Anyone remember Zone 66
? It was one of my favourite top-down "sandbox" shooters from the early 90s. This game harkens back to that era, both in terms of difficulty and gameplay. Be warned that if you are not experienced at this type of game and in particular, twinstick shooters, even on easy you will find this game an exercise in frustration. It is quite unforgiving...
- Missions last between twenty minutes and an hour and there are no checkpoints! Run out of lives, back to the start.
- Power ups seem to drop at times when you either don't require them (two repairs when I am already at full health, really?), or when it is practically impossible to pick them up without being destroyed. They don't hang around that long either.
- Enemies fire from offscreen, many projectiles will track you for a long time and later enemies lean towards a bullet-hell style. These traits combine to make the airspace very crowded and sitting still for even a moment will be enough to make you very dead. This is where the game really shines
; the flawless control and responsive movement of your ship make it a joy to play. It is possible to avoid practically anything, using a good sense of placement and understanding from which direction the next salvo of enemy fire is likely to approach. Unfortunately, the lack of on screen prompts and lacklustre radar make this heavily reliant on the player's intuition. Irrespective of that, there is a real sense of skill and reward, both for careful and ballsy play styles.
There are a decent variety of enemies that are slowly introduced as the game progresses. There are both air and ground targets, which need to be destroyed with an appropriate weapon, similar to both Zone 66
. Each enemy variant represents a particular threat and they do force certain responses to deal with them. When you get many types mixed together, the game is at its most difficult and hectic. There is an experience system that awards points at level-up. These points can be used between missions to upgrade your ship. However, even fully upgraded your fire power always feels underwhelming. Players are better off focussing on upgrades that increase agility; this is the main means by which you will stay alive!
Throughout, the graphics are decent and manage to keep up a good frame rate on a mid-spec machine. Enemy designs are standard fare and borrow from just about everywhere, but provide good variety. Explosions in particular are pleasing to the eye. Sound is a little bland, but does the job.
A few minor technical issues cropped up while playing...
- I was unable to confgure my Logitech F310 gamepad. Trying to change the controls in either mode (XBox 360 or F310 Direct Input) just didn't work. I ended up using the default XBox 360 control scheme, which did the job. You are basically forced into a twinstick control scheme to make the game playable anyway.
- Steam achievements didn't work. They are awarded as in-game medals, but the corresponding Steam achievement wasn't activated.
- Enemies occasionally get stuck in the scenery and cannot be shot. Usually not too annoying, but once the enemy was an objective and I couldn't complete the mission.
- I had only one crash to desktop in seven hours of play, which isn't too bad.
This is an enjoyable but slightly repetitive game that rewards skillful play and will be appreciated by top-down shooter fans who are not
looking for a quick fix.