Tuesday, July 26, 2011

More Shooter 2

In my last post I briefly described my thoughts about PixelJunk Shooter 2.  I've spent some more time with it and have had some time think about the game and where it shines and where it doesn't.

When Shooter 1 ended I was filled with anticipation as to what additional environmental fluid elements were going to be added.  Afterall, the game ends with your ship being swallowed by a big beast.  At the time when we finished the game, my son and I bounced ideas back and forth as to what type of liquids, be it stomach acid, poo or anything else.  Shooter 2 doesn't disappoint.  There are purple gas bubbles that restrict your ability to move and change your direction, there are green tadpole-like eggs that spawn and multiply, as well as gel-like acid that spreads like Zerg creep.  Returning are of course lava, water, ice, steam and magnetic oil, but the one that I find the most interesting and at the same time frustrating is darkness.  

Progression through the game makes sense as you battle your way through and eventually out of the beast that swallows the ship at the end of Shooter 1.  Back tracking through ice and lava to face an amazingly created second boss.  I tweeted at the time that I'd never really like bullet hell shooters until I played Shooter 2.  I still stand by that notion.  I've got some video of the second boss battle that I love to just watch.  Geometry in motion.  Beauty in danger.  Almost like deadly fractals.  

Once the second boss is defeated, a path is cleared to fight though an abandoned industrial complex, to find freedom at the surface.  Or so the game would promise.  See, here's where I find myself loving the game, but becoming completely frustrated with it at the same time.  Each division of the game ends with a boss battle.  Traditional game design.  Each division of the game has stages with miners to save and diamonds to collect.  Again no problem.  If a stage in the game is a bit too long for your particular gaming session, the latest patch has added in a fantastic feature that lets you save at the last checkpoint, exit the game, and upon restarting pick up from that last checkpoint.  Fantastic!  Perfect! Sublime even.  Except, well say you're on the final boss.  You've battled through three or four rooms of increasing difficulty, finally gotten to the ethereal head cheese (or eye cheese in this case).  The battle raged but couldn't beat him on the first run, so you saved it knowing that the game would let you pick up again from that checkpoint the next.  Start up the game a day later, all refreshed from a good sleep, caffeine flowing, only to be beaten back again and again by eyes floating in the darkness, spawning into gray jelly, which then becomes spattering lava.  Exciting stuff.  See the clip below to see just how close I was to beating the boss on the second day, second attempt.  Yet family obligations came up so I saved the game knowing I could return.

I returned for a third go a day later, fired up the game and attempted to best the final boss.  I'd watched the video and prepared myself for what was to come.  Knowing what to expect at each stage of the final fight helps, but quick reflexes are all that matter in the thick of things.  Of course in my house gaming doesn't take precedence over visitors or uncles who come baring tools to help fix broken A/C units.  So I paused the game.  Time flies when you are working on something in the heat.  Apparently 2 hours fly really quickly.  The PS3 has an option to turn itself off if there is no inherent activity.  I have mine set to shut off after 2 hours.  Watching movies sometimes a little warning will pop up saying the system will shut off shortly, but a quick press of the pause button resets the 2 hour mark.  The same warning pops up if you have a game paused.  But what if you're outside working with your uncle on the A/C and not sitting on the couch to notice the pop up?  How do you reset the 2 hour auto shutoff?  You don't.  Instead you come in defeated by the A/C unit to find that your PS3 has thoughtfully shut itself off.  Sadly in that act of self preservation it neglects to save the game.  Yup.  The time spent battling through the last stage to finally see the boss has been struck back to 0.  Sure I don't have to redo all of the sections leading up to the boss level, but I still have to face the creeping darkness, the rabid fish ghosts, the miners I've already saved and diamonds I've already plucked.  GAAAAHHHHHHH.

I've tried to psych myself back up to battling through the level again, but the defeatist in me says, "You'll never beat the final boss so why try again?"  I've attempted on two separate occasions to regain my footing in the last haunted catacombs of the bosses lair only to face defeat and frustration.  Take a deep breath, take a walk, play something else.  All have been done.  I hate not finishing a game.  I hate feeling like I need to lower the difficulty to be able to get through awful battles just to find out what happens next in the story.  Now to be honest Shooter 2 doesn't have a Dickensian plot, but the stories told from the unique minors, plus the amazing visuals for each stage is enough to keep me going.  But.  But.  To be so close and then lose it just takes the wind out of my sails.

On the upside while I finish building up the gumption to finish the single player side of things there is plenty to do with the on-line Battle mode.  The Battle Mode consists of you vs a random player taking turns being on the offensive, capturing miners while staying alive.  Meanwhile the defensive side must hunt the other player down and capture the damaged ships "shadow".  The catch is there is only a limited cone of view coming from the front of the ship to allow you to see where the other player is.  Cat and mouse meets Spy vs. Spy.  On the offense you race to capture and hold miners for points, while hoping the defender doesn't find you.  Matches are mostly balanced pitting you against players of similar experience.  If you win a match you get points to spend on ship upgrades as well as points to advance you to the next level of experienced player.  If you lose, you still earn a small amount of points toward buying upgrades, but you remain at the same competitive level.  In my time with the online battles I found that I was able to defeat most of the players in my same level of experience.  But as you gain experience your chances of being pitted against a more experienced player becomes likely.  I battled one opponent on several different engagements and found myself quickly being embarrassed by how quickly he was able to dispatch my efforts to rescue a miner or stop him from rescuing the miners.  During our last challenge I was vindicated though.  On offense you have to find the miners and return them to your rescue circle.  On my first round of offense I managed to save two miners.  My fine challenger though had secured five miners.  Now the best part of the online battle is that you win as long as you have saved more miners than your opponent.  Do or die time.  I had 2 and my opponent had 5.  I raced to his rescue circle knowing he was looking for me on the opposite side of the map.  Quickly I grabbed one of his miners from the circle and "oops silly me" I dropped the miner to his death.  Mwhahaha.  Quickly I grabbed  another miner and proceeded to drop him as well.  2 to 3.  Another quick grab and drop and suddenly we were tied.  Obviously my opponent realized what I was doing and raced back to his base to find that I had grabbed the game point from his circle.  Seconds left on the clock until victory was mine.  I moved as quickly as possible to avoid his blaster fire.  Time was up.  I had won!  I could only imagine the cursing my opponent was hurling at me from his home.  I did a little dance (of course while still sitting on the couch).  Victory never tastes so sweet without the foreknowledge of defeat from the same opponent over and over again in past engagements.

This.  This fine online Battle Mode is what keeps me from giving up on the last boss.  Knowing that while I may face defeat with some opponents, I'll find victory just as often.  But you need to be sneaky about.  Cat and Mouse.  Spy vs Spy.

I can't say enough good about the game.  There are moments that are frustrating, but like any other game, once you've learned how to best utilize the tools at your disposal the game (at least for me) just puts me in my Zen state.  The one thing that I would hope for (at least once PixelJunk Sidescroller comes out) is a checkpoint system during boss battles.  Maybe not even a checkpoint system during the first attempt.  Maybe the checkpoint system would trigger after 10, 15, err 40 attempts at a boss?  At any rate, the quality of Q-Games has never diminished and Shooter 2 is worth playing and does a fantastic job of balancing challenge with fun and keeps you wanting more each time.

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