Sunday, July 23, 2006

Gibbage Review

Gibbage, developed and published by Dan Marshall.
The Good: Simple rules, fast pace, neat power-ups, tough AI, extremely bloody
The Not So Good: Special moves are difficult to execute, outdated graphics, no Internet multiplayer, almost too challenging
What say you? An extremely hectic and slightly entertaining 2-D action game: 6/8

Shooters have had a long and storied tradition on the PC. I suppose that’s nothing more exhilarating than coming face to face to your opponent and gunning them down. While this doesn’t necessarily reflect positively on society as a whole, it does make for an entertaining game. With the advent of faster and more powerful computer, the shooter has made the move towards 3-D first person action. However, there are still some games that cling to the olden days of side-scrolling, 2-D fun. Gibbage is one of those games. As the name implies, the game features lots of killing (or “gibbing”, as the cool kids say) in an arena of death.

While the 2-D side-view graphics of Gibbage are out-of-date, the saving grace of the game is the sheer amount of blood present. The floor of each level will become literally covered by blood and severed limbs by the time the match is over, turning a pleasant crimson hue. The rest of the effects in the game are underwhelming, owing mostly to the independent nature of the title. I don’t particularly mind that the rest of the game consists of small, undetailed characters, stark environments, and basic weapon effects; this is not the focus of the game, but it does become difficult to distinguish some of the components of each level after a while. It’s difficult to find things in the game just because the objects are small. I suppose a lot of this results from being used to life-sized 3-D graphics in games, but it doesn’t change the fact that Gibbage looks old and, apart from the extreme volume of gore, just isn’t fun to look at. The sound is along the same lines: there are some effects for each weapon and some slightly exciting background music, but it’s all pretty generic. Deaths are not accompanied by very exciting sound effects, either; I was expecting some awfully gross sound when people die in the game, but it’s just a subdued squishing sound. Games such as Gibbage make their name based on gameplay rather than looks, and this title shows why.

Gibbage is an arena-style match between several players. The game features play against the AI or other players on the same computer, but sadly not over the Internet. The goal is to drain your opponent’s power level while collecting power cubes. These cubes must be brought back to your power booth, which will raise your level while decreasing those of your enemies. Gibbage has a fairly interesting core concept and I’m glad it strayed far away from the usual assortment of deathmatch and team deathmatch seen in other games. The main way to prevent your opponent from returning power cubes is to shoot them. The game features a standard weapon plus some truly interesting bonuses that can be collected on the map. Everything from more classic inclusions such as homing rockets and mines to more unique power-ups are included, like removing your opponent’s arms. Since there are no health packs in Gibbage, getting the right upgrade at the right time can prove to be quite beneficial. Dying in the game is inconvenient, but it doesn’t carry the amount of weight it should. You’re penalized by being held in your power booth for a period of time, allowing your enemy to collect power cubes at will with no resistance. The power penalty for death is almost negligible, and dying is more frustrating than damaging to your chance of success. I would like to have the option to make death more important, which would result in quicker games. While the overall pace of the game is quite fast, the games themselves last a pretty long time, which tends to get tiring after a while. The controls in the game, at least for me, took some getting used to. Because of the rapid pace of the game, precision is required in navigating the levels, which digital keyboard controls doesn’t exactly lend itself to. Executing special moves is very difficult, especially wall jumps (required in some levels) where you must press a button, let go, press it again (timing it correctly, mind you), press a direction key, and let go again, all in the span of about a second. I just don’t have the skill or reflexes to execute this move with any sort of consistency without a lot of practice. Having a control learning curve is fine in a flight simulator, but not an arcade action game where the controls should be intuitive and easy to execute. The AI you’ll play against is very good, a little too good if you ask me. They don’t have to worry about the initial leaning curve of the controls or the precision required when running and jumping around the levels, which makes the game more difficult than it actually is. I appreciate that a competent and worthy opponent is included in the game, however. The AI is really good at Gibbage (even at the easiest difficulty setting), and will challenge most players.

Gibbage has a good central idea and executes it almost very well. While the graphics and the sound are behind the times, the game does deliver enough buckets of blood to be amusing to most players. I’m glad to see an original shooter with some interesting rules that stray away from the mundane deathmatch element. The game also features some original power-ups for the genre, something that is also rare. The AI proves to be a very skilled competitor, which is good considering the lack of online multiplayer. I’m not sure what can be done about the controls in the game, but this is easily the biggest obstacle new players will experience. I suppose that practice makes perfect, but action shooters should be easy to pick up and play instead of requiring training. Still, I can get past the archaic graphics, sound, and control issues and see a game that is pretty unique: this is a true rarity. Gibbage is very close to being an excellent game if some small issues could be resolved and the “smoothness” found in other action games could be incorporated here.