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Borstal (PC) artwork

Borstal (PC) review

"A survival tale of two halves"

Borstal is an interesting duo of miniature survival games in which you play as the most fragile human beings on planet earth. Pitched in the description as more interactive novellas, the two scenarios provided play out like only the most classic turn based survival, harkening more to the style of NEO Scavenger than Rust in that the most engaging aspect is the text based story and randomized encounters rather than the graphics and crafting and whatnot.

Even though both scenarios are similar in structure, I feel that they provided such different experiences that I'll be addressing them seperately. You'll understand why in a moment, as I feel this may make or break a purchase, or at the very least provide some input to the developer.

Borstal, the titular title and "main campaign" is one where you play as a young boy who's trying to find his dad that worked at a--you guessed it--borstal, which in american terms is a Juvenial Delinquency center. In the game's world, the borstal is on an otherwise deserted island. Don't ask how this works, because I have no clue, but don't let it ruin the fun either. Every time you start a new game, the map is completely randomized, and there are obstacles and threats around every turn. You can find clues as to what happened to your dad, and encounter rogue bands of kiddies who, depending on what you've found and how good your RNG is can give you good stuff to help you survive or beat your head in. It's constantly raining, and you need a decent stream of sleep and food to survive until you find your dad. The sooner you do, the better the ending, but when you find the borstal and what you've experienced up to that point can influence the turn of events greatly.

Borstal (PC) image

I think I experienced 4 different endings in my time, and there were still options I hadn't made which makes me remember this one a bit more fondly. The overall story is a bit too vague, and I feel as if I missed some huge context clues, but the change of pace and setting to what I've been playing recently and the dumbed down but reasonable survival mechanics made it a joy. Plus, there are some exploits that I discovered that made my later journies much more bearable, though I won't spoil them here as the difficulty is part of the charm. The titular game will take multiple tries, but the rounds are bite-sized and I genuinely learned from every mistake I made.

Now we get to the stinker of the bunch, called Mountain. Now, I can see the appeal to making a deathly realistic simulation of scaling a massive mountain, and for the most part, I feel that Borstal succeeds in emulating the experience. But--and this is a big enough but for a Sir Mix-a-Lot song--Mountain suffers from some game ending glitches that shocked and baffled me each time they happened. The concept is more or less the same if a bit more straight forward; reach the summit then make it back to the basecamp. Along the way, there are abandoned tents and what not that have randomized events and visible obstacles that need to be navigated with rope. Your needs are about the same, but the demand for rest and food is increased the higher up you go, and requires you to strategize your ascent so you don't get to the top and not have a way back.

In theory.

Borstal (PC) image

The problem is--and there are plenty of problems with Mountain--is that for every other death I had, there was absolutely no warning or justification for any of it. Now keep in mind, this is a text heavy game; I'm not criticizing it for that. However, for every death where I was offered a bleak end to a risk that backfired or mistake I made, there would be points where I wouldn't have a single indicator on my screen that I was low on sleep or health or close to death, and I would take a step forward on completely clear terrain and just get a YOU DIED screen. Then, in an insanely insulting and borderline rage quit moment, I reached the summit, got a standard "you have a headache" type message that you get throughout the climb and made it all the way back, only to realize that that message OVERRIDED the "Good job, now go back." I died almost immediately after. This situation in which the progress message was overrided happened multiple times. Often times I would get to the summit in perfect health, get a "your head hurts" message and then immediately die. Other times I would be in fine health, with no warning signs, get a warning sign that I'm near death, rest in a tent and then die the moment I hit the button. This happened a handful of times. That was also pretty awful. Are you starting to see why this is the bad egg?

After 77(!) tries, I discovered an exploit, did a sidequest, and made it to the top and back without a hitch. I made it back fine because the base camp was only a few tiles away. It was a combination of what was basically cheating and a whole lot of luck. Hopefully the developer sees this and polishes out the bugs, because that ain't good at all.

But Razorbitz, is it worth the 3 dollar price tag? Absolutely. It's definitely old school and the cards are often stacked against you, but for both scenarios you're provided the tools to survive. It isn't a masterpiece, but it's cheap asking price and experimental style makes for a flawed but genuinely engaging adventure. Assuming the kinks are worked out of Mountain, this is a nice surprise from the indie front and I'm glad I picked it up day 1. I never do that. Here's hoping that the developer makes some more stories to throw in over time as well!


Razorbitz's avatar
Community review by Razorbitz (November 29, 2016)

Lover of Vinesauce, purveyor of Sterling, and worshipper of the Pipo. Plays games a lot, and writes stupid and excessively long user reviews to give myself the illusion of influence and importance.

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