GiAnts is a single-player Indie adventure released on May 20th, 2016, from Wreck Tangle Games, which offers partial Steam controller support and Steam achievements. It’s an ant simulator and first-person platformer in which players take the role of Adam, a fledgling male ant who has been mistaken for a female member of his brood and thus sentenced to a life of collecting food for the nest. This means that Adam must navigate through numerous levels full of extremely persistent enemies and huge obstacles in search of candy, utilizing all of his ant skills to survive and bring home the goods. But what does the miniature world of an ant offer for players?
Let’s Talk About Enemies and Objectives
Adam’s world is fraught with danger, from the swift flies and spiders in the first environment – the garden outside – to increasingly nasty, tenacious monsters as his exploration continues. By the time I reached the second level, an office space full of speedy rats and even more determined wasps, I had a healthy respect for the opponents that Adam’s ant colony must face in order to feed everyone leftover candy dropped by humans. One of my favorite things about GiAnt is that some of the puzzles to obtain a piece of candy require the player to use the environment around them rather than just jumping from platform to platform; don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of jumping to be had in this world, and Adam has an adorable voice-over jumping sound, but I’m always glad to see an Indie game reach beyond those challenges.
Trekking into the kitchen of the house attached to the garden in the first level made me nostalgic for the original Half-Life title, and one of the player-made Deathmatch maps called “Rats!” that took the opponents into an oversized kitchen full of tiny traps and dangers. Unfortunately, that’s the bulk of what GiAnts offered me: A longing to play an older, very dated, player-made mod for an entirely different series, rather than enjoyment in the moment for what this title offered me.
Wonderful Idea, But Poor Implementation
GiAnts is an ambitious, creative take on first-person simulation titles, and I love that the designer decided to go with something as unusual as an ant for the main character. I liked Adam, and a lot of the dialog between him and his fellow colony members is clever, offering things like breaking the fourth wall and even poking fun at itself when not offering hints to the players. I loved exploring the terrain from this teeny-tiny perspective, but I also found that most of the areas were rather sparse in decorations and obstacles given the size of them. Outside, there’s a slide and swing set, a man seated on a bench, a chicken pecking around, and a few other nifty things to see, but most of the area is just very flat landscape for Adam to run through while trying to dodge enemies.
Speaking of enemies - for the record they never, ever seem to lose interest in you; outrunning them is the only option short of just out-maneuvering them temporarily. This gets a little tiresome after a while, and it certainly increases the difficulty quickly. While I didn’t test the Tip in the overlay that says every time you hit Escape another enemy is spawned – I tried it about 30 times instead of the 100 required for an ultra-difficult mode – but it certainly seemed to be raising the enemy count even at that amount. It’s certainly a cheeky concept, “punishing” the player for hitting Esc., but since that’s also how you access the menu to change your settings, exit to save, and even pause the game, it does seem like a steep penalty.
While I enjoyed the voices of the characters I encountered playing Adam, the other sounds in GiAnts are a mixed bag. When finding myself near a spider, a strange, screeching violin sound would play loudly; when a fly buzzed near, it buzzed very loudly, and it was difficult to guess how far away enemies were without stopping to look. On top of that, many of the enemies were able to pin me down so that I couldn’t sprint away, which not only meant that they slowly killed me, but that I also had to listen to the overly loud sound effects for that creature type as well. In the Office level, most of the cubicles were playing different pieces of music, and those layered on top of all of the other soundtrack and sound effect noises was disorienting and downright unpleasant.
I feel that GiAnts is a fantastic idea that just needs a whole lot more polish. All of the fundamental elements are here: It’s a cute storyline with a unique angle, fun voice acting, graphics that are substantial and lend to the overall feel of the game, plus lots of room to grow. Unfortunately, as it stands, GiAnts just doesn’t offer enough to be competitive versus other simulation and Indie adventure titles. The interface is clunky and the instructions leave a lot to be desired, making a much steeper learning curve than necessary. The opponents are glitchy and bothersome to the point of being frustrating rather than challenging, and it started to detract from my overall enjoyment very quickly without triggering any desire to overcome and defeat these obstacles.
I really wanted to recommend GiAnts, but perhaps too much of my anticipation was thanks to my hours and hours spent as a tiny character in other gaming worlds, and that “bug’s eye view” perspective made me too optimistic. The graphics here are fun, especially the blurry draw distance that makes exploration even more important, but it just isn’t quite enough to keep me coming back for more. I’d love to revisit GiAnts at a later time if some of these problems are worked out: a little more incentive to overcome the frustration of the wonky enemies in order to see secret areas, and a satisfying ending would help as well. I’d have been a little more lenient with a lot of these issues, but I simply must say that it is better left avoided unless you really enjoy bug-based simulation platformers.