Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Emotigeddon Review

Emotigeddon, developed and published by HeatBeam Software.
The Good: Numerous weapons, speed racing mode adds variety, plentiful checkpoints, fast pace
The Not So Good: Awkward controls, lacks difficulty options, no level editor
What say you? A fast-paced and chaotic side-scrolling action game that lacks tight controls and feature polish: 5/8

With all of the sadness that’s going on in the world, you sometimes just want to take all of those mean people and shoot them in the face. Coincidentally, here comes Emotigeddon, where you play a happy face and must shoot sad faces (in the face). You see, all of those sad emoticons people have been using have taken over Electopia (located adjacent to Hoboken) and it’s up to you to restore the balance by shooting them (in the face). And we all know that violence solves everything (in the face).

Emotigeddon has a very basic 2-D presentation. The levels are a series of caverns with drab, repetitive walls and static backgrounds. There is only so much you can do with a happy or sad face, and Emotigeddon obviously features some extremely repetitive enemies. The weapon effects can be decent (especially the plasma and lightning guns), but death only consists of a simple animation. The advantage of having such basic graphics is that the game runs well on even modest systems, and this supports the fast pace and high enemy count of Emotigeddon. The sound design is much like the graphics: some basic (though effective) samples for the weapons and other goings-on. The game lacks background music, something you don’t notice until it’s completely missing. Overall, Emotigeddon screams “indie game,” thanks to its simple 2-D graphics and minimal sound effects.

Emotigeddon features a 30-ish level campaign where you try and restore balance to a digital community in disorder. The game flows between each level in a chapter (four total, plus an introductory tutorial) with no load times and smooth transitions. Perfection is not required except at the end of a level: you can speed past most enemies without even engaging them. You do occasionally have to hit switches, move batteries, or push boxes along to unlock the next area, though, and other obstacles to progress include electric grids and turrets. Your character “grows” over time, although the upgrades are chosen for you and alternate between health, armor, and the swarm ability. You can earn faster upgrades by collecting cash (which makes fighting more enemies have a purpose). After you are finished with the main campaign, Emotigeddon has a speed racing mode where you must reach the end of a level quickly. You may also be required to push a couple of boxes along the way in order to increase the difficulty. This part of the game feels very much like SpringWorld Challenge (this is meant as a complimentary comparison) and it is a welcome change of pace. Unfortunately, Emotigeddon lacks a level editor; while the levels are in XML, so you could theoretically hand-edit them, I would not suggest it. Still, I think Emotigeddon features a decent amount of content for the $13 price tag.

In order to deal with all of the sadness in the world, you are given an assortment of weapons. While your arsenal is fairly typical for your generic first person shooter, having them in a side-scrolling action game is a nice feature. In fact, the weapons are almost an exact carbon copy of those featured in Unreal Tournament: pistol, plasma gun, shotgun (my personal favorite), chaingun (for mindless shooting), grenade launcher (useless against airborne enemies), rocket launcher, railgun, and lightning gun. While originality is certainly not present, this is above what is typically found in this genre. You are given a grappling hook to launch yourself towards walls and ceilings, but it deploys so slowly and you can move in all four directions anyway that its use is suspect. About the only unique “weapon” (if you can call it that) is the swarm: you can call in allies to absorb damage (and cause a small amount themselves) for fifteen seconds every twenty-five seconds (to avoid spamming). The swarm is something you’ll want to make almost constant use of in order to survive your time with Emotigeddon.

Emotigeddon resorts to using item pickups for additional ammunition, health, and armor. These icons are easy to identify and regenerate very quickly, bordering on being cheap. It’s actually a good thing that they regenerate so quickly, though, as the level of difficulty in the game is quite high. You can also acquire quad damage and invincibility (hello, Quake) to more easily defeat your foes. I would like there to be an option to adjust the respawn rates, but there is none. Controlling your character in the game takes some skill, as you use the mouse to aim independently of your character’s movement (using the WASD keys). There is a learning curve associated with effectively moving and shooting, and the fact that Emotigeddon is best played at high speeds doesn’t help. It should be easier to move and shoot simultaneously. Other than the controls themselves, the plentiful enemies make Emotigeddon quite a challenging experience. They are equipped with the same weapons you are (although only one of them), in addition to offering up suicide bombers, respawning enemies, and bacteria. Individually, the enemies are not tough and exhibit only the very basic AI, but in groups they are quite the formidable opponent. This is where a difficulty setting would come in handy, but Emotigeddon lacks this important option. You cannot have a game that lacks difficulty settings: there are too many varied skill levels to simply assume where people will stand. Adding in an easier difficulty level would be as simple as granting more health and/or armor, but Emotigeddon does not have this option.

Emotigeddon is another one of those independent games that has a unique take on the genre (thanks to the setting and pace), but trips up in several areas. First, the good news: lots of weapons and a face pace makes Emotigeddon pleasingly hectic. While the campaign isn’t terribly long, the speed racing mode adds variety by placing the emphasis on movement rather than violence. Of course, this would be better is the controls in Emotigeddon were more intuitive; I just could not get a handle on aiming with the mouse and moving using the keyboard to move independently in two dimensions. This becomes an issue since the difficulty of the game is on the high end (caused by copious amounts of enemy units in small spaces) and cannot be adjusted. Maybe you will have an easier time moving your happy face around, but I found the initial learning curve for the controls to be steep. Add in the lack of a level editor and we have a mildly entertaining product that could use several subtle improvements to better the gaming experience. The game is action-packed to be sure, but the inherent difficulty, both in the control scheme and in the level design, will dissuade some potential gamers.