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What a Blast! A Review of '60 Seconds!' and '60 Parsecs!'

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Title art. Image courtesy of Robot Gentleman.

Is 60 seconds enough time to prepare for a nuclear apocalypse? Polish indie developer Robot Gentleman tries to give players the tools to answer that question—but you'll have to choose between saving your daughter and saving three cans of soup. 60 Seconds! is a dark comedy atomic adventure game that puts players in the role of a suburban dad. Much like the title suggests, players have 60 seconds to collect as much supplies from their homes as they can and evacuate to an underground bunker before an incoming nuke hits the ground. It’s a dark-humored game that contains interesting mechanics, unique characters, and plenty of groundwork for its follow-up, 60 Parsecs!

60 Seconds! opens with a fascinating blend of apocalyptic music and flashy animations. It’s a title sequence with multiple variations, all which fit the mood of the game quite well. The fun only continues from there in the tutorial, where a strict, yet humorous military general commands players through the basic mechanics of the game. Essentially, players have 60 whole seconds to run around their house and grab as much as they can. Players only have four open inventory spots, meaning that they have to make multiple trips from the entrance of their bunker to the rest of the house. One minute might not seem like a lot of time, but like the military general assures, it’s a very advanced warning system.

The intro sequence gets harder when certain objects take up more inventory space than others. A can of soup or bottle of water only takes up one space, but the gun on the wall takes up double. There’s also the factor of family members. Players, being put in the role of the dad, can choose to save their wife, daughter, or son. They can take all of them, take some, or leave them all to die in the blast. One might think it’s an easy choice, but that’s just more food players have to share. Plus, choosing to grab a family member means players have less inventory space to grab other things. Those three cans of soup could ensure survival for at least a few days, and the overweight daughter and her tuba might become a burden.

The opening sequence is fun in the way that players have to make a lot of quick-second decisions. However, the game also finds itself burdened by clunky controls. Moving around the house feels particularly awkward, and the constant maneuvering around random barricades certainly doesn’t help. This may easily frustrate players, and when they only have 60 seconds, every step counts. The animations for this part of the game also don’t suit the rest of the experience, subverting to 3D graphics over the rest of the game’s 2D visuals. It puts a damper on immersion and breaks consistency between different parts of the game. Players might even choose to play a different game mode where they start in the bunker with a randomized selection of supplies, just so they can skip this clunky first part. On the bright side, however, if players do choose to stick around for this first section of gameplay, the house randomizes its layout every playthrough, making sure memorization is never an unfair advantage.

Once the timer counts down, and the players are safe in their bunker, the real fun begins. Playing out on a day-to-day cycle, players get to watch their family slowly descend into madness as randomized events determine their future. It’s a bit awkward at first. When players start the game, they’re put in the role of the dad. However, once the players get into the bunker, it really doesn’t matter, seeing as how they now have control over the entire family. Despite this, what follows is still a lot of fun. Going forward, it’s up to the player to ration the family’s food supply, make important decisions, and send family members out on scavenging runs. There’s also a daily journal that keeps players updated on events and the family members’ thoughts and feelings. The best way to describe this part of the game is with only one word: hilarious. Does the player want to grow a mutant fern, worship a bunch of cats, eat his kid’s hamster, explore a crashed spaceship, play with a sock puppet, or all of the above? Just when you think you've seen it all, your daughter mutates into a giant purple monster and beats up a gang of raiders. It’s always entertaining, and always wildly unpredictable.

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Screenshot of gameplay, inside the bunker.

The bunker survival is definitely the meat of the game. Not only do each of the different characters play out their own stories in surprising ways, but the game is riddled with funny visuals that let the player know just how much their families have descended into madness. Day by day, players can watch as characters physically degrade, their eyes growing weaker and their faces going paler. Players will even see odd, yet disturbingly cute pictures being drawn on the pages of the daily journal. This part of the game also keeps great track of your collected items, letting players know when family members need food or water. It also tells players what items can be used in certain events, as well as what items could have saved them if they had only chosen to grab that from the house instead of their tenth can of soup.

The only major struggle with the bunker portion of the game is a clear end goal, at least in terms of story. There are hints dropped along the way that certain endings might happen, but the game makes itself so wildly unpredictable that finding a clear pathway can sometimes be tough. There also isn’t much given between the family members themselves. Players might think the mom character would be upset when they choose to leave the daughter behind, but the mom could hardly bat an eye. While there’s plenty of conflict in the world, characters have little conflict between each other, which is a bit of a missed opportunity when such diverse family members are thrown in an underground bunker together with zero privacy.

Despite the missed potential in story, the game does still propose an interesting conspiracy. Sprinkled throughout the game are clues about "Astrocitizens," people that may just have survived the atomic blasts from the far reaches of space. Did these people abandon Earth, or steal its supplies? All this theorizing finally pays off when it gets to 60 Parsecs!, the thrilling space-bound sequel to 60 Seconds!

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Title art. Image courtesy Robot Gentleman.

60 Parsecs! takes the formula of the first game, gives it a new setting, and fixes a lot of problems along the way. It starts with the very Astrocitizens themselves. Living on a space station in the orbit of Earth, players, now in the role of space captain, have only a minute to grab their crew and flee to the escape pod before nuclear devastation contaminates the Earth and erupts the station. From there, it’s up to players to pilot their crew across the galaxy and find a new home. Only, it’s nowhere near as simple as it sounds, and it doesn’t sound that simple to begin with!

