There are a number of beautiful games in production for Sony’s next generation super machine, but none of them look as good as the Housemarque developed digital download. Titles such as Killzone: Shadow Fall and Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag sure look a step ahead of their current generation counterparts, but the Finnish studio’s arcade affair goes beyond even that. Built entirely out of voxels – essentially nifty volumetric pixels – the title’s cylindrical maps get canvassed with thousands of individually rendered cubes as you blast away at enemies and boost around the stage. Complete a level and you’ll be treated to an explosive shower of the said three-dimensional squares, as the arena self-combusts in celebration of your performance.
This all occurs in 1080p at 60 frames-per-second without a single hiccup along the way. It’s truly a sight to behold, and is easily the most technologically impressive piece of software that we’ve experienced on the PS4. But that wouldn’t count for much if the game wasn’t fun to play. Fortunately, it’s also one of the most enjoyable releases that we’ve sampled on the next generation console. The loop itself is simple: you target using the DualShock 4’s right analogue stick, and dodge patterns of lethal bullets with the left. Much like in Super Stardust HD, bombs can be deployed to momentarily clear the screen, while you can boost through enemies in order to obtain some breathing room. Lastly, a supercharged plasma attack allows you to go on a trigger-happy rampage, but only if you have the required resources.
The controls are super responsive, making each miniscule motion register on the screen. And it’s for that reason – in addition to the explosive effects – that the shooter is already shaping up to be a seriously addictive intergalactic excursion. The score chasing aspect doesn’t hurt either, of course, rewarding you for keeping a single ship in the air for as long as possible. Each time you shoot down a robotic turret or space craft, you’ll be able to scoop up glitter which gradually increases your multiplier. Bite the moon dust, though, and you’ll be forced to restart, severely impeding your run’s final score. It’s one of those games that will force you to scream in both frustration and euphoric elation.
Adding to its retro leanings, you’ll be able to scoop up stray spacemen as you progress. These augment you with basic points bonuses when returned to docking stations, as well as simple power-ups such as shields and weapon upgrades. There is a sense of urgency attached to the collection of these characters, as they can be stolen away by the enemy. Fortunately, the cylindrical nature of the arenas makes them relatively easy to spot, as you can always see everything that’s on the playfield in the background. It’s a neat design decision, which prevents the need to include a map at the top of the screen like in retro releases such as Defender. It also adds to the constant clutter, which is part of the title’s visual appeal.
After making mincemeat of several hundred ships, our demo ended with a colossal spherical boss. This foe tries to crush you by rolling onto your aircraft, but fortunately you can shoot out the compartments around its edges to gain access to its interior. Once inside, the enormous enemy will attempt to wipe you out with inner-orange lasers. You need to shoot out its robotic defences – while avoiding the aforementioned hazards – to take the giant down and reap the rewards. It’s not exactly the most mechanically complex boss fight in the world, but weaving between swarms of projectiles and landing the all-important final blow feels satisfying nonetheless. It’s also accentuated by the ridiculous voxel-powered victory screen, which will make you believe in the PS4’s power.
Even after playing just one stage, we’re confident that this is the title that will consume the majority of your time next month. The controls are so slick and the visuals so breathtakingly glitzy that you’ll want to show it to all of your family and friends. With the promise of online co-op, a full campaign, score-attack modes, and multiple ships, we’ve thought about little else since reluctantly backing away from our demo. Leave it to Housemarque to not only prove the potential of a new piece of hardware – but also threaten to utterly obliterate our productivity in the process.Tweet this!