"Someone finally snapped and sent the Earth into nuclear apocalypse. Cities were blasted into oblivion, civilization collapsed, and humanity was all but wiped out. The few people yet clinging to life are gathered in three habitable domes that provide protection from the irradiated wastelands outside. It is in this bleak, dismal world that Hoosier City is set...and it doesn't matter because outside of the screen telling the backstory, the game doesn't actually do anything with this theme. The back..."
Someone finally snapped and sent the Earth into nuclear apocalypse. Cities were blasted into oblivion, civilization collapsed, and humanity was all but wiped out. The few people yet clinging to life are gathered in three habitable domes that provide protection from the irradiated wastelands outside. It is in this bleak, dismal world that Hoosier City is set...and it doesn't matter because outside of the screen telling the backstory, the game doesn't actually do anything with this theme. The backstory goes on to say that you are the leader of one of the three domes, and you're visiting one of the other domes - the titular Hoosier City - after receiving a distress call suddenly cut off. You are warned that you might find anything down there. What you find is a perfectly normal looking fantasy world, with thatched huts and orcs wandering around, and your own futuristic weapon is a sword. But at least it's the throwing kind.
Culture shock aside, Hoosier City - Assault of the Orcs is an easy enough action adventure romp and the basics can be picked up in minutes. You move around in top-down Zelda style, encountering the usual fare: enemies to be fought, keys to be found, weapons and health pickups to strengthen your character. Along the way you'll find a share of wise old men giving you hints - not entirely unexpected in the genre. Combat initially requires close-range sword chucking, hopefully avoiding too much damage from your enemies that can do largely the same. Exploring the starting area eventually yields health vials to increase the number of hits you can take, an axe that has only a little more range than the sword, and an underground area. There, once you kill the enemy that holds it, you find...a pistol. (Not as surprising as I make it sound, given that the room is helpfully titled 'home of the pistol keeper'.)
Okay, so I suppose the fantasy theme WAS getting a bit odd. The pistol lets you turn the tables on the local orcs quickly and efficiently, at least until you run out of bullets. A green key allows passage to new areas with new enemies, most of which are kind enough to stick to swords and axes, though the occasional mook with a pistol wanders in. As you proceed, the cycle unsurprisingly continues upwards and your arsenal is gradually expanded with bombs, a rifle, a machine gun, a flamethrower...realization sets in quickly that Hoosier City does not really attempt to adhere to any kind of setting, happily mixing in different themes patched together by nothing more than the rule of cool. Amazingly, it works. The quests along your way range from slaying a rock throwing giant to having to put down a derelict tank, and the silliness of it all manages to click and make you take it all in stride. Every challenge sees you packing bigger guns against more heavily armed opposition, until you are not outmaneuvering a few orcs in a forest, but desperately ducking for cover from gun turrets guarding the entrance to the next cave.
Your arsenal of weapons ever expands and you pick up a few items along the way too. Obvious ones, such as a boat that lets you cross lakes, and head scratchers like a suit of body armour that lets you smash rocks. The fact that it also reduces the damage you take feels like a welcome afterthought. None of this really changes the way the game is played, however. Better weapons let you take on bigger baddies, and items let you open paths that were closed before. Your path through the dome is completely linear, though. There are virtually no hidden areas, no side activities, and no path to follow but the one that leads from A to B. It's also not a particularly hard game. Some battles are taxing, but even if you get killed enough times to run out of lives, you are simply asked if you want to continue, and supplied with new lives to go on from the start of the area. Ammo for your various firearms may run low at times, but many enemies drop money, for which more ammo can be bought at a convenient supermarket in the starting area (which works out to be a central hub you come back to several times).
Given that the game chooses to obey neither any kind of realism nor a specific setting, it makes most of the flexibility this offers. Expect to fight hordes of undead, murderous penguins, a dragon and in an ultimate "sure why not", heavily armed robots. Hoosier City offers a little bit of everything. So by the time you reach the endgame - which does not take long, as once you know the game it can be done in an hour - it is a little disappointing that you have obtained so much firepower and get so little chance to actually employ it to good effect. Most weapons have an immediate and obvious use shortly after acquiring them and are then never used again. The axe is guilty of this, being only really effective against the undead, and you only encounter them in a few areas right after getting it. The bow is guilty, being the only weapon that can be used underwater and after your short underwater stint is over, into the backpack it goes. The flamethrower is the worst offender, used to open up exactly one path and not much use in any battle afterwards. Each weapon does get an upgrade during the game, which is good as it keeps making you feel like you've got yet another new toy to play with. But for practical purposes you'll likely stick with your latest acquisition most of the time. It all feels like it's over just a little bit too quickly, and with no sufficient challenge to make the trip really satisfying. And yet, at the same time, it's a guilty pleasure. It's uncomplicated by the book fun. The fact that the ending feels like it comes too quickly is a dead giveaway that Hoosier City is doing something right.
For all the above, you should take into account Hoosier City's marketing strategy. Assault of the Orcs is a shareware game and the first in a trilogy, copying Apogee's approach. It feels like a preview because essentially it is: easy enough to be played through quickly and leave you wanting more, which is where the second and third game come in. Naturally, said second and third game are suddenly incredibly hard - also true to Apogee's approach. So Assault of the Orcs serves mostly as a warmup, with neither length nor challenge to make it last. Yet it's free, accessible, cute, and still enough fun to warrant the minor time investment. And should it make you crave more even today, it just so happens that episode two and three have long been declared freeware by the publisher as well - although the adventure of actually locating them online may prove to be more of a timesink and challenge than Assault of the Orcs itself.
Community review by sashanan (June 11, 2009)
Sashanan doesn't drink coffee; he takes tea, my dear. And sometimes writes reviews. His roots lie with the Commodore 64 he grew up with, and his gaming remains fragmented among the very old, the somewhat old, and rarely the new.
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