Torn City – Review

My first day in Torn City was the most remarkable one. I joined a gym, got a job, went to college, found a working personal computer in the dump, hospitalised a training dummy and got shot in the groin. It was a remarkable day because of the absurdity of arriving in a city, and having all this happen on the first day I was there. Torn City, however, has a way of turning the absurd into the mundane.

Torn City is a poetic name for a city that’s populated entirely by all manner of ruthless scum of the earth: fighters, criminals, and worst of all, corporate executives. As part of the crawling, scheming vermin of this city, your role is to make a name for yourself. Of course, doing this isn’t easy —there are thousands of other players you have to compete with.

Torn City
Torn City is the very image of peace and brotherhood.

Almost everything you do in Torn City will cost you something: energy, nerve, “happy”, life or plain ol’ cash. Activities such as scouring the dump, exercising at a gym and attacking other players (a much more common occurrence than you’d think) require energy. Nerve is used to commit crimes, all of which require a set amount of nerve to execute. If your energy, nerve, life, or “happy” go down, they replenish over time.

Time, it turns out, is one of the most important elements of the game. If you consume any of your resources, a timer shows up above the relevant bar, showing you when it will be partially refilled. According to the official wiki’s numbers, it takes 5 hours for an empty energy bar to be filled. Torn City is, quite literally, the waiting game.

The ideal way to play the game, then, is to log in a few times every day, perform a few actions, and once you’re forced to wait again, log out and go about your daily business. It’s a game of slow, incremental advances—a game of patience and diligence. Not unlike real life, then. Whether that’s a good thing or bad, I’ll leave the judgement up to you.

Torn City
Even if you stay ahead of others, though, someone will almost always be ahead of you.

Your advances in the game range from improving your physical abilities (strength, dexterity, that sort of thing); your work abilities (manual labour, endurance and intelligence), your bank balance, your equipment, your dwelling, your career, your company, your faction and more. It would seem that a text-based online role-playing game like this lends itself to, well, role-playing. Unfortunately, it doesn’t.

When you start the game, you are greeted by a homeless old man named George. He exudes some personality and teaches you the basics of what you can do in Torn City. What he doesn’t teach you, though, is why you should do any of that. There’s no real goal or narrative to the game that I could find in my two weeks with the game.

I could see a number of missions behind ‘lock’ icons, implying that perhaps there will be some kind of storytelling later in the game. It is a common technique in video games to reward grinding with a story. Without a strong hook at the beginning, however, there is no real impetus to go through with the exercise in Torn City.

Perhaps the story is meant to be emergent, and developed by players roleplaying with each other? If so, then the game appears to have failed in that regard as well. A glance at the chat and forums of the game shows no roleplay at all. Instead, I see a thread where one player is offering to reward someone who will attack him and lose. Another player is ‘buying’ runaways: that is, for people to attack her, and then run away. Let’s picture that for a moment: a married woman, living on a private island and working at a car dealership, is asking people to attack her and run away. You can imagine her tactical nod and firm handshake as she hands over a briefcase full of cash to the diligent attacker.

The world of the actual game is not much more coherent either. There are no legal consequences for assault in Torn City whatsoever, with the worst that could happen to you is an unfortunate hospitalisation. Committing crimes such as larceny, hacking, robberies and so on can attract police attention if you’re unsuccessful. However, both the times I was arrested, I was busted out literally before I could realise I had been arrested. It turned out that was common: veteran players busting out random strangers. Why were they doing this? I had no idea, but it was almost likely for some kind of personal profit. It was also clearly why the jail in Torn City was almost always on the emptier side.

Torn City
There’s also a casino included, because you clearly can’t make enough terrible decisions in this city.

There are thousands of players logging into Torn City every day, which means that even if I find the game a mostly pointless rigmarole, many people clearly do not. These players have played for years, logging in assiduously several times each day. They have clicked their way through the game’s pages, improving their stats, becoming stronger, faster and richer. They’ve taken advantage of the game’s many opportunities: founding their own companies, participating in the game’s stock market, buying and selling items, racing illegally, forming factions and travelling to foreign countries.

Going up the game’s many ladders must do doubt take a lot of effort. It also serves a sorry kind of mirror on society as a large: a mouse-click based hamster wheel where your goal is to upgrade to a better kind of hamster wheel. Apart from profile pictures and fancy name backgrounds, there is little in the way of making your character really unique. In my experience of the game, my illusions of having a distinct character faded over time and I came to perceive my character as it really was: a collection of numbers on a spreadsheet, somewhere on a server.

Torn City
Well played, Mr Richh, well played.

The most entertainment I had in the game—and this is something I had to squeeze out of it—was attacking random people ranked close to me. I’d go at them with a lead pipe, a hammer, a knife, and eventually, a chainsaw. Usually I’d make barely any cash worth mentioning, but one day, I made a fat, six-digit figure. I spent it on upgrading my equipment and weaponry, and then got back to attacking more people. Then I got punched in the groin, which instantly hospitalised me. That was amusing.

This was a paid review. Torn City is free to play, and runs on optional donations.

This Article was written by: Rahul Shirke

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