Review: Coats

in Games

Game: Coats by anothergoblin

Summary: Coats is a unique, highly ambitious game that’s well worth your time.

Pixar's new film shows you what's going on inside your closet...

Pixar’s new film shows you what’s going on inside your closet…

Coats sells itself as “a game of desperate research,” an odd description but highly accurate all the same. When a bizarre disease starts to turn the population into skinless zombies, Randal and his team of misfits hole up in a claustrophobic lab to try and figure out if there’s any way to save the human race. After about ten minutes of introductory scenes, the game establishes a day-to-day pattern of continuing the research, defending the lab and keeping rats from getting into the food storage.

If that description makes the game sound boring, I can assure you it isn’t. It becomes quite gripping once you make sense of the various numbers involved and get an understanding of how the decisions you make every day impact the overall effort. In the midst of conducting your research and advising the nearby military squad how to manage their ammo, there’s also the chance to build friendships with the various team members, including the possibility of a Bioware-style romance with a handful of them.

Randal is a lead character who grows more interesting the farther you get into the game – he’s capable of very kind acts but also displays a cold pragmatism that can be unnerving. There was one scene in particular, late in the game, where he dissected the motivations of his teammates right on the spot in a highly condescending manner, hoping to manipulate this character into doing what he wanted. It’s a spooky sequence and it still lingers in my head.

The first phase of intense research lasts about 50 days of game time (although individual results will likely vary) so it was a little disappointing that after about two weeks of detailed conversations, the NPCs began to default to stock dialogue that was the same day after day. However, most of the dialogue is very well-written, even if some of the repartee is a little too perfect for supposedly spontaneous conversations. All of the scientific jargon, however, is surprisingly convincing, at least for a writer who was never all that good in science class.

The monster was impressed by Randal's poker face.

The monster was impressed by Randal’s poker face.

This kind of setting is difficult to bring to life with RPG Maker, but Coats makes a noble effort. The modern tilesets are used very well and there’s a lot of nice artwork that pops up every so often during a cutscene or the daily research activities. There are also some sequences featuring animated text, but be warned that these short movies crashed the game for me a handful of times before I finally was able to get past them.

The faces of the characters are done with VX Ace’s generator, which some people will no doubt see as a drawback, but we should have a conversation about that. Faces made with the character generator can look very odd, there’s very little doubt. But the feature was implemented to help users do what they bought the program to do – make a game regardless of individual art skill. Picking on people for using a feature that makes the process easier is just elitist crap. If this game were to go commercial, that’s a different conversation. But for a game made as a hobby? Back off.

Don't let the headband fool you, I'm hardcore.

Don’t let the headband fool you, I’m hardcore.

That initial research story is solid enough to be its own game, so imagine my surprise when I completed it and found that there was still a sizeable chunk of Coats left. The game begins to inch a little closer to a traditional RPG at this point, although it still hangs on to its distinct style. There’s a nice world map feature and a battle system that, while it employed the same kind of numbers-based strategy as the research, still didn’t feel entirely necessary. When I finished, I was just about to begin another scientific effort, this one involving even more NPCs and more priorities to weigh and keep track of. Coats is one of the longest demos I’ve played in a while, but I’m glad I put in the time. I suspect you will be too.

Has anyone played this? How many “days” did it take you to complete the first round of research? What do you make of Randal? Is he a decent guy succumbing to stress or a budding sociopath? Who was your favorite member of the team? What should we review next? Sound off in the comments.

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