When I think of war-based video games, I picture machine guns and tanks; how could I not? When I first learned about the indie video game Armaculture that takes place three years into a brutal war, I thought I'd know what to expect and that it would just be another game I've seen 100 times before.
But I instantly learned I was wrong. Armaculture focuses on a side of war that is not as often highlighted in popular media, especially games.
"You assume the role of Alexander Volkov, the calculating son of a former Lieutenant who is determined to survive in any way he can." Instead of fighting in the war and winning for your country, you play as a farmer. Could you have guessed that?
Running a farm in a country at war isn't easy. Armaculture could be categorized as a factory-builder RPG. The main mechanics of this game are automating, optimizing, and upkeeping your farm to keep from going broke. You'll spend your short days placing down machines and deducing which plants you should grow depending on newspaper reports. Would it be better to go into town today and lose a few hours buying much-needed resources, or should you stay at the farm and try your best to get enough money to last through the night? Armaculture is a strategy game that will demand difficult decisions.
It's very tricky, and you almost definitely will lose on your first run! But that's where the game becomes very fun. It takes a while to get used to the mechanics (the play-along tutorial is essential before taking a real crack at the game), and wrapping your head around the best methods takes even longer. As I died in each of my early playthroughs, I became aware of my mistakes and made plans for my next run. As I honed my skills and set up better farms, I felt the same spiteful pride that Alexander held as he survived the war. No matter how hard it is, you are surviving your own way, and you cannot be stopped.
Armaculture has more to offer, though! As I mentioned, it's a factory-builder RPG. I explained the factory-builder part of the game, now it's time to talk about the RPG elements. Every evening after working on your farm, you engage in dialogue with various people who come by your farm. Some are friends, many are enemies. The best course of action isn't always clear at a first glance, but it is important. Deciding how you will interact with these passersby will seal your fate. There are three routes and endings to this game, and tons of story to uncover. It is impossible to see the whole story on just one playthrough of the game. Through details like overhead planes and propaganda in the mail every morning, the world of the game feels full and alive. With handcrafted cutscenes and meaningful interactions, the story of Armaculture is bold and captivating.
Armaculture was made entirely by one developer, RageForDragons, who released it when he was 18 (he did most of the programming at age 17). He did everything, aside from a single song that his friend contributed. This means that the art, the programming, the story, and almost the entire soundtrack was done by one person, amazingly. One of my favorite game developers, Toby Fox (Undertale, Deltarune), says that "the special thing about Indies is because our teams are small, the player can feel the heart of each person who made the game." With a game made by just one person, this is incredibly evident. The passion put into this game is clear from the moment that the first cutscene starts.
Every part of this game is so unique and comes together so well that I'd expect it to be at least $10-$15. Instead, you can download it completely for free on Steam! You can support the game developer by buying the soundtrack for the game for $1, but otherwise, he just wants to put his game out there. Releasing an incredibly full and fun game for free is super admirable, and I can't help but respect it a ton. You can also support him without money by sharing the game or following him on Twitter at @armaculture
So really, I recommend that you go play! Tell your friends to play! It's a difficult game, but every moment feels worth it for me.