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Greed: Black Border is the latest budget role-playing game from Clockstone Software, the Austrian developer behind Avencast: Rise of the Mage. As with Avencast, Greed mixes together action role-playing elements with puzzles in an attempt to create something beyond the norm, but once again Clockstone failed to energize the combat with any sort of life, and so once again their title isn't a lot of fun to play. In fact, Greed is such a poor production that I'd call it a lesser Space Siege (which at the time earned the lowest score I'd ever given a game at GameBanshee, back in the days when we were giving out scores).
Greed takes place in the future, where a resource named Ikarium has allowed humanity to spread to the stars. As the game opens up, humans have colonized five worlds, but those worlds aren't getting along too well, and shortages in Ikarium have put them on the brink of war. You play a colonist from the world Camulos, but you've become so disillusioned with your world's actions that you've decided to become a free agent and hunt for Ikarium on your own.
Oddly, the campaign doesn't have a lot to do with the backstory. When you gain control of your character, you're just about to board a derelict mining ship, and that leads you to a desert planet and the discovery of some insect-like aliens. There isn't any intrigue or political maneuverings, and the five planets are barely mentioned at all. You could be any character in any random science fiction story.
Characters in Greed belong to one of three classes: pyro-fighters (with short-range fire attacks), marines (with medium-range machine gun attacks), and plasma-engineers (with long-range plasma attacks). Each class gets a unique set of skills, plus a unique weapon, but that's it. From what I can tell, the campaign plays out exactly the same for each class.
Skills in the game are divided into three categories: active skills (such as frag grenades and smoke bombs) which require energy to use, passive defensive skills (such as absorbing energy from downed enemies), and passive offensive skills (such as allowing your shots to pass through enemies). Characters can only have one passive defensive and one passive offensive skill active at a time, but it's easy enough to switch between them with the press of a hotkey.
Each time your character gains a level, you gain two points that you can add to your shields, health, or energy, and you gain one point that you can add to your skills. Each skill gets five ranks, but for most skills the first rank is worth more than all of the other ranks combined. For example, with the marine's (penetrator) skill, the first rank allows bullets to pass through enemies 30% of the time. After five ranks the probability only increases to 37%. As a result, building your character isn't always a lot of fun.
Greed has a relatively short campaign. I finished it after 15-20 hours, and I was surprised when it ended. I thought I had just completed the first act of the game, and then suddenly the credits started rolling. However, while I was surprised I wasn't sad. The game had been so repetitive and dull up to that point that I was thrilled to be done with it.
The campaign features four types of enemies (including zombies and alien insects), but you fight them for far longer than is reasonable. The trick for any action role-playing game is to keep things interesting by changing up enemies and environments, or in giving you quests to complete, or in keeping the story intriguing so you want to see how events play out. But Greed doesn't do any of these things. There aren't any quests, the story (what little there is) is badly written, and you kill the same things over and over and over again.
On the good side, Greed does feature a few puzzles and mini-games. They involve things like cutting through a wall so you can advance through a ventilation duct, figuring out the code to a safe, and dodging around lasers and tentacles. But unfortunately, these puzzles are much more lightweight than the puzzles in Avencast, so they don't do as much to elevate the game, and, strangely, they disappear about halfway through the campaign, as if Clockstone by that point had completely given hope that Greed would turn into anything special.
But at least the engine is respectable. Greed is played using an (oddly fixed) isometric view, where you left click to move and fire your weapon, and you right click to activate a skill. Everything worked pretty well for me, and the game didn't crash on me even once, so from a technical standpoint Greed is just fine. Now Clockstone just needs to work on what they actually put into their games.
Even though Greed: Black Border is a budget role-playing game, it didn't deliver enough content to be worth even its $20 asking price. The levels are bloated beyond belief, the campaign is incomplete, the writing is terrible, and the combat is boring. There just isn't anything about the game to recommend, unless your standards are terribly low. So skip Greed and hope that the next budget title to come along has at least a few pluses to go long with the minuses.