With the release of Treasures of Montezuma Blitz on PlayStation Vita this week, it seemed players would have a new free-to-play game to mess around with. This isn’t new on the PSN: DC Universe Online, Free Realms and the upcoming FPS Dust 514 all fully explore this model.
But with the likes of MotorStorm RC on the market — a game that is literally free-to-play with no microtransactions to speak of — the term requires more clarification than ever. And if the pre-release marketing of Treasures of Montezuma Blitz indicates anything, clarity is still very much needed. That’s because nothing about what was said about the game before it came out jives at all with what the game actually is.
Treasures of Montezuma Blitz is a microtransaction-laden free-to-play game that neither hinted at it requiring microtransactions nor speaks of them in-game… at least, until you need them. And you’ll need them when you use all of your lives up after five or ten minutes, because Treasures of Montezuma Blitz is awfully stingy. Of course, such an approach is solely the prerogative of the game’s developer, but even for a free-to-play game that could be easily downloaded, sampled and deleted, Montezuma Blitz borders on the intentionally deceptive.
Consider all of the game’s pre-release literature. On the PlayStation Blog’s weekly The Drop article, the game is listed as “Completely free for life to download and play!” The dedicated site for the game on PlayStation’s website reiterates that same claim.
In another PlayStation Blog post, one of the game’s developers from Alawar Entertainment noted that “a lot of people look at freemium and free-to-play games and think you have to spend money to be competitive and beat your friends. That’s actually not the case with this game.” She goes on to state that “if you are short on time… you can spent [sic] a little to get a short-term power-up.” It’s not even clear if she’s talking about spending time or money, and either way, the post is utterly vague, and I suspect intentionally so.
Making matters worse, the game’s interface doesn’t explain anything once you start it up. There’s literally no way for you to know that you have to pay to play or buy perks without the in-game prompts that bring you to the PlayStation Store when you can’t proceed any other way. The developers made a button to take you to the credits but not to explain the game’s microtransaction economy. It’s puzzling and a little bit distressing, because to be perfectly frank, Treasures of Montezuma Blitz comes off as dishonest.
The microtransactions’ poor user ratings on PSN tell part of the tale. But it seems some posters on the PlayStation Blog caught on to this pretty quickly, calling the game “terrible” and the marketing “definitively misleading” and “disingenuous.” One user claims that his lives replenish in the time it takes to do the laundry — and your lives do indeed come back over time, allowing you to play more — but where in the game does it say that happens? If there’s a simple cool down period, why are gamers sent to the PS Store to buy more lives? Is it perhaps because they want to nickel and dime players who are ignorant of that fact?
It’s not every day I’d write an article here on IGN encouraging you not to download a game that’s free, especially because we’re going through quite the drought on PlayStation Vita right now. But consider this one of those times. Treasures of Montezuma Blitz isn’t only nonsensical and contrived in its delivery, but one can’t help but wonder if its lack of explanation was an intentional ploy to get players to spend money on this “free” game. Developers have to make back their investment somehow, but what’s wrong with being upfront about it and letting your product do the talking? Instead, it seems like this game got caught up in marketing speak and intentionally muddy presentation.
Colin Moriarty is Editor of IGN PlayStation. You can follow him on Twitter and learn just how sad the life of a New York Islanders and New York Jets fan can be.