In my first hour playing TORN, I enrolled in classes at law school, beat someone to death with a hammer, and got a job at a casino. Later, I crawled around in a junkyard, shoplifted a candy bar which I then sold back to the store owner, and I nearly got caught selling bootleg reggae CDs.
TORN was an entirely unique experience.
Billed as an online RPG, TORN is first and foremost a text-based game. In a time before MMORPGs, a genre of games called MUDs, or Multi-User Dungeons, offered massive worlds and online multiplayer. In place of graphics, these games were based entirely on text descriptions of places, items, and interactions. Using role-playing mechanics such as stats, experience, and turn-based gameplay, MUDs laid the foundation for MMORPGs.
These days, very few games rely on text, at least to the extent that a game like TORN has to. While most gamers would think it’s a disadvantage, TORN has managed to convince me that a text-only experience – when tied with the right mechanics and a modern interface – can be a distinctly rewarding game all its own.
Set in a city overflowing with crime and violence, TORN manages to make a real world-like setting work in ways that graphical games cannot. For starters, this is a massive game run by an indie studio. Do not let walls of text fool you: TORN is a regularly updated, well-maintained game, with a dedicated fan base vying for the top of the leaderboards. Furthermore, while most games are content with having a single theme and running with it, TORN offers so much to do than just petty crimes and other criminal enterprises. Players can get jobs, go to school to become lawyers or doctors, become slum lords, or start factions to fight other factions. TORN is massive in ways MMORPGs only dream of being.
I wasn’t sure what to expect coming into the game, but the new player experience was excellent. A creepy hobo-looking fella named George takes your new character in immediately. With a series of missions that take you all around the city, as well as a daily email reminding you to login, TORN aims to ease new players into its many complexities.
And man, this is one complex game. Not only are there combat stats that can be trained up in the gym, but working a job boosts an entirely different set of stats. Plus, this is an RPG, so there’s a full inventory system and characters can be equipped with a wide variety of armor and weapons. I have hardly touched the combat at this point, but TORN does allow for hit jobs and muggings, so being well-trained (and well-prepared) are necessary if you want to take that route.
My first few hours with the game focused almost entirely on setting up my new life in this new place. I bought a gun for protection, moved into an apartment, and started making something of myself. The city of Torn revolves around having cash, and while working day-to-day consistently puts cash in my pocket, I found myself attempting more and more crime to make a fast buck or taking my chances at the casino in hopes of a lucky payout. The entire experience was eerily reminiscent of the lives facing many of the disenfranchised citizens in the bottom rung of urban life. George also mentioned getting married, so I am not sure what extent I can go with living out my fantasies of being a low-end crook with a family to feed.
One final note on the good before I move onto what didn’t work for me: TORN works better than I expected. The reason for that relies almost entirely on the game’s interface. At times, it can be a bit clunky, but it does a great job of communicating the game’s mechanics. There are also graphical flairs (such as the city map) that add a ton of character to the experience. When I think back to my limited time with game’s of a similar nature, TORN’s look and feel kept me clicking and exploring without worry.
With all of the positives in mind, there is one big problem with this game. Though I understand the appeal of roleplaying as a criminal, that just isn’t me. Games like APB or even the Grand Theft Auto series never really appealed to me. And as deep and interesting as TORN can be, it isn’t so great at what it does that it makes me forget my dislike of playing a criminal. Even with the ability to live a clean life, the game focuses too much on my character doing bad things.
If that were all, I might be able to overcome it once I established a character who didn’t rely on criminal enterprises to be a success, but TORN has borrowed a mechanic from other games that I hate. Every character has ‘Energy’ and ‘Nerve’, both of which are temporarily expended before being regenerated. Activities like going to the gym expend Energy, and Nerve is spent on committing crimes.
Neither would be terrible, but both regenerate in real time and are very limited to begin with. In other words, TORN has more in common with Facebook and mobile games than it does a full-blown MMORPG. I do not fault the designers for the decision, especially since there was zero complexity sacrificed in order to have an energy bar, but I hate feeling forced to log in regularly. Even committing to a daily login annoys me. Booting up a game just to check off the mandatory daily routines may work for some people (such as MMORPG fans who like World of Warcraft’s Garrisons), but it doesn’t work on me.
TORN was worth a chance and, despite not falling in love with it, I definitely recommend it to others. Playing a text-based RPG in 2016 is one thing, but it is amazing how quick I realized the role-playing potential in a game that doesn’t even try to render my character. Without the burden of graphics, TORN soars purely on the imagination, but its mechanics and RPG systems make doing so a fun game with many players that can participate together. It has its faults, but it also has some strengths worth paying attention to.
You can play TORN for free now.Related: Browser, Chedburn Networks, F2P, Sandbox, TORN