Friday, August 20, 2010

Razor2: Hidden Skies Review

Razor2: Hidden Skies, developed and published by Invent 4.
The Good: Constant action, weapon and item upgrades, online scoreboard, nice graphics
The Not So Good: No cooperative or competitive multiplayer, lacks weapon usage strategy, repetitive enemy encounters, no mouse controls, significantly more difficult boss battles, only eight levels, can’t save progress, poor game performance
What say you? This average shoot ‘em up would be better with friends and other features: 4/8

Every once in a while, it’s time to sit back and just shoot stuff. Welcome to the world of shmups, born in arcades and still alive and kicking after all these years. I suspect our insatiable need to destroy is key to the genre’s success. You really need some “killer app” to stand out against the large number of existing arcade shooters. How does Razor2: Hidden Skies stand out? Possibly with razors, or skies that may be hidden, I suspect.

Razor2: Hidden Skies heavily touts its graphics and sound design, and for good reason: the game looks quite nice. The environments, while not totally varied, do offer nice urban and desert settings in which to blow things up. There are some noticeable fog transition artifacts that look bad, but these are rare. The enemy designs are detailed as well, with some nice animations that bring them alive. The explosions fluctuate from poor to good, depending on the size of the enemy unit being destroyed. Razor2: Hidden Skies also features impressive shadows and nice bullet glow. However, the game is horribly optimized, as framerates changed wildly during gameplay. Sorry, but with my system, I should get more consistent performance. The sound design is decent enough, with pleasing explosions and a dramatic musical score, though the voice acting is very soft and insignificant. Razor2: Hidden Skies certainly delivers $10 worth of graphics and sound.

In Razor2: Hidden Skies, you and your trusty spaceship (which looks nothing like a razor) are off to other worlds in a mission to blow stuff up. The game features eight levels presented in a linear order. You cannot save your progress at any time, as you are meant to navigate as far as you can through the five-minute-long levels (which feel significantly longer). You are given five lives and one continue to assist you on your journey, and three difficultly levels adjust how much damage enemy fire causes. Razor2: Hidden Skies is only for singles, as there is no cooperative or competitive multiplayer, just an online high score list. In addition, you cannot