We love MMOs, but we have to admit they're not for everyone. They're not for people who can't afford subscription fees, people who don't like other people, and people who don't necessarily want to spend 36 straight hours clicking on a complex series of buff spells only for the entire party to get wiped, moments before the Troll King gives up his sweet fungal booty. Thank God, then, for the massively single-player online RPG, a genre that exists solely for the benefit of the cheap, the creepy, and the time-poor.
MSORPGs are essentially browser-based, single-player games with a large community element that's external to the game's storyline. Because they're played in a web browser, you don't even need a PC to play them, so Wii, PS3, PSP and Mac users can all join in. Heavily text-based with minimal graphics, MSORPGs live or die on the quality of the writing, and most of them have a humorous slant. They're free to play (though donations are usually solicited in exchange for perks), but your game time per day is restricted, making them perfect for a quick lunchtime burst (wait, that sounds wrong).
Kingdom of Loathing
Of the MSORPGs, Kingdom of Loathing is the oldest, and probably the best. It's been going since 2003, and has a keen following. You play an adventurer who has been tasked by the Council of Loathing with finding the missing King Ralph, but as they cheerily inform you later, there's no real rush. Armed with little more than an accordion and a certain amount of moxie (at least if you're an Accordion Thief - other classes include Pastamancer, Disco Bandit and Turtle Tamer) you set off on your quest.
Each region of the black and white hand-drawn map (and hand-drawn by a child, at that - don't expect any fancy manga graphics here) is divided into several sections. Some sections are guarded by characters who give you quests (although you'll need a hermit-permit to visit the hermit), while other areas are questing areas, where you'll earn "meat" (the game's currency) by killing mummies, vampires and lemons in boxes. Entering a questing area costs you an adventuring point. You get 40 points a day, although they can be boosted by eating and drinking - as long as you don't get too drunk.
The script is stuffed with gags and pop culture references: some obvious (Tron and the Goonies in just the opening few paragraphs), and some more obscure (Vampire Hunter: D, anyone?). Seemingly basic, the game is in fact incredibly well designed, and there's a huge amount of content, as you'd expect for a game that's been developed for 5 years.
There's also a well maintained community, with an obsession for correct use of grammar; indeed, to use the chat function, you must first pass a test in which you have to deploy "their", "they're" and "there" in their correct usages, which should at least fox 90 per cent of WOW players. Once you're in, you'll be able to trade puns, knowledge and haiku with the other players, most of whom seem friendly and intelligent. Don't be misled by the title: Kingdom of Loathing is the gentlest, deepest and funniest MSORPG out there.
Secret Society Wars
Recently blasting out of the Alpha testing quadrant into the, er, Beta testing quadrant, Secret Society Wars is a 'sexy' comedy sci fi adventure. While it's clearly shooting for the heights of Steve Meretzky's classic Infocom text adventures, the writing is just not up to the (extremely high) quality found in games like Leather Godesses Of Phobos or The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy. In fact, several jokes from Hitchhiker's are unashamedly pinched wholesale (sorry, paid homage to), although they're often paraphrased to lesser effect. While Douglas Adams' reference to the "triple-breasted whore of Eroticon 6" is funny, Secret Society Wars' "triple-anused whore of Eroticon 69" is over-egged.
As with the humour, the art style is all over the place, with some items displayed as photos, some as line drawings, and some as the sort of crude photoshop images that would be laughed out of SomethingAwful.com. While there are multiplayer Risk-style shenanigans in the endgame, early gameplay lacks variety, revolving around little more than combining inventory items and slugging or sexing everyone you meet. Yes, Hot Coffee be damned, Secret Society Wars sticks it to the man (Jack Thompson) by letting you slut your way though the galaxy, Captain Kirk-style. Everyone can be given a seeing to, be they human, alien, animal or vegetable, although we reckon even Kirk would have thought twice before having sex with a sunflower. Talk about seedy.
Maybe fantasy and sci fi aren't your bag, though? What if you're more into wearing tights over your underpants? If that's the case, you should probably give Twilight Heroes a spin (and have a lengthy chat with your friendly neighbourhood psychiatrist). Another relatively new Kingdom of Loathing clone, Twilight Heroes is a superhero game where you, an amateur crime-fighter, get to patrol the streets looking for trouble. Twilight had terrible problems with lag in the early days (unsurprising when you consider the whole game was run off one server in the developer's bedroom), but that's sorted now, and it's ready to strike fear into the hearts of criminals everywhere.
Sadly, apart from picking your class from one of four choices, there's not much in the way of customisation for your hero, and for a while it feels more like Sim Vigilante than a superhero game. There's also a lack of content in the higher levels, although new quests are being added on a daily basis. Our only major problem with Twilight Heroes is the uncertainty of tone: as The Incredibles and Mystery Men proved, making fun of superheroics is hardly difficult, but the mildly tongue-in-cheek descriptions here are occasionally too serious, and neither specific enough for parody, nor funny enough to take flight on their own. What's that, up in the sky? Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's a missed-opportunity, man!
If you've ever been flamed hard in the face by a 13-year-old on a web forum and wanted to get your own back, then Forumwarz is the answer. Not for the easily offended - in fact, you actually have to type "I am not offended easily" in order to play - Forumwarz casts you as either a Troll, Emo Kid or Camwhore, before setting you lose to "pwn" a load of fake forums with "yo mamma" jokes (Trolls), whining (Emo Kids) or pictures of your breasts (Camwhores).
Easilly the slickest of the MSORPGs, Forumwarz takes place through fake IM chats complete with hilarious, Monkey Island-style branching conversations, bogus search engines, pseudo shopping sites (the "Ppwn Shop") and a bizarre retro text adventure focused on R Kelly's post-modern hip-hopera masterpiece, Trapped In The Closet.
The fake forums are painfully well observed, and while the actual pwning can get a bit repetitive, there are plenty of other things to do, including hacking the forums with XSS code, playing Domination against other players, or helping to build new forums for use in future episodes of the game. A spot-on parody tour of some of the dodgier parts of the internet, Forumwarz has l33t skillz. Recommended for tubgirl fans everywhere (you know who you are).