Left Behind: Eternal Forces
Left Behind: Eternal Forces (2006) is a real time strategy game published by LB Games, a based the Left Behind series, a sixteen volume fantasy book series based on the Apocalypse in Christian mythology that's done the rounds in the United States. This is all about the End Times - or rather, a very specific and very modern interpretation of the End Times.
If I understand it correctly, there is a mass disappearance of babies, children
and many adults right across the world. Some of the shocked survivors twig
that they are the Innocent and Good Christians taken up to Heaven by God;
the Rhapsody in other words, and worse, they realize
the Biblical End Times are upon them. They form
the Tribulation Force - an evangelical
The actual demo itself was a bit of a mixed affair: my biggest enemy wasn't so much the Anti-Christ's forces so much as the tall buildings blocking my view and the general opaqueness of what I was supposed to be doing. Your units are mere specks in the distance. Its hard to identify them unless you zoom right in, whereupon it becomes very easy to become disorientated.
You renovate buildings, convert locals and then train them into professionals to further the cause. You produce a variety of resources to sustain your forces and, like all good RTS's, there's a tech tree. Buildings can become cafes (food), banks (money), chapels (Spirit) and others. However, also squirreled away are Houses of Wisdom, presenting you with some Biblical multiple choice questions (as well as some bizarre pseudo-scientific ones) that kick you out of the game and lead to a Don't Be Left Behind forum. This is the non-gaming bit, and quite clearly a cluster of slick, cashed up ministries prowling for new converts. There's also a surprising barrage of real life (i.e. secular) advertising all through the city maps too, which does for immersion what a fart does for solemnity.
Eternal Forces has plenty of unintentionally hilarious moments mixed with rather obnoxious ones. Its also delightfully sexist in an old fashioned way: for example, Builders and Soldiers can only be male, while women can only have careers in medicine (as nursey looking Medics in heels and nurse's cap), playing music or spreading the Word. Most of the citizenry you convert seem to be 90% male. And there are other little touches throughout: e.g. converted passerby's are classified as a Friend, but for some reason female friends are explicitly singled out as being Friend Woman. Me Rak-Rent. You. Friend! Wo-man. (I think they put out a second version of the demo that actually tidied this up.) Its tiresome enough wading through games aimed at puerile 15 y.o. adolescents with their hand down their crotch, but its strangely incongruous finding creaky old paternalistic sexism dressed up as some kind of authoritative moral stance in, of all things, a computer game. Guess these guys are aiming at "the kids" eh? with these newfangled computer things, right? Isn't that what they're all into these days? Also strange is the social conformity - all converted units look, sound and dress exactly alike. But all the Unsaved are different, and still possess their individuality. I felt I was playing the Borg there for a moment. But only for a moment.
In the Left Behind series, the Saved remain in Heaven with Jesus for about seven years, at which a series of God delivered Tribulations annihilates something like half the world's surviving population (beat that, Nicola!). In the meantime, the Anti-Christ forces everyone to wear his 666 Mark on pain of death. Despite the coercion, many people rebel against Carpathia, and inspired by the lost Raptured, become Tribulation Saints, embracing Jesus as their Messiah. The Second Coming takes place when Jesus returns, along with all the Saved), kills the Anti-Christ, and begins his joyous reign on earth, or the thousand year Millennium - which, if you read between the lines, results in the judgment and deaths of all unbelievers and their consignment to the Lake of Fire.
This is not Jesus the Saviour, Redeemer or Forgiver - this is Jesus the Destroyer. Humanity's only choice seems to be that between two bloody minded forces of mass destruction and murder; one of which is preordained to win, regardless of what you try and do - which makes you wonder why you're even bothering to get up out of bed in the first place. The undeniable bottom line is: in Eternal Forces you convert or fight the Unsaved to change the United States into a theocracy to further God's plan for the Millennium.
If there was one aspect to this game that showed a little promise, it was how Spirit is lost when you engage and kill the opposition's army, regardless of circumstance. Spirit is your all-important resource. It is generated through prayer (which all your units can do) and further gained when you do good deeds (i.e. convert someone). But kill the enemy too much and you can succumb to Evil yourself. Its Left Behind's one redeeming game play mechanic, and about the only nice touch in the entire game. Every character in the game is considered an individual, with a life history. If someone dies - that's it, they're dead. You can engage in spiritual warfare, which about winning the hearts and minds of your enemies to conquer them. It must be one of the only games out there that models violence spiralling out of control and causing your own destruction. Its certainly something someone (without an agenda!) should explore fully sometime.
Unfortunately, they fuck it up, both in execution, context, and well, everything else. Lose enough Spirit and you become, God help you, neutral, which in the wonky world of Left Behind, marks you as one of them - a Carpathian collaborator. You either Convert, or are killed. Spirit is the attribute exclusive to the Tribulation Force; implying that only (Bible) Christians are spiritual, while everyone else isn't, and by implication, pro-Carpathia and thus eligible for... the implications are mind bending.
