I’m not entirely sure when early access started for The District on Steam, but the first update dropped back in early April of this year. The title is slated to officially launch in late August, which is just a little more than a month and a half from the time of writing this article. As it stands, this independent action/adventure title from developer and publisher Kotach, who is also responsible for the recently released Uncrowded, has gained a slew of negative feedback from users, and is being slammed by many gaming journalists for various reasons. Of course, this title found its way into my game library, either through a bundle purchase or during a recent sale that put the title at the cost of selling one or two trading cards on the Steam marketplace and I was too tired (or drunk) to realize what I was buying. But is this something that, even before the official final product drops, is worth all the hate it is receiving?
First of all, The District is essentially the product of a Unity asset flip, which is something that Kotach is especially infamous for now following the release of Uncrowded. The base game in question for this entry is Decayed State, which is a starter pack you can buy in the programming software’s store. Many are calling this a “broken” rendition of it, as this does not work at all, unlike that base coding. Whatever the reason, there’s clearly little, if any at all, additional work thrown into the mix to make the title it’s own entity.
Aside not really even being of the designer’s own creation, The District winds up nothing more than a largely unplayable brief walking simulator. You are given the task of surviving after something happens, leaving you the only person walking towards an abandoned town. The main issue is that, if the game doesn’t crash or you get stuck in the middle of someone’s yard unable to move for absolutely no reason whatsoever, there seems to be no way to get inside a building, or anywhere where there is light or warmth when the sun sets. I couldn’t find a single tool, couldn’t pick up a single rock, or open a singler lock to get somewhere that I could obtain water, let alone get out of the cold, before my character started dying shortly after darkness engulfed the screen. It seems you literally get two minutes to find something to light your path or get some place safe, but that something doesn’t appear to exist.
Other than that, you walk at a snail’s pace. Thankfully there’s no meter restricting your ability to run, which is more like a vigorous stride than anything else. One of the major glitches I happened across that wasn’t game ending was the garage on your right as you walk into town. It has an open bay door, but the one closed next to it is better off not existing, as you can just walk right through it, unlike any of the doors in town. There’s also nothing in the garage itself at all but a truck. It seems no matter what I did, I wound up stuck staring at near pitch black with a nearly useless flashlight in hand dying from the apparent cold, cursing that the garage had been wiped clean for some reason.
Even moving beyond the town is impossible. Even if you can navigate a truck around the cement barricades, which is a task in and of itself, you’ll just go as those in the olden days of humanity believed would happen and just sail your vehicle over the end of the world. No, really. There is nothing beyond that town other than a short strip of road and a cliff you’ll inevitably drive off of since stopping or trying to exist the closer you get appears to be disabled. You’re confined to this small town, as that’s all the map you get.
And then there’s the control scheme, which is just convoluted at best. Opening doors was as simple as pressing the “e” key, which came into play early on. But, after nearly an hour of gameplay, I finally found out how to do anything. However, you do start with a rifle and a small axe. However, in order to use these, you have to press “2” on the numbers above the letter keys, hold down the right mouse button to aim, then press “e” again to fire, or chop if you’re standing in front of a tree. Almost everything is done with the “e” key, but you need to be at a very precise spot facing anything if you want to pick up an item, such as a six pack on a picnic table to replenish your liquid levels. Of course, this and the food don’t seem to matter, as both ran out and I didn’t die. Instead I remained floating in purgatory doing a three hundred and sixty degree rotation after having driven off the edge of the game’s world.
As it stands in early access, there’s a lot that obviously needs to be done. An options menu with a control scheme would be nice (though nothing but a few keys seem to do anything at all anyhow), a little more story to give the background as to why you’re here and the residents are not, or even an explanation of what you’re supposed to do would be nice. If it sounds like Kotach is selling a bare bones template for three dollars (US), then you’d be exactly right, except this “developer” broke the already functional code and is selling it completely broken. Who knows, maybe in the next month and a half we’ll see a major update roll out that adds a little something to make this game playable. However, given this Kotach is now concentrating more on Uncrowded than this entry, The District‘s main purpose for existence for players at this point is to give out some Steam trading cards, and grab three achievements (none of which I can seem to obtain, even though I met the requirements).
Will we ever see an actual game stem from this? While the potential to make this basic foundation into something marginally good exists, it’s a safe bet that it will probably never happen. If you’re really that curious on The District, this is one of those games that constantly goes on sale. At the time of writing this, it can be purchased for a whopping twenty-nine cents (though it’s early Monday morning and the next round of Steam sales will begin shortly), which is basically the sale of a few Steam trading cards. Hell, I just sold a duplicate from another game off for that exact amount. But, if you’re an avid acquirer of bundles from various sites like Indiegala, chances are you’ll end up with a key for this game, whether you want it or not.