God sucks (people into the sky)

    Left Behind: Eternal Forces is a real-time strategy PC game about the Christian rapture.     Yeah, you read that right. Try not to laugh too hard. The guys who made it are serious, and they’re just as serious about video games as they are about evangelical Christianity.

    Left Behind: Eternal Forces is a real-time strategy PC game about the Christian rapture.

    Yeah, you read that right. Try not to laugh too hard. The guys who made it are serious, and they’re just as serious about video games as they are about evangelical Christianity.

    Chances are if you don’t go to church on Sunday, you’ve probably never heard of the Left Behind book series. Penned by Christian authors Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye, the now 16-book series essentially explores this question: What would it be like if Bible-thumping Christian-style rapture happened, like, today?

    The books have sold more than 60 million copies worldwide and also spawned three high-grossing movies (starring Kirk Cameron). It was only a matter of time until Left Behind debuted in video game form.

    The game’s developers founded a publicly traded company, Left Behind Games, to create and market the game and hired some heavyweight programmers from some of the industry’s top gaming firms to design it. These guys aren’t just trying to make a Christian niche-market game, they’re trying to make a Christian-themed mass-market blockbuster.

    So that’s great, they made themselves a video game, but it isn’t going to be, you know – preachy?

Well, yeah. But even if the sight of a crucifix makes you wince, that doesn’t mean Eternal Forces should be completely disregarded. It’s actually kind of fun.

    The game begins a year and a half after the day when all of the sudden, all the Christians on earth mysteriously disappeared. The government is saying it has something to do with electromagnetic radiation, but actually, they’ve all been sucked into the sky by God. Since then, everything has pretty much gone to shit. The U.N. has been dissolved and replaced with the “Global Community," headed by Nicolae Carpathia, a genetically engineered former president of Romania who also happens to be the Antichrist. Now Carpathia’s henchmen are roaming New York City systematically wiping out the last signs of believers.

    You control the Tribulation Forces, which basically consist of the people who noticed that all the folks who disappeared happened to go to church a lot, went “Oh shit!" and started reading the Bible. Now they’re forming a resistance army to combat Carpathia’s Global Community. It’s your job to recruit non-believers to the Tribulation Force and take the Antichrist down.

    If this sounds like a lot of story, it is. Eternal Forces has a densely rich storyline, culling lots of details from the Left Behind books. Every single one of the hundreds of characters in the game has a back-story that you can read at the click of a mouse. In fact, the storyline almost becomes a fault, as some of the game’s missions seem more focused on advancing the story than fun or challenging game play.

    The game play, by the way, consists of controlling your Tribulation Forces in a beautifully detailed map of New York City using a Warcraft III-esque real-time strategy interface. First you have to use your ministers to recruit non-believers. Then you can train believers to become a variety of professions, including musicians, recruiters, medics, builders, and yes, soldiers. Make sure your guys pray, listen to inspiring music, or go to church often, though, or else they might lose faith and go back to being useless non-believers.

    The game doesn’t veer too far from the standard RTS format, other than being, you know, Christian. You acquire units, which require resources, so you build various types of buildings to provide resources, and when you acquire enough units, you go take down the bad guys.

    I know what you’re thinking. Yes, you, controlling a Christian army, get to go around shooting up non-believers. It’s true. But the game also encourages the use of more peaceful means, like using your ministers and musicians to inspire the bad guys to switch sides.

    The game play has a nice fast-paced quality to it, the missions are challenging, and there are a nice variety of units and buildings so that amassing your Tribulation Force requires some thought and strategy. And the New York City maps contain an incredible level of real-world detail.

    The game has a couple of annoying aspects too, though. The difference in scale between the buildings and the units, while proportional, is immense. With the camera zoomed out to see the whole playing field, individual units are so tiny as to be indistinguishable. When zoomed in so you can see your units, it’s hard to see what’s happening on the map.

    Then there are the spirit points. All of your units have a “spirit rating" from 1-100, which must be maintained above 65, or else they lose faith and quit the Tribulation Force. You can keep their spirit rating up by making them pray, having your musician sing inspiring music to them, or making them go to church. The problem is, there is no menu screen where you can easily check up on all of your units’ individual spirit ratings at the same time. There’s only a bar at the top of the screen that tells you your overall average. This can mean you have to spend valuable mission time hunting around the map for your units so you can make sure they’re not about to switch sides on you.

    There’s one other thing I just couldn’t get over with this game, too. It’s incredibly sexist. Friendly male units are called simply “Friend," but female units are called “Woman Friend." But here’s the really bad part: the only profession a female unit can undertake is that of a medic. Apparently only men are suited for professions like musician, builder or recruiter, not to mention soldier.

    Still, Eternal Forces, although without a doubt a Christian-themed game, succeeds in putting fun game play first before being preachy. Almost. There are these annoying screens between missions that, while having nothing to do with the game, ask players to think about concepts like intelligent design, or inform them that the Bible predicted several major scientific achievements. As if having an entire game based around the rapture just wasn’t enough.

    Christian or no, Eternal Forces succeeds at being pretty fun to play. It’s a quirky vision of a verging-on-apocalyptic world that’s fun to explore. Even if you chose to ignore the plot device, it would be a title totally competitive with many other RTS games on the market. Let’s just hope we’re around tomorrow to play it.