By Ron Scopelliti
A computer role playing game with no dragons, or zombies, or post-apocalyptic giant rats to battle? Who would ever conceive of such a thing?
As it turns out, Rudyard Kipling did, though he didn’t know it at the time. But at the end of last year, Secret Games Company released “Kim,” a single-player game based on the author’s 1901 novel about an orphan living by his wits on the streets of India during British rule.
The story starts in Northern India where 14-year-old Kimball O’Hara, the orphan of an Irish soldier and his destitute wife, is surviving by his wits on the streets of Lahore.
The player’s job is to guide Kim through an open-world landscape until he reaches the age of 18. It’s an offbeat combination of survival, resource management, and adventure in which nebulous goals such as Kim’s happiness are as important as how many rupees he collects, or how many missions he completes. Come to think of it, it’s a lot like life.
Along the way, Kim encounters a diverse group of characters, including representatives of the region’s various religions and philosophies, and historical figures including Kipling’s father.
Kim has the option of getting involved with the contemporary political intrigue between Great Britain and Russia over Central Asia that came to be known as the Great Game. He can also supplement his income through numerous breaking-and-entering opportunities, though getting caught can result in costly prison stays.
The game is played in a top-down, 2-D view. At first it’s difficult to distinguish one character from another, given that you’re looking straight down at the tops of their heads, but after a while I started to pick up on subtle cues based on headwear, and what I could see of their clothing. The graphics have a muted, hand-painted warmth to them that suits the overall feel of the game. There’s a combat system, which I haven’t yet gotten the hang of, but “Kim” strikes me as a game where combat is secondary to resourcefulness.
Interactions with characters are text-based, and the language reflects both the period, and the style of the novel. The game is rich with description, and with historical and philosophical background. “Kim” isn’t a game to speed-run through, but to sit back and absorb like the novel it’s based on.
While “Kim” can be appropriately depressing, given the fact that you’re playing a destitute orphan living in an era of imperialism that’s out of touch with current multi-cultural values, the chance to rise above it all offers a strong incentive to keep playing.
I didn’t really distinguish myself in my first play-through, showing a particular talent for getting beat up and/or arrested. But the game is designed to be replayed, with certain elements randomly generated for each new game. I’ve already started looking back on where I went wrong in my first life as a street urchin, and looking forward to my re-incarnation as a wiser 2-D adventurer.
“Kim” runs on Windows 7, 8, or 10. A dual-core CPU and 2 GB of RAM are required. Recommended graphics processors are GeForce 8600/Radeon HD 3670/Intel HD 3000. It’s also available for Mac and Linux. “Kim” can be purchased at GOG.com, or the Steam online store.