One of the core mechanics of Freaking Meatbags is the ability to combine the DNA of those fleshy, lazy humans to create more workers. Sometimes with multiple arms or laser eyes, when you find alien species to genetically abuse. Much like your meatbags, the game itself is a fusion of the DNA of tower defense and real-time strategy genres, with a little bit of bullet-hell shooter thrown in for good measure.
The premise for Freaking Meatbags is simple and amusing. You play as Chip, a blue-collar worker-bot with the job of plundering the useful resources from a solar system. He’s assigned to a particularly dangerous solar system because he was 0.003 seconds late to his first day. There’s not much depth to the narrative; it exists mostly as a window dressing for standard robo-sci-fi jokes (e.g. the spaceship AI being extremely nonchalant and nihilistic) that are, nonetheless, pretty amusing. While nowhere as witty as the assassin droid who popularised “meatbags” in the nerd lexicon (HK-47 of KOTOR), you can tell effort was made to ensure Chip and his cohorts were given enjoyable personalities. However, the writing and comedy on display show its age already, existing in the realms of zany internet comedy that my fourteen-year-old self would have probably cackled at.
The game is ambitious and promising, but ultimately flawed. The DNA fusion system is probably the most developed and interesting mechanic in Freaking Meatbags, but the game subverts and expands on genre expectations in other ways. I did not expect, for instance, to be able to control Chip as an avatar nor, in some levels, utilize him as a defensive tool with the help of weapon drones. The few experimental levels that entirely eschew the tower defense element are some of the highlights of the game. The DNA fusion system is fun, although not immediately intuitive. When alien species are introduced, you can take unique traits from them (such as multiple arms that increase mining productivity) and splice them with human DNA, creating better workers. Certain defense towers gain bonuses from being manned by different workers with different traits, although it’s not immediately clear which trait improves what. Meatbags improve and get better at work with an XP system, which plays into both the DNA system and adds something of an XCOM-like weight to proceedings when your workers get killed off, although I had very few issues with new, low-XP workers. Nor was the game long enough to become attached to any of your workers, clocking in at around five or so hours.
While there are a variety of different systems and mechanics, each individual element to the game feels somewhat undercooked. There aren’t a huge variety of enemy types, for instance, with the usual “fast but weak” and “slow but tough” types, and the strategy for defeating them mostly consists of building a variety of towers that correspond to the enemy types—a fast machine gun tower and a heavy-hitting rocket tower. The game doesn’t particularly allow you to experiment and play around; the levels either feature a very specific method of achieving the victory condition, or a very basic strategy will work. There’s very little in between. You also don’t get much out of the whole DNA manipulation angle; while some abilities are supposedly optimal, I found success (at least on Normal difficulty) with just the basic humans, most of the time. The game also arbitrarily limits the DNA fusion system to human-alien, disallowing direct fusion of alien-alien. Allowing two species of alien to fuse would have allowed a greater aesthetic variety in the workers, even if the ability functions were identical to those in the altered humans. Ultimately, the game may have been better if the developers reduced the number of elements and genres it wanted to include and focused on building its unique DNA feature into something more fleshed out, perhaps as a straight-forward RTS.
There are a few more issues with the game. The levels don’t tell you the location of its enemy spawns at the start, instead revealing them on a wave-by-wave basis. This adds to a certain trial-and-error gameplay loop that gets frustrating in the latter half of the game, due to later defense set-ups requiring specific placements to counteract wild robot attacks from multiple directions. However, there is a pretty sure-fire way to counter most situations—create the maximum amount of workers and harvest as much raw material as possible. The game should have been balanced better, as this brute force tactic works for most levels.
Speaking of aesthetics, the game’s visuals are standard for a PC indie fare, a colourful, simple pixel style reminiscent of FTL or Westerado. There’s nothing ground-breaking here, but they serve the title’s light-hearted sci-fi setting decently. The same could be said for the soundtrack, which is a catchy-if-repetitive; I found myself lowering the music volume after an hour or so of play. A few more tracks would have reduced the repetition.
Freaking Meatbags developer Wild Factor is hard at work on their next game, MachiaVillain, a “horror mansion management simulation”, where the objective is to build a horror mansion filled with all kinds of movie monsters and lure in innocent victims for the slaughter. I hope that MachiaVillain is more consistent and focused in its identity, rather than a patchwork Frankenstein’s monster.