Wednesday, January 14, 2009

BRAINPIPE: A Plunge to Unhumanity Review

BRAINPIPE: A Plunge to Unhumanity, developed by Digital Eel and published by Shrapnel Games.
The Good: Mesmerizing graphics and music, intuitive hectic gameplay, randomly generated maps
The Not So Good: Woefully repetitive with no variety in the form of powerups or other alteration in gameplay, ten too-similar single player levels, lacks an online high score list
What say you? There’s not much substance beyond the style: 5/8

There are a lot of negative influences on society these days, and one of those that gets occasional news coverage is video games. Somebody needs the blame (because it certainly can’t be poor parenting), and finding a proper scapegoat is a proud American pastime. Probably the game that’s gotten the most attention is, you guessed it, BRAINPIPE: A Plunge to Unhumanity. I can certainly see why: look what it did to little Billy. The developers of personal favorite Weird Worlds is back with another unique creation. Will BRAINPIPE change you too?

Probably the biggest draw of BRAINPIPE is the trippy presentation, which is unique for an independent game (since they are usually not known for cutting-edge graphics or sound). This isn’t that surprisingly, however, considering developer Digital Eel’s penchant for the strange and unusual. Despite the relatively minimalist graphics, they are quite effective, evoking a strange environment in which you are avoiding strange creatures (if you can call them that). It’s all very well designed, from the exotic scoring numerals to the repetitive, but still haunting, backgrounds. Matching well with the graphics is the music, featuring a pleasing selection of very appropriate tones for the exotic setting. It’s all just weird, and that’s quite fine with me.

BRAINPIPE is a first-person arcade game where you must pilot through a pipe (made of brain?), avoiding esoteric objects along the way. The game only features ten levels that, while randomly generated, do not differ much at all from each other. The game also lacks an online high score list; BRAINPIPE is a purely single-player affair. The controls are extremely easy to learn: you use the mouse to move. The game uses a weird perspective that doesn’t rotate around bends, so when you encounter a corner you take it at some strange angle that makes it difficult to avoid objects on occasion. The non-rotating view certainly takes some getting used to. The only other control you have in the game is the left mouse button, which slows down your speed for an abbreviated amount of time. Your sole objective in BRAINPIPE is to avoid almost everything in the game. Some of the objects move in predictable patterns while others are stationary. Impacts will make your iris thinner (you are apparently a giant eyeball of sorts) and too many hits means the end is nigh. Health regenerates over time (it took me a couple of games to figure that out), so you need to avoid a lot of contact in a short period of time. Bonus points can be earned by collecting symbols scattered occasionally around each level; the glyphs don’t offer any other bonuses other than score (and bragging rights), so going out of your way (and potentially causing harm) in order to get at them doesn’t offer enough benefit, either directly or indirectly.

BRAINPIPE is at its best when the objects are flying past you at high velocity, but the game is never a “deep” experience. The game is very repetitive and the lack of special abilities or a variation in action becomes a glaring omission after playing for an extended period of time. The chaos almost overshadows the repetitive nature of the game, but not quite. Every level follows the same pattern: slow and manageable followed by excruciatingly fast. Some of the enemies are tough to avoid, mainly because they (a) take up a lot of space and (b) you are moving very quickly. There is an element of luck associated with BRAINPIPE, as the randomly generated maps will occasionally place impossible-to-avoid object sequences. With the lack of any strategic element in the game, BRAINPIPE is an exercise in reflexes, and a game that only offers a single aspect of gameplay will tend to become tedious after a while.

BRAINPIPE lacks the strategy required to make a purely arcade experience something more. It is certainly easy to pick up, but there’s nothing beyond the initial objective of avoiding stuff. I do like the overall presentation of the game, from the graphics to the sound: the developers had a clear vision of the weird world you are navigating through and its executed well. There are some moments of enjoyment as strange creatures are flying past your viewpoint at rapid speeds, but this experience becomes monotonous quickly. Each level is just like the last, except faster with possibly one more enemy type. It’s fortunate that BRAINPIPE only lasts ten levels, as I don’t think anyone could last longer than that before becoming too bored. The sensation of speed and uncertainly of the next set of enemies can only go so far: you need something more to deepen the experience. It would be nice if the glyphs offered some sort of motivation for gathering them (other than additional points), such as invulnerability or some other weapon or time influence (like slowing down objects without slowing you down). At least Pyroblazer has some weapons. The lack of an online scoring system makes getting a high score less of an effective motivational tool. BRAINPIPE, while somewhat interesting, is too simple for its own good and that simplicity severely hinders replay value.