Thursday, May 29, 2008

Larva Mortus Review

Larva Mortus, developed and published by Rake In Grass.
The Good: Simple controls, randomly generated levels, powerful weapons, fair difficulty, useful interface, lots of gore, fitting musical score
The Not So Good: Archaic overhead perspective, must kill everything, dying resets all level progress, can get tedious, very elementary AI
What say you? A zombie-hunting game with elevated replay value that’s addictive but repetitive: 6/8

I think I used up all of my zombie-related material when I wrote the review of Night of a Million Billion Zombies a little over a month ago. So thanks a lot, Larva Mortus, for making me think of another introduction. But then I thought: what about writing an introduction complaining about writing the introduction? Brilliant! In Larva Mortus, you shoot zombies and other assorted not-nice things in randomly generated levels with a host of exotic weapons. Killing hordes of the undead can get monotonous and boring, so how will Larva Mortus fare?

Larva Mortus features an old-school overhead perspective. Now, I normally dislike playing from a birds-eye view, but Larva Mortus does a good job in making you forget about the missing third dimension. While the game isn’t the most detailed in the world, I would much rather have a straightforward presentation like Larva Mortus than messy and repetitive 3-D graphics. It can be difficult to see enemies on occasion since you are looking down on them, but you can usually tell they are there when they shoot at you. It’s easy to see which weapon is equipped, and the more simplified approach takes away the potential new player confusion associated with hectic action games. The cut scenes look good, featuring a nice visual style. Larva Mortus also features plenty of blood for those of us who crave gore. Performance could be better when a lot of explosions take place at once (I don’t think Larva Mortus uses 3-D acceleration of any kind), though. Still, despite their minimal nature, I found the graphics to be pleasing enough. The music is outstanding: a haunting theme that fits the game superbly. While the rest of the sound effects are average for the genre, the music is the definite highlight of the game’s presentation.

In Larva Mortus, you’ll be dispensing of many foes with guns. Lots of guns. And a crossbow. The game is played by choosing a level on the map; there is a main storyline, but you can only access the next story-related level by getting a minimum experience level by playing the single missions. Typically, the story levels feature one big boss at the end and have cut scenes that describe the situation. All of the levels in the game are randomly generated: the number and location of the enemies and rooms will be different each time you play, even if it’s in the same city. While the levels aren’t as obviously randomized as Scallywag, since you’ll always encounter the same basic level layouts, not knowing what enemies lurk beyond the next locked door is great for replay value. Larva Mortus uses traditional controls: WASD to move, and the mouse to aim and shoot. Since the game takes places from an overhead perspective, it’s a bit different than first person shooters (since the mouse does not look), but it’s intuitive enough. The game interface makes playing Larva Mortus very easy: rooms which you have previously cleared are indicated on the minimap, and a large “room cleared” message pops up when all of the enemies have been disposed of. Ammunition levels are also plainly displayed, including a graphical (instead of simply numerical) representation of how many bullets are left before reloading is required: a nice touch.

Larva Mortus gives you a variety of weapons to choose from: a sword, pistol, shotgun, machine gun, crossbow, cannon, flame thrower, dynamo gun, and dynamite. These are gradually given to you throughout the campaign: as you meet more dangerous foes, you’ll get more dangerous weapons. Each of these weapons requires ammunition that, like the guns, can be dropped by enemy units. Enemies can also drop various power-ups, which grant temporary bonuses in ammunition, armor, damage, score, or movement speed. The AI is very basic, though your enemies being mindless zombies might have something to do with it. Normally, enemy units will track straight towards you or move in semi-random patterns to make killing them more difficulty. A good strategy (and really the only one to employ) is to walk backwards while firing. This makes playing Larva Mortus more repetitive than it should be: enemy units won’t use cover and they can move quickly enough (and the rooms are small enough) where you only have a couple of seconds to kill them before they reach you unless you start going backwards. That said, the game does offer reasonable difficulty, and once you learn how each new enemy will behave, the game almost becomes trivially easy (almost).

Along your journey of killing, you will gain experience for each enemy you turn into a bloody mess. Eventually, you will level up, and then you can upgrade one of several areas to make your character more powerful: faster leveling, walk speed, chance of enemies dropping stuff, and health regeneration are just a few to choose from. This gives a bit of incentive to keep playing, although Larva Mortus is action-packed enough to hold the interest of people who enjoy this type of game. Unlike Night of a Million Billion Zombies, I never felt unfairly overwhelmed by the enemy and found the gameplay to be quite enjoyable, albeit eventually a bit repetitive. Shooting enemies is fun, and the randomly generated levels give enough variations to keep Larva Mortus fresh. You can cheat and see the enemies in a room to pick the best weapon and then quickly duck back into a previous room since exiting a room will reset the enemies, but that’s a minor issue. Connected to this “feature” is the fact that you have to clear a room before leaving. Otherwise, all of the enemies will respawn (even if you killed them before) and your hard work will go to waste. This 100% requirement would be a concern if the game wasn’t fairly balanced, which, thankfully, it seems to be. If you die, you do have to restart a level from the beginning (the game actually brings you back from the mission map) and the level will actually be different (that’s the whole random generation thing), but other than that dying is no big deal (there’s no XP penalty, for instance). Levels are quick to complete; this promotes the fast-paced nature of the gameplay where the focus is on the action. Overall, I found Larva Mortus to be quite similar to Scallywag: an action-oriented game with randomly generated maps. While the overhead 2-D graphics might turn off some shallow action gamers, the gameplay of Larva Mortus is good enough to keep you interested for quite a while, and the endless supply of maps doesn’t hurt.

I like Larva Mortus. The action is constant, the random levels keep you guessing, the interface is intuitive, and the blood is definitely flowing. The game provides an array of weapons to use and the presentation, despite being in 2-D, is good thanks to quality background music. Larva Mortus isn’t without its problems: you must destroy every enemy before moving on to the next room, all progress is lost if you die, and the AI isn’t terribly smart. This makes the game repetitive in the end, but it’s still an enjoyable ride as you go through the storyline, encountering new enemies and gaining new weapons. In all, Larva Mortus is the very definition of a “buy it if you like the genre” game: fans of the genre will be pleased, but people who don’t like action shooters won’t find enough to start liking them now.