Electric City is a new animated web series by Tom Hanks and hosted online by Yahoo! that tells the tale of a city in a post-apocalyptic world in which energy– that is to say, electricity– is a valuable resource, as is information. And, as is often the case in dystopian futures, these are things the ruling government seek to control with an iron fist.
Twenty episodes of the cartoon have been released so far, running at about five minutes each, and it’s very good. It feels mature without going overboard into “mature” territory, at least from what we’ve seen, and has an interesting premise, cast of characters, and world. In fact, the world-building really helps make the experience, as the website posts links to bios for new characters as they appear (which you can check out before returning to where you left off), while the page’s background and map window shifts with the time of day and location depicted in each scene. It really is something else; we’ll be checking out more of it soon, and recommend you do the same.
Sneaky like a fox.
Meanwhile, Electric City: The Revolt is an iPhone game made to basically cash in on the series. It’s not fun, and it doesn’t have anything to do with the shorts beyond sharing some assets and a name. The look and atmosphere work, but beyond that, the only other tie is that you’ll feel like you’re being oppressed while playing it.
The bulk of the game has you running around in an isometric viewpoint, trying to avoid the Allied Municipal Patrol (AMPs) as they patrol the area. It’s basically stealth gameplay, but this is no Metal Gear: You can be standing across a small patch of grass from an AMP as they walk, and they’ll never see you. However, inexplicably, some of them seem capable of seeing you just fine from offscreen, out of their “cone” of vision, and while you’re behind a building… all at the same time. It’s inconsistent in everything but how ridiculous it is.
This alone might not be so bad– let’s face it, video games and abstract concepts do manage to go together like peanut butter and jelly– if not for the controls being so very, very bad. As noted, the viewpoint is isometric, so you don’t move up, down, left, and right; rather, you move diagonally. These are the only four directions allowed, and it is so incredibly clunky. Some games will allow you to move along walls and paths if you press against them, but not this one. Of course, the AMPs have no trouble moving around. At least you get two encounters before a third gets you tazed, bro. But what could make things worse?
Each worse than the last.
The answer is this: a time limit. And not even a very generous one. In fact, several stages give you so little time that you have to grab time-increasing items just to make it through. Add that to controlling your man-tank and trying to keep out of sight of the AMPs, and you wind up with an experience that begins on the verge of tolerable, and gets further away with every passing stage.
All the while, it should be added, you’re trying to reach a certain number of MacGuffins while avoiding AMPs and being mindful of the time limit. These vary from stage to stage; The first has you grabbing cash, while the second has you gathering pieces of communications equipment, and the third has you entering buildings to pick up equipment in mini-games, such as a search-and-find type or another where you stop a red line as it passes over the correct item. In the case of the search-and-find, though, you have to “pinch” the iPhone screen to zoom in, which does the backdrop no favors.
In short, Electric City: The Revolt feels like a poorly-executed isometric stealth version of Pac-Man with terrible controls, unfair AI, a harrowing time limit, and some Where’s Waldo minigames mixed in. By all means, if you’ve managed to play the game first, do not let it deter you from watching the series.