trailer tagline.
"Did god shape mankind, or did mankind shape god?"
In its conservative clutch of commandment creation modules, Crest does one thing that eludes every other God Game. It does not allow, at least at this stage, for divine powers. There's no option for flooding, no zap of lightning or other cliches from the religious grabback of divine tricks of awe and subjugation. Cryo Interactive's Deo Gratias did have vengeful elements, but Crest is devoid of brutality beyond indifference or mismanagement.
So is it truly a God Game?
Going by Émile Durkheim's concept of religion being a product of sociological cohesion, then absolutely. The player position is not so much one of pure divinity, but an allegory of sociological evolution and progression. This is what makes Crest so refreshing in the face of even the elder statesmen of the genre, of whose revisionist assessment can paint them merely as languid RTSs wrapped in the shroud of religious artifices. Crest's simplicity is one of its strengths. Whether a player inhabits the role of some sort of divine spirit or as a faceless entity curating a tribe's collective evolutionary will, it remains a fascinating analysis of religion within a society. Even with recent release of religion-centric strategy Cults and Daggers, Crest can still claim a blissful ambiguity to its neolithic terrarium.
Where to from here, but up? I shall keep a celestial eye on Crest, even if in their progression, my sandbox citizens turn their eye from me. Should that be the end game, my satisfaction would be all the greater.