The first major difference with 60 Parsecs! is that players are now free to choose which character they want to play as. Rather than be forced to play as the suburban dad, they can choose to be either a male or female space captain. The captains, as well as the rest of the crew members, also vary in their races and ages, bringing some much-needed diversity to the series. Also, this game always makes it clear who the player character is. Unlike the first game, player characters can’t be sent on scavenging runs. As captains of their crews, it’s up to them to stay back and make sure everything on the ship remains operational. It brings a new level of immersion to the game now that players know it’s their character that is always making the decisions.

If 60 Seconds! does a fairly good job randomizing events to keep each playthrough fresh, 60 Parsecs! does a spectacular job. Not only is there an assortment of diverse crew members to take along on your journey, there’s also several different alien planets you can end up on, none of which are doing any better than Earth and its nuclear apocalypse. So, while one playthrough has players on a ravaged, stormy planet, another has them on a robot alien homeworld. And, as expected, each planet has its own assortment of events. For example, if players find themselves on the ravaged, stormy planet, they’ll also find themselves dealing with two alien groups battling for power. Because there are so many different scenarios that can play out, there’s also a lot of different endings. Much like the first game, some of these endings are good, some are okay, and some are downright horrible. It’s that diverse experience that keeps players always coming back for more.

With all the different planets and scenarios, there’s also a lot more story. Unlike the first game, the goals are more clear. Each planet seems to have a different main event line that gives players a clear end goal. This end goal takes a while to achieve, but it gives players something grounded to work towards. There’s also the aspect of crew members. Unlike in the first game, the different crew members must deal with conflict between them. Some of them might grow to hate each other, and others might grow to love each other. This also carries into the player character. Players might often find themselves with a crew member that has fallen in love with them, or a crew member that no longer wants to be their friend. So, even with the unknown dangers of space lying just outside, there’s still a lot of conflict going on inside the ship.

60 Parsecs! also fixes arguably the largest issue in 60 Seconds!, which is the awkwardness of the opening scavenging portion of the game. Like mentioned before, 60 Seconds! has the players running around their homes grabbing supplies in the first part of the game, a segment often weighed down by clunky controls and an odd 3D landscape. This segment always worked on a basic scale, but 60 Parsecs! improves it in many ways. To start, it switches the graphics from 3D to 2D. Not only does this make running around a lot cleaner, but it also keeps this portion of the game more consistent with the rest. The animations and graphics match the remaining parts of the game, allowing the entire experience to be more immersive. In addition, the new 2D layout makes the controls a lot smoother. Running around is no longer a frustration of walls and rooms, but rather a coast from one part of the space station to the other.

60 Parsecs! also changes up a lot of the base mechanics from the original game. Now the player has the option to romanticize and befriend other characters, allowing for a more personalized experience. It also includes a crafting machine, making sure players still have a way to get that one important item they may have forgotten on the space station 30 days ago. There’s also still the option to send characters out on scavenging runs. Only this time, players can choose exact locations to send them to, letting them weigh the risks and rewards of each area. It also adds more to the story, making it exciting and interesting whenever a new scavenging location is discovered.

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Screenshot of gameplay, inside the ship.

The only base mechanic in the sequel that seems to have been changed for the worse is rationing. In 60 Parsecs!, players no longer have to care about rationing water. However, instead of one can of soup feeding a family of four for an entire day, like in the original, each crew member will eat his or her own entire can of soup each day. The game tells the player that each can of soup will last an individual crew member for several days, but, despite this, those characters can still be labelled as hungry just one day after feeding them. The revised menu system, although still an overall improvement over the original, also fails to let players know how many cans of soup they have left in a more convenient way. Despite all this, the soup humor in the game remains strong. Cans of soup can be found all across a multitude of planets, and even the captain will question how tomato soup is so universally widespread.

Speaking of humor, that’s yet another thing 60 Parsecs! amps up over the original. With all the different types of planets and aliens, there’s so much more potential for comedic encounters. One of the best examples that comes to mind is the Dancelord aliens, who abduct the captain and challenge him or her to an intense dance-off! There’s also the new journal system, which is actually a computer with a humorous mind of its own. And it would be a crime not to mention the ancient alien cow relic, which only raises even more conspiracy theories about the game and its wacky world.

Overall, 60 Parsecs! is definitely a worthy successor to 60 Seconds! Robot Gentleman did a great job of creating a series that combines simple gameplay with over-the-top humor and dangerous apocalyptic scenarios. While the first game explores life after a nuclear fallout, the second game journeys into the far reaches of space, diversifying the experience of each game in a multitude of ways. 60 Parsecs! also realizes the pitfalls of the first game, adding more diversity, smoother mechanics, and deeper story content. Really, the only question left is where possibly Robot Gentleman will take the series next. Give the games a try yourself, and you may be excitedly asking yourself the same question.

60 Seconds! Purchase Links:

Steam

Humble

Nintendo eShop

App Store

Google Play

60 Parsecs! Purchase Links:

Steam

Humble

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