This is not a game where characters wrestle with their consciences and nor is it one where there's a lot of to-ing and fro-ing fighting a spiritual battle between the forces of good and evil. The characters in Eternal Forces simply disintegrate at the first hint of trouble. In the single player story missions, you can lose the game just by standing near evil rock musicians (Yep - they still have that bee in their bonnet). The entire mission can abruptly end for you when any one of your units in that labyrinthine city suddenly has an attack of faith. There's a huge amount of micro management just keeping the idiots intact, lest they stray too near something as apocalyptic as some busker with appalling taste in cock rock, or an opinion contrary to their own.
Unless - you just mash that Prayer hot key senseless, which is what I found myself doing all the time just to deal with - quite literally - pedestrian challenges. So, you can indeed obliterate an entire street of enemies - and innocent bystanders and other neutrals - with impunity, because, well, you can just pump your Spirit levels right back up. Free of charge. This just felt wrong - that's all prayers are for?
I can only associate introspection, religious meaning and spirituality with Left Behind in the same way I associate pity with the Daleks. There's no tempering of character through adversity or dealing with the perils and ambiguities of the real world. It fails in game play, confuses and obstructs your objectives, and doesn't even work as a hilariously bad game or even qualify as a guilty pleasure.
There I was spamming the Prayer button, watching a pixel representing an individual blunder around a poorly realized New York city. I'd siphoned off every available human being in the city to produce a shoal of Ned Flanders, but there was no drama or suspense, or even any sense of wanting to progress through the game's levels, anyway. Why would you? In Eternal Forces, God's immutable plan runs on rails, and there's nothing you can do or say about it except submit to the inevitable and surrender to it. You know how its going to end, the question is simply how soon the player "gets it" and converts.
The game is shallow, ham fisted, and vapid. I came away from the experience feeling that Left Behind's theology its also divisive and ultimately malicious. Exceptionalism wrapped up in a persecution complex. The tiny Tribulation Force are the only people who know what's going on, the only ones realize their importance with Divine Truth, the only ones with the inside special knowledge of God himself, and yet are faced with a vast, world spanning conspiracy to thwart their tiny selves. Everyone else is, literally going to Hell. This game seems to be careful to never mentioning the words "Christian" or "convert" either, but this is entirely what this game is all about.
Eternal Forces is a recruiting tool.
Its on the prowl. There's a real life agenda. Eternal Forces is merely a delivery system for a particular type of (I had to look this one up) dispensational premillennial Christianity. You can read up on the Dispensationism and Premillennial schools of Christianity here. There are as many different versions of the End Times as there are people to literally believe in them.
Point is, if this was merely just a computer game referring to a fictional series and going for a romp it'd score some smarty pant remarks from Yours Truly and that'd be the end of it. But it's not. We're in a different context here. It takes itself seriously, and while the names and places are fictional, there's no differentiation of fact from fiction. The people involved in this really do subscribe to this fantasy world, and the fact that these fairy tales include building an army to fight the Not-Like-Us's of the world suddenly takes Left Behind's polarized views and divisive messages from embarrassingly naff into a worrying new realm. Luckily for us its all so bodgily put together it effectively neuters itself. This is Christianity indulging in, of all things, a tatty revenge fantasy. Cripes!
And this was my other problem with this game right there: just say the magic words and hey presto! instant salvation and a free trip to Heaven for you. Its more McReligion from the United States. Salvation for the lazy slob, who scores a side of fried Specialness and a large cardboard cup of self-righteousness; who can join an exclusive club separate from the rest of us without the need to work at it or even bother to care. There's no challenge or "pilgrim's progress" to Salvation through a journey of trials, tribulations and discovery; (not even a puzzle to solve other than those inane multiple choice questions), no answers or comforts about the injustices of the world or the means to deal with them. No, you can be as ignorant and as belligerent as you like. The answer in Eternal Forces is all about numbers for your cause; conform and convert is all the good or evil you need to know as you wait in line for your Special Prize from God.
This is Faith as a franchised consumer item, with a disturbing tendency to take its own nonsense seriously as it flatters and indulges the passions of its potential audience; and all apparently blind to where this sort of madness can wind up leading you.
Anyway, Left Behind: Eternal Forces has clearly done some reasonable business, because there's a few sequels for it.
Left Behind 2: Tribulation Forces (2008) introduces a neutral faction, the American Militia Forces.
Left Behind 3: Rise of the Anti-Christ (2010) adds a big graphical upgrade (i.e. from worse to just bad), and you can get enjoy some "Angelic appearances and Demonic battles" depending on your in-game choices. Hm. (Now I'm just morbidly curious.) If they add some Space Orks, I might just scrape together some interest. Or not. Well, maybe. Orks could only add some moral centre to this fine product.
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Modified Fri, Jan 12 2007 by Lindsay
Edit: Fri, Jan 26 2007 by Lindsay Fleay. Rewrote last para. Huffed and puffed a bit more.
Edit: Sat, Jun 25 2011 by Lindsay Fleay. Rewrote it again - i.e. got rid of all that embarrassing ranting.