A New(b) Zero
Some days I wake up in a curmudgeonly mood, indignantly refusing to play anything newer than the original Far Cry or some Sega 32X classics. Thank goodness that on the most recent of those days (Monday), I got a helping hand from SB! bros-in-arms Digital Pariah and Alikchi, who tossed a smelly potato sack over my head and hauled me off to a remote location to try out A New Zero, a fascinating game-in-progress from Cryptic Sea. The curmudgeon inside me was temporarily contained by its joyous recipe, milled from recognizable influences into something interesting and yummy.
The first surprise came before I even played the game, because it turns out that the download is just a tad under one megabyte. Everything ingame, from the textures and models to the music and sound effects, is generated via algorithms. I had gone to the game’s page expecting to wait around for maybe five minutes, but it turned out that the automatic scan took longer than the actual download. And the result of such compact creation is a sight to see: the gameplay feels like a 3D and real-time rendition of Scorched Earth, Worms, and Herzog Zwei, coupled with the aesthetics of Darwinia. The game’s page lists a number of other familiar influences, including Red Baron, Tie Fighter, and Mechwarrior 2.
At its most basic, A New Zero is about using boats and planes to seize and protect islands, with the goal of eventually holding all of them. Realizing this ambition will see you maneuvering missile boats close enough to enemy islands to hammer their defenses, or patrolling with gunboats in hopes of ambushing enemy fighters, or taking to the skies for strafing or bombing runs. Your boxy vehicles have real limitations, most notably finite fuel and ammo, so combat becomes a tense balance between inflicting damage and the need to limp home to resupply—and since even the most basic equipment costs money, you’ll always be thinking twice about fighting battles you can’t win. Even better, your vehicles are customizable. So if you feel like your gunboat is missing out on some opportunities to do structural damage to the enemy base, go ahead and swap out one of its machineguns for a sticky-bomb launcher. It took about ten minutes before I had the basics figured out and was trundling back and forth between hotspots with my reliable gunboat and blasting small fleets of enemy missile boats.
This is the point at which I thought I had mastered the basics of the game. And then I ran out of cash. See, there’s a lot more to A New Zero than just floating and flying around—the structures that you plop down on your islands determine not only how much cash you have to spend on toys, but what kinds of toys are for sale.
There are enough buildings to allow for specialized islands, but not so many to make the mechanics overwhelming. Above, Isa Island has become a moneymaker, thanks to two mine-factory sets. Mines harvest raw materials, which factories then convert into cash. The Capitol spreads your team’s influence, so it’s the building you’ll put down to take over an island, and the building you’ll tear down with heavy ordnance to wipe your enemy’s control away. Your shores and skies are protected by all-purpose AAA guns. Laboratories (not pictured, so you’ll have to use your imagination) generate research, which gradually unlocks better vehicles; so feeble fighters will eventually be replaced by bombers, and missile boats carrying four rockets can be superseded by ships bearing a rack of sixteen warheads. Oh, and those City blocks do nothing but block enemy fire onto the far side of your island—apparently your faction is completely heartless, as there’s no incentive whatsoever to protect them.
If you still find yourself short on cash, you can also make trade runs, purchasing a cargo boat or plane, buying some goods, and shuttling them to another island. This will net some instant dough, but carries the risk of your expensive load being shot to pieces. The other tradeoff is that you’ll be down a pilot—I never had to make any cargo runs myself, since I kept forgetting to buy structures for my team (punctuated by frenzied AAA purchases when I realized that my team was barely scraping by but I had over a thousand seabucks), but when Digital Pariah had to spend a few minutes shuttling goods around, his absence was felt and Alikchi and I had to be extra diligent to keep AI raids from slipping through our defenses.
Anyway, A New Zero is currently free to play and the multiplayer is smoother than most AAA games on launch week—hm, that might be a horrible comparison… alright, it’s smooth. This teeny game has managed to rocket up to a respectable spot on my to-watch list, and its creator’s future plans, replete with tank, vehicular, and infantry combat, could not have me more excited for future builds. I’d recommend checking it out—after all, it’s a megabyte.