April 12, 2023
I was impressed with this game, particularly with the educational content. I'm an engineering school graduate with more of a background in math and physics and only a few required classes in chemistry and biology. Biology never "clicked" with me in the same way that math and physics did, but something about playing this game and being forced to sort of passively strategize from the point of view of the immune system made a lot of the abstract stuff we talked about in my biology class from years ago finally click into place. Any direct experience I've had with biology has largely come from brewing beer and wine, and even that became a little clearer after playing this game.
One thing I really like is that the game mechanics themselves explain the scientific concepts pretty well. Instead of directly controlling the cells, you're sort of giving nature a hand by making sure the right behaviors are stimulated by the right proteins in the environment. You aren't able to drive the cells themselves, you're giving them nudges in the right direction to make sure they're able to find and devour the bacterial invaders as intended. It's a different way of thinking about the problem at hand than a lot of more mechanically-inclined people are used to thinking about. It is a bit like herding cats.
Once you get over the initial helpless feeling of dropping breadcrumbs to entice your cellular heroes to eat a bunch of tasty microscopic enemies, it's incredibly satisfying to watch them ride into battle and gobble up your foes. And it's even a little bit poignant to watch them perish and need to be cleaned up by their comrades before they make the inflammation even worse.
The visuals are beautiful and satisfyingly squishy and actually feel a bit like looking through a microscope. Curious players will find plenty of actual microscope slides upon clicking the data tab and looking at the encyclopedia entries for the various agents depicted in the game. The stylized shapes of the receptors and proteins demonstrate well the ways in which receptors are being activated and affecting cell behavior. And the game helpfully gives several hints for what the player should be trying to do next as new gameplay elements are introduced.
The interface provides a lot of nice visual clues for how the game should be played. Everything is beautifully rendered and the content would be educational even without the interactive element, though the interactive part is what puts it over the top for emphasizing what needs to happen to successfully fight off a bacterial invasion.
Several times I found myself pausing the game to look up articles on Wikipedia and other sources about topics in immunology introduced by gameplay, which is what I suppose a lot of such games are trying to prompt the user to do. So it's definitely a success on that front.
I would rate the gameplay as satisfying but difficult. It's definitely challenging and rather ambitious in scope. Casual gamers will likely find the higher levels rather challenging but not completely impossible. It might be good to have the difficulty level be a bit more adjustable for players on the casual end of things so that a higher rate of inflammation is tolerated before declaring defeat. Or perhaps have a sandbox mode in which a player can experiment and explore gameplay mechanics and track their own statistics without worrying that getting the inflammation too high will end the level altogether. That said, the game as currently presented hits a nice sweet spot of being educational, challenging, and fun. A motivated and thoughtful learner will be able to get a lot out of this game.
Fun rating: 4 out of 5
Learning rating: 5 out of 5
Science rating: 5 out of 5
14 / 15
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