Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Meteor Mayhem Review

Meteor Mayhem, developed and published by Gnade Games.
The Good: Simple co-op play, varied intertwined mini games, lots of levels
The Not So Good: Strange and unpredictable physics, barrier health level is difficult to visually determine, levels are too long and generally boring, initial piece orientation is counter-intuitive, no documentation other than brief tutorial
What say you? Some odd design decisions restrict its potentially interesting ideas: 5/8

Saving the world from outside invasion has been a staple of computer gaming ever since that classic arcade game, Pong (and, to a lesser extent, E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial). This has been achieved mostly through shooting at the incoming enemy forces, although most recently, games have gravitated towards a more defensive role, protecting the Earth’s inhabitants through barriers. This was done well in Epidemic Groove, where you construct walls and other obstacles for the enemies, and it’s also been used in other defensive-minded games like Stronghold. In Meteor Mayhem, you aren’t guarding against salient aliens, but rather bloodthirsty meteors bent on revenge. And I believe they said something about your mother.

The graphics of Meteor Mayhem have a certain hand-drawn flair to them, mostly because they are hand-drawn. Despite this, they surprisingly don’t look altogether terrible. The game does look like it was put together by animating MS Paint pictures, but the overall effect is an old-school look that works astonishingly well. Some of the effects could have been done a lot better (such as the burning meteorites), but overall the game is decent enough in the graphics department. See, you don’t need to have flashy effects to deliver an adequate graphical experience! The sound, on the other hand, is entirely forgettable. When you need to play the game again to remember what the sound was like, that’s usually not a good sign. The sound effects are underwhelming, especially when cities get destroyed. Lifting some chaos from those disaster movies would have gone a long way in promoting a credible atmosphere of destruction. The music is merely average as well. Considering the independent nature of the title, however, Meteor Mayhem actually comes out a lot better than expected in the graphics and sound departments.

Meteor Mayhem features a tutorial, a campaign mode, and a practice mode (the difference of which is minimal). The tutorial does an adequate job in explaining the basics of the game, but leaves a lot of the mechanics up to the user to figure out. I still don’t really know what the different modes of the trampolines do, and the game never explicitly explains it and there isn’t any other documentation or manual to speak of. There is something to be said for letting the player “discover” new things in the game, but you should still say what they are used for somewhere for those less adventurous (and more easily confused) players. I still don’t know how to exit the game. There are a good number of levels in the game, and some of the practice levels break up the monotony with mini-games, such as golf, pinball, and basketball. Although it might take a while to unlock these different levels, it helps to change the pace of the game, especially since the base game is the same for every other regular level. Meteor Mayhem also has cooperative play on the same computer, with one person placing objects and the other controlling a vehicle that speeds around the map collecting and using power-ups.

In each match, you are charged with protecting a city from incoming meteors. You do this by constructing objects that block or intercept incoming meteors before they strike your buildings. Your tool set consists of simple blocks and slides to more advanced weapons like guided missiles and grappling hooks. Placing these objects is more difficult that it should be: since they can the orientated in any direction, the game lets you rotate them. However, the rotation angle is based off the mouse pointer location, and initially, all of your objects will be tilted when most of the time you want them to be horizontal. Changing their direction requires time-consuming mouse movement that, in the heat of battle, causes more damage to your cities because of interface issues. Plus, it’s just plain annoying to have to rotate every object to place on the map. The game limits you on the number of gadgets you can have on the map at any one time: you can only place new ones when existing ones are destroyed. All of the blocks take visual damage (cracks) when they are hit, but the game doesn’t clearly indicate how many cracks it takes to crumble a block. Meteor Mayhem gives you an initial period of time to place your defenses, and the rest of the game is just a matter of replacing lost gadgets and collecting power-ups that aren’t as useful as they should be. There is also a timer that indicates how much longer the meteor onslaught is to last. The levels of Meteor Mayhem just last too long and the game gets quite boring, since building is finished when the meteors start to drop and you’re just watching for replacement areas. You’ll earn cash for protecting your cities: cash in practice mode unlocks more levels, while cash in campaign mode allows you to buy new stuff (gadgets, power-ups, and vehicles). The level is over if all of your cities are completely destroyed. Meteor Mayhem features some wacky physics that sometimes make no sense at all. Meteors may bounce off objects at weird angles or suddenly accelerate for no particular reason (the developers should brush up on Snell’s Law). This makes defending a little more difficult, because meteors may be coming in at unexpected angles.

Meteor Mayhem is a good idea, but the gameplay isn’t consistently interesting and can’t hold the player’s attention for very long. The basic defensive premise of the game is good, but the fact that once defenses are placed you’re really just waiting for your walls to break down makes for some waiting, and waiting for something to happen is never good in a computer game. Other defensive games had you do something while the attack occurred, whether it is ordering troops (Stronghold) or actively shooting at viruses (Epidemic Groove). The length of the levels doesn’t help matters either, as each level seems to last just a bit too long. The action does become more fast and furious as the difficulty increases, but more people won’t probably last that long before deciding to move on to something more stimulating. The mini-games don’t come up frequently enough to change the pace of the game away from the tedium of the primary mode, either. Meteor Mayhem could have been more interesting with faster gameplay and more interaction during the meteor shower, but it just comes up short in overall entertainment.