I specialize in the free to play game market. I own consoles, and I have bought games in the past. But as you have probably realized in reading my past reviews I spend the majority of my free time playing free stuff I can download online. One of the biggest and most popular corners of this market is the slummy world of facebook games. This is where gamers go to die, like some back alley gambling den run by crack dealers in Vegas. You are hesitant to go there in the first place, but for some reason you can never leave unless a couple of your buddies kick in the door and pull you out kicking and screaming.
Facebook games are almost all essentially the same. They all use a basic formula; Energy based game play with limited actions within a certain time frame, with energy being refundable via real world currency, and a cash shop. Energy slowly recharges throughout the day, and you can get some teaser items, but all the good stuff has to be bought. Not a bad system, and not unlike the cash shops of most downloadable games. The real issue with these games is that most of them suck. They suck hard. With teeth.
Take for example, Farmville, published by Zynga. There is no plot, no ultimate objective. You plant stuff, decorate your yard, and milk animals. Forever. Wewt. There are daily objectives and goals to keep you hooked, which reward you with trinkets for your yard or energy so you can do more monotonous tasks for a few more minutes.
If the original Farmville wasn’t enough, they recently released Farmville 2. It’s the same damn game but now it has “better” graphics. Ugh.
One game I have played on and off is Dungeon Rampage. It’s a hack and slash arcade style game similar to Gauntlet from back in the day. You can pick from a few different classes, and in the item shop you can buy pets to help you in combat. You can team up with friends too, making a party to run through dungeons together.
You can get weapons from loot boxes at the end of a dungeon, or buy them from the item shop. You can carry up to three different items at any given time, and switch between them easily mid combat. Enemies drop experience, money, and food/health potions. A lot of the environment is destructible, and there’s traps everywhere, like the spikey floor things in the picture below.
As I started writing this article, I decided to pull up Sims Social, another energy based time sucker, albeit one of the better designed ones. When this ad popped up:
I used to have Plants vs. Zombies on my phone, and it was awesome, so I decided to try my hand at this. Of course I had to comply with the customary “Allow this app to view all your private information and eat your babies” agreement, and then I was off to adventure with zombies and potted flowers.
Upon starting the game my redneck special needs neighbor instructs me on how to play. He makes me pick a pea shooter just to replace it somewhere in my yard. Then a zombie shambles up and my plant shoots him down. So it’s kind of like the original, but sort of a cross between a tower defense game and Farmville?
But then you get to hop into an RV and go fight zombies in a vacant lot or something, following a map level by level.
There’s no energy to consume in this game, but growing plants and collecting money from buildings takes time; plants need to grow and buildings have to recharge.
As you kill zombies you get experience and coins, and zombucks, presumably allowing you to buy more stuff. You can buy gems with real money, which speed up recharging buildings or growing plants. The fact that there’s no energy use and you can continue playing makes this one feel more like an actual game.
Plants vs. Zombies Adventures seems like a pretty decent game for facebook. There’s no real commitment required, you can play games like this at your leisure. It’s great for breaks between writing articles or drinking your morning coffee. But most of these games are terrible.
Dawn of the Dragons is a crappy “role playing game” where you make a picture of a character and then push buttons as it narrates fight scenes to you. It’s super boring, the design is horrible, and the navigation is migraine inspiring.
There are countless awful war games where you build buildings and then send creeps into other camps to destroy your neighbors’ buildings. Or you defend against invading creeps. Or you click a button that says “fight” and sit there daydreaming about how awesome the fighting probably is because they don’t have any animation or actual combat and all you get is a box that pops up and says you were victorious or something equally lame.
There are some facebook games that are decent and you can kill some time with them, but for the most part that’s all you are doing; killing time. They don’t have anything great to offer. You don’t have that much fun, if any, and you wind up wasting hours without any sense of accomplishment. The ‘social’ aspect of the games is you clicking on pictures of your friends that you have coerced into playing this crap with you and sending them gifts of chicken feed or bullets or lumber or whatever. Here’s the bottom line:
The good: A very few of these games, such as Plants vs. Zombies Adventures or Dungeon Rampage are worth playing. But the good ones are few and far between, buried under mountains of garbage.
The bad: There are a plethora of awful games like War Commander, Army Attack, Farmville, Mafia Wars, and those in these same veins that are a complete waste of time and internet space. These games are designed poorly and have only the bare bones of what makes an online game.
Why you should bother: You shouldn’t. Unless you are willing to browse through the thousands of horrible games looking for one that is decent, and sacrifice many hours doing trivial activities with limited interaction, don’t waste your time looking for a game on facebook. There are better options in downloadable online games or even browser games. The only ones I can honestly recommend are Plants vs. Zombies Adventures and Dungeon Rampage. If I find more I will make a list. Or not.