Racism and massacres are becoming increasingly popular recently in terms of story-telling in video games. While some people might be disgusted by the romanticized nature of such themes, most gamers will take to the use of them easily when paired with fun and engaging gameplay elements and mechanics. Nowhere are they more willing to be experimented with than on the indie game developer scene, and that’s especially true of Ink Stains Games with their upcoming top-down shooter, 12 is Better Than 6.
The title of the game is a little hard to understand at first glance without some background. When a person is tried in court for a crime, their fate is decided by the votes of 12 jurors. As for the other number, there are 6 polebearers tasked with the grim responsibility of carrying a dead person’s body in a coffin/casket to their burial site.
But wait, who are you playing as in 12 is Better Than 6 that would commit a crime? The Kickstarter page of the game introduces us to an unnamed and faceless “Mexican” during the Old West-era of America in 1873. Our hero hates the white “Gringos” that enslaved and overworked him and countless others in a mine for five long years. He decides to exact his revenge on the White men who wronged him, reasoning out that it is better to kill the people he hates and go to jail for it than be killed and buried.
So let’s get into the game. The extended pre-Alpha build I was privy to starts with a tutorial level where players are taught the ropes. Movement is controlled with a simple W-A-S-D scheme to traverse the 2D top-down environment. Pointing the targeting reticle, a simple circle that changes during combat, determines where the Mexican faces in relation to where he is in the area. Interacting with a person, moving between areas and picking up an object is as simple as pressing E.
The tutorial area introduced me to the beautiful hand-drawn graphics of 12 is Better Than 6. Faithfully produced in 2D, the environments shown in the pre-Alpha are quite pretty. When in towns, the buildings become transparent when players approach their walls and/or doors. There are also a few excellently-drawn non-motion cutscenes that help to explain the story and where it goes throughout the pre-Alpha. A part of the pre-Alpha also has the Mexican travel between locations, and it is during this travel that players may encounter groups of Gringos who he must either sneak past undetected or eliminate to get to the circle with a skull indicating where to stand in order to press E to move to the next area. Every kill the Mexican makes is glorified by a massive spray of blood from the Gringo when they die. Not for the faint of heart and the hemophobic, by any means.
A major difference between first-and-third-person games and 12 is Better Than 6‘s top-down perspective is the latter’s sense of uncertainty. Since you can’t see very far ahead if equipped with only a standard revolver instead of a rifle, stealth and patience is key to avoid a shootout and, potentially if you’re not careful enough, death. Regardless of whether you have a revolver or another long-gun, pressing Shift extends the camera’s view, the range of which depends on the equipped weapon. (click the gallery below to see the GIFs in motion).
Speaking of death, one of the few annoying things I can speak of in 12 is Better Than 6 is the reset of the area you’re in when you die. There is no checkpoint system in each of the game’s areas, which became bigger and bigger as I progressed through the pre-Alpha. So, the only thing I could do to get through the tough parts is go through trial-and-error until I got it right.
When not pulling your hair out because of it, chances are good that you’ll love the more gruesome aspects of the game: the combat systems. Starting out with a basic but powerful revolver and progressing to much stronger rifle variants, the shooting mechanics in 12 is Better Than 6 depend on the weapon used. For example, as can be seen in left-hand GIF above, the revolver requires cocking by holding down the right mouse button before firing with the left mouse button. Shooting most other weapons also requires clicking the left mouse button, but, with the limited assortment of weapons in the pre-alpha, did not require holding down the right to cock them. The keen-eyed reader might have noticed in the right-hand GIF above that the full game aims to include using the bow-and-arrow, which will probably require holding down the right mouse button to draw back before firing.
Unlimited bullets is not a feature of 12 is Better Than 6, but fear not, there’s a reload feature for that very reason. Hitting the R button, regardless of whether you’re out of bullets in the cylinder, magazine or chamber, reloads the weapon equipped. But there’s not an unlimited amount of bullets to use to reload either, which you must keep in mind and track on the right side of the screen. Just below the on-screen image of the weapon you’re using you can see how many bullets/rounds are left before you have to reload. I loved how reloading requires physically pressing the R button one time for one bullet, so that for a six-round revolver cylinder that’s empty, you have to press the R button 7 times, once to pop open the cylinder and then six times to load the bullets.
The cover system is misleading at best and makes for much bang-your-head-on-the-wall frustration. While the tutorial makes it seem like you have the option to make your own cover and will always have some sort of cover, you really don’t get that luxury much of the time. This makes scouting ahead and planning your attack critical for those perfectionists who want to try and clear the game without dying once. A particular section near the end of the pre-Alpha is a prime example because of the literal non-existence of any cover to hide behind, plus the fact that there are three guys you have to take out with your knife before quickly switching over to your gun to take out the other three guys in the next room who will come running at the sound of the stabfest, all of them with their own guns.
Wait, what? Did I just say you have a knife in 12 is Better Than Six? Why yes, yes I did. There is some emphasis on stealth in parts of the pre-Alpha where staying quiet and avoiding a shootout is better than risking death and having to do-over the area. Switching to your knife is as simple as hitting the Q button. I enjoyed the novelty of the Mexican’s knife-wielding hand in the top-right-hand corner of the screen where the weapons normally are shown being highlighted and the knife moving to a stabbing position from an at-rest position whenever you place the target reticle over an enemy. You’ll know if you’re in range to stab (and that’s quite close by the way for the curious) when a skull with blood coming out of it appears over the enemy. That’s when you strike by clicking the left mouse button. Even if it’s gory and violent, there was quite a rush of satisfaction when I made a string of kills with the knife in the middle of the pre-Alpha.
Dialogue is usually witty, but is also often racially-charged. Split mostly-evenly between non-interactive dialogue and kill-cam-style dialogue, speech-bubbles rule the day in 12 is Better Than 6. The non-interactive dialogue is basically a big speech box the appears in the middle of the bottom of the screen, with the name and picture of the speaker and what words and actions they say and do. The kill-cam-style dialogue I mentioned can be seen in the right-hand GIF I pointed out earlier in this article. These consist of short, somewhat-stereotypical one-liners that express the Mexican’s hate for Gringos and his satisfaction in killing them.
In-game music is great for setting the tone and pace of each area in a game, and Ink Stains Games pulled it off well from what I saw in the pre-Alpha. Whether it be stealth portions, shootouts, arguments, cutscenes, or non-hostile areas, the music matched and set what I expect from areas that require such approaches, or lack thereof in the case of cutscenes.
So, is it worth your support on Kickstarter? And potentially the purchase of the final retail version? I say hell yes.