Review: Haste15 Jul 2014 0
Haste is about as unoriginal as games get without being mere clones of other games. It involves connecting adjacent letters in a matrix into words, much like Boggle, but with score bonuses like those from Scrabble. Each game lasts only 90 seconds, and it is only playable online against another player. Well, sort of--therein lies the most engaging issue raised by Haste. I've never had difficulty finding an opponent within seconds, which means that either Haste is a massive underground hit, or it features AI opponents deliberately presented as humans.
I'd normally use this paragraph to go into more detail about the game, but there's nothing under Haste's toga. Online-only Boggle plus Scrabble scoring in 90 seconds is all there is to it. That familiarity and simplicity need not be viewed as a pure negative--those are exactly the qualities which ensure that it has appeal for the older, peripheral gamers who represent one of the greatest opportunities for growing the gaming audience. The AI opponents have names like "Marcia" and "Sharon", so developer Lachlan Potts appears to have this demographic in mind.
Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that I'm right about most of my online Haste opponents being AIs. To start with the obvious, it's generally better to be honest with players, so presenting the AIs as real people is troubling. A case could be made that it's a benevolent lie--those who enjoy such games generally enjoy them more both when they play against people and when they believe that a game is played by many others, and this is the simplest way to keep matchmaking wait times low for everybody. The alternative seems to be waiting a short time for matchmaking, then alerting players that they'll be playing an AI instead. I suspect a lot of players would be much less able to enjoy that.
I have two problems excusing this deception entirely. First, it not only makes users happier, it biases the perception of the game and developer in a positive way. Even if that wasn't the goal, a self-serving lie is more ethically questionable than a neutral one.
Second, acknowledging the existence of AIs would make offline play possible, which would have been a substantial boon. Contrariwise, it would also mean that those players who prefer to get very good playing solo before playing a match against real people would tend to wipe the floor with those who want to jump right into multiplayer. It may well make for a better community to cater to this second type. So, while I'm not quite willing to excuse this lie, I can't stand in pure condemnation of it, either, especially considering that, however good the evidence from my matchmaking experiences, it's always possible that, like Jay Trotter, I've been startlingly consistently lucky and there are no actual AIs.
The game itself is mildly enjoyable. It eschews Game Center friends, preferring to force you to connect to Facebook in order to play against people you know. So that's another slightly disreputable choice which could be defended on the basis of Facebook's features, but mostly seems motivated by self-promotion. But there's an interesting strategic tension between just making words as fast as you can and trying to plan careful use of high-value letters, especially those with double- and triple-word score. At its worst, it's over quickly.
"Over quickly" is a bit like "great personality" for devotees of serious strategy, but many of us have a place in our lives for a frantic distraction which we might reasonably hope to share with our silver-haired friends and relations. I'm fascinated to learn how our commenters view the fake player issue, though. Given the importance of the size of the player base to online-only games, I imagine this option has been discussed by other developers, and might well spread.
Haste was played on an iPad Air for this review.