Widgets Magazine

Mind Games: Warm fuzzies from the strangest of sources

Courtesy of Dead Mage Inc.

There’s not too much going on in gaming this week. At least not on the surface. We’re in the proverbial calm before the storm that is E3 — the Christmas Day of gaming, if all of Santa’s presents were juicy revelations and trailers that brought fanboys to tears. That’s not to say there isn’t anything going on right now, though — developers and publishers are busier now than ever, preparing their punchlines and pyrotechnics, ironing out kinks in gameplay demos and shuffling a lucky batch of journalist bigwigs around L.A. to judge content for E3 awards. For everyone else, it’s crickets. (If you’re Sony, you might also be fine-tuning your apology for one of the biggest network security gaffes in history. I wonder who they’ll trot out on stage to deliver it.)

Given the paucity of new releases and big announcements this week, I decided I’d embrace the moment and delve into something totally outside the mainstream — totally, completely and entirely outside it.

Courtesy of Dead Mage Inc.

Enter Garshasp: The Monster Slayer. The name alone is no doubt enough to make you trip over your tongue, which is exactly what you’d be doing with your controller if you actually picked it up and played the game. As soon as you stop chuckling at one of the most poorly deployed late title cards in recent memory and get down to business, you’ll be glad of the unintentional cheese-factor that seeps into every bit of the experience. Aside from its laughably steely voice acting and busted facial animations, the game is competent if not yawn inducing. I say “mid-2000s action game”; you say “light attack, heavy attack, block, roll and grab.” Throw in a busted camera and some PS2-era jank, and you’d be about right. Garshasp is the most direct clone of God of War you’ll ever see without a Gameloft logo on it. It’s a complete rip-off that scored a whopping 49 on Metacritic — forty-freaking-nine — and after 10 minutes had me sighing “Oh, games… ” to myself with a morbid sort of fascination. I’m sure most people would’ve gone for Ctrl+Alt+Del even sooner.

So why am I wasting your time with this? Because the awful reviews, antiquated controls and vapid presentation don’t tell the whole story of Garshasp. Remember that morbid fascination I mentioned a moment ago? Turns out there’s genuine academic appeal to the origins of Garshasp — if you’re into that sort of thing.

What if I told you this? Garshasp was developed in Iran. It was built by a handful of guys using free software on pretty standard computers, and it was digitally released worldwide without a major publisher. Its story is based on Persian legend, and back in Iran, the game is a bigger deal than you might think. Ambition might not always equal aptitude — or proper finances — but damn if I’m not impressed by the effort. I can’t say that I know everything about the legal and economic realities of game development in Iran, but I’m sure that putting out a $20 indie title on the PC that at least superficially resembles major console releases isn’t quite as easy over there.

I don’t mean to imply, by the way, that small studios in foreign countries can’t make great games. The list of stunners from these lesser-known developers runs deep, but you only have to go as far back as last week — The Witcher 2 from CD Projekt in Warsaw is probably the most gorgeous RPG ever released, and critics are eating it up. So am I. In fact, as I write this, Steam is downloading a patch for Witcher 2 that’s six times the size of Garshasp.

Garshasp may be underwhelming, but it’s also inspiring. It’s a small but moving testament to the global appeal and accessibility of the medium. It was simple and cheap to make, and the language of gameplay is more universal than a subtitled film or translated book. I know it sounds a little dramatic, but playing Garshasp was a more touching experience than I would’ve thought — not because the game itself is great, but because in a small but real way, I was connecting with people across the world in a way that only games can offer.