There are a lot of games that let you play as Indiana Jones. The Curious Expedition would rather you play as Allan Quatermain.
While the game has been available on Steam for a while now, courtesy of Early Access, it hit v1.0 a few weeks ago, so I’ve been playing it to check out a more “final” release. And as a fan of both FTL and large moustaches, I’ve been rather enjoying it.
The Curious Expedition is about 19th-century adventuring. You and some other brave explorers are in a competition, setting off around the world on expeditions and seeing who can steal the most shit from an unsuspecting indigenous population.
There’s a rogue-like veneer to the game, in that each map you play on is generated, your challenges come from a template and your decisions and actions carry over, but it isn’t an entirely random game. You’re led down a certain path, with certain types of terrain becoming available after a time, and when the race is over, it’s over, so don’t go expecting this to be a radically different experience each time you play.
But! What you do play through is pretty fun, provided you’re as into the tone of things as I was.
It works like this: you outfit your expedition with supplies, visit an exotic (relative to Victorian Britain) location, roam inland exploring temples and fighting animals and meeting the locals, find a big-ass relic then leg it back to your ship to return to England and sell your stuff for cash.
You do that a few times, then the game is done. Along the way there’s some fairly tense combat (which plays out with dice), tough inventory decisions to make, recruitment woes to juggle (party members will come and go depending on your choices) and natural disasters to avoid.
The low-fi graphics work for the most part (end-of-mission screens look amazing, battles are ugly as hell), and a real highlight is the writing, which turns every random encounter and temple exploration into a jolly good show pip pip eh wot boy.
Like I said above, though, the fact the game isn’t that random ends up being a frustrating shortfall. The minutiae may change every time you play the game but overall you end up playing much the same experience, which would be OK if it was some kind of singular, lengthy campaign. But here it’s just a short little race, lasting only a few hours, and once you’ve completed a couple of them you’ve seen pretty much everything there is to see.
It’s like the game design was torn between a proper, completely random roguelike (hence the generated stages and short missions) and a more structured event (maintaining the same general means of progressing through each race), and in trying to hit both goals ended up stuck on the fence and achieved neither.
What’s there though is still a good time if adventures into the unknown are your thing, though. Just remember, don’t get too greedy: the natives, and their furious Gods, do not look kindly upon it.