g-string-review

G-String, developed by Eyaura, is the latest game to take a crack at seminal Source shooter Half-Life’s winning formula. Solo-developed for over a decade, G-String has a lot of blood, sweat, and tears behind it. The game undeniably has character and atmosphere, but unfortunately, as with so many passion projects, the developer’s grasp of gameplay fundamentals got lost somewhere along the way. It’s too long, the gameplay is frustrating, and the story, while initially promising, is a bit of a letdown.

Drinking in the Scenery

At times, G-String is truly breathtaking. Some of the Blade Runner inspired cityscapes are very impressive, especially later in the game. On the other hand, a lot of the early levels are boxy and grey and feel oddly cluttered. Things do improve as the game progresses, though. Once these are out of the way things really do improve vastly. If you like cyberpunk futures, you’re in for a treat.

There is imagination on display everywhere. A terrifying transhuman army, the imposing NATO Starfleet, and almost all the people and places you meet and see simply ooze personality. This is a grim, dark, utilitarian future, where a brutal regime holds sway. It’s not necessarily anything you wouldn’t have seen before, but it’s done so well it doesn’t really matter. G-String may be worth playing just for the chance to experience it’s lovingly crafted world if you can forgive a few design issues. More on those later.

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For a game developed by one person, this stuff is hugely impressive. The variety of ideas, themes, and concepts is staggering. On the technical side, things work well most of the time. There was an unusual amount of slowdown for a Source engine game, but nothing too serious. There was also the occasional UI balls-up, options, and buttons not appearing for instance. These are small potatoes though. Part and parcel of solo development.

Intriguing But Insubstantial

The narrative elements are, in short, a near miss. The atmosphere is strong, and the developer has obviously worked hard to build a world. It’s a shame then that a lack of context and clarity brings the experience down. You are Myo Hyori, a young Korean girl being held in some kind of test facility. Details on who you are are scarce, but you evidently have some unusual abilities.

The game opens with a short sequence in which you demonstrate your telekinesis and pyrokinetic powers for your captors. It’s all going smoothly until the debris from a space battle out in orbit begins to fall from the sky, devastating the planet’s surface. There’s a nice bit of intrigue during these early moments. The small glimpses we see of what’s going on in space set the scene nicely.

In the midst of the chaos, an opportunity for escape beckons. From here, things take a downward turn. Motives, context, goals, all become rather murky. This may have been intentional, but I just felt a little disconnected. I wasn’t really sure where I was going or what I was trying to achieve. There are a lot of moments that feel as though they should have meant something, but I was largely left in the dark.

I know that background storytelling can be very subtle, but G-String doesn’t quite strike the right balance. A few extra details would have helped. Why was I a test subject? Who were my captors? Where did all the sex robots come from? I would have had a greater incentive to keep playing if I knew just a little more about what was going on.

Despite the story falling flat early on, I have to admit that the world-building is excellent, it’s just a shame that the actual narrative arcs aren’t quite focused enough for it to pay off in any meaningful way. It’s a classic case of all setting and no plot. There are dozens of interesting characters and places to see. Supersoldier spaceman Admiral Scoble, richest man in the solar system Ted Murdock, cyborg engineer Joseph Bortz, each could carry an entire game on their own. Individually, they’re great but packed in together in a game like this, none of them get a chance to shine.

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This is going to be a point I make more than once, but G-String is a game desperately in need of an editor. There’s simply no reason for a game like this to be as long, or as wide in scope as it is. Attempting to tell an epic story, spanning multiple locales is certainly a laudable goal, but in practice, it’s going to be incredibly difficult to execute. A short, punchy, coherent story is always going to be more satisfying than a disjointed, confusing odyssey.

Source-y

At its core, G-String is a Half-Life game, pushed through a strange cyberpunk filter. That means physics puzzles, minimal player direction, and breaking lots of boxes with your trusty hammer (which stands in for the iconic crowbar). If you’ve ever played a Source engine shooter, you’ll have an idea of the game’s overall look and feel. The shooting feels good, movement works well (for the most part) and the enemy AI does enough to keep you on your toes.

The nuts and bolts of the level design are decidedly less competent. This area of the game would also benefit enormously from a bit of a trim. There are too many sections that just don’t work, that an editor or a playtester could have given important feedback on. The main problem is that the (intentional) lack of player direction and the fractal nature of the levels make the critical difficult to identify. The level design simply isn’t good enough to allow for the kind of open-ended gameplay it encourages. “Am I supposed to be here?” was never far from my mind. There are so many tunnels, ledges, and paths that lead nowhere, which never stops being frustrating.

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Things get even more infuriating once the majority of the hazards have been properly introduced. The enemy robots and soldiers make for perfectly enjoyable, if familiar encounters, but many of the other obstacles made me want to scream. Does the following sound like fun to you? One of the enemies in G-String is a small floating orb that can appear without warning (almost always behind you), will chase you down, and then detonate, killing you instantly. Even once you know when they are going to appear, they’re just annoying, not fun.

Conclusion

If I’m being completely honest, I find G-String kind of infuriating. It feels like wasted potential, a wonderful idea let down by mismanaged design fundamentals. The developer clearly has enormous talent, but simply took on too much to ever fully succeed. What we have here are the bare bones of something that could be superb. I think a game in the G-String universe, with Eyaura as creative director (as opposed to developer or designer), could be something very special. It’s bloated, and the core gameplay needs more work, but there is a lot in there worth salvaging.

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