Thursday, February 08, 2007

Devastro Review

Devastro, developed and published by Catnap Games.
The Good: Lots of shooting, simple controls, vehicles, low price
The Not So Good: No unique or innovative gameplay enhancements, teammate order lag is annoying, primitive AI, painful cut scenes, substandard graphics and sound
What say you? Lack of originality and low production values severely hinder this top-down shooter: 4/8

Independent games are one of the hallmarks of the PC. Small developers can publish their games on the Internet and make them available to people around the world, without having to spend time and money on packaging, finding a publisher, and all those distribution issues. Of course, independent titles must offer something different to their particular genre in order to stand out against more heavily funded titles. Devastro (a game title that spell check certainly does not like) is a classic top-down action shooter where you get to shoot aliens with guns. How does Devastro differentiate itself from all of the other arcade shooters on the market?

Devastro certainly shows its independent roots in its graphics and sound, which look severely outdated. The game is presented in 2-D with animated bitmaps or static objects and backgrounds comprising the visuals. There is some shadowing to create a faux 3-D environment, but the game still looks simplistic. There have been some really great looking 2-D games (the Disciples series, for one), but Devastro is not one of them. The special effects are underwhelming, as the weapons and death sequences are not impressive. This extends to the sound as well: there is hardly any sound in the game. The lack of voice acting hurts the cut scenes: they are presented like cartoons, but the pace is very slow and they are just agonizing to sit through. The cut scenes, instead of promoting the gameplay, just serve to drag the game down to a crawl. The graphics and sound of Devastro do not impress.

Now, I don’t mind poor graphics and sound if the gameplay is interesting. Unfortunately, Devastro does not have interesting gameplay. The game does provide a good amount of action and simple controls, but this is just not enough anymore to make a compelling title. Devastro features 27 levels where you will fight aliens by shooting at them and driving in vehicles. The controls of the game are easy to learn: aiming is done with the mouse, movement uses the left mouse button, the right mouse button shoots, and grenades are thrown with the spacebar (why not bind it to the middle mouse button, in order to keep all of the controls on the mouse?). Clicking on vehicles or friendly soldiers will enter them or include them in your group. You will routinely have other team members in your missions, although controlling them is very annoying. They will follow your movement orders, but only after a couple of seconds. This lag almost makes the game unplayable: the enemy units will be closing in on you while your backup is still quite a distance away. This lag also extends to engaging targets, so for the first few seconds, you’ll be the only one shooting. The only difficulty in the game results from having a lot of enemies thrown at you at once; Devastro lacks any real AI, as the enemies tend to just run straight towards you. I was waiting for something different to happen, but there was nothing interesting to keep me interested in the game.

Independent games must offer something unique in order to compete with the bigger budget games. Devastro has derivative gameplay that we’ve seen in countless games before. There is not a single thing in the game that is exclusive, and that’s the main problem: there is no real reason to play Devastro. While the simple controls and mechanics might make Devastro accessible to a large audience, the combination of disappointing and uninteresting gameplay with lackluster graphics is enough to skip this title. I’m all for supporting small developers, but you must make some change to the basic formula in order to offer a successful and intriguing title, and Devastro does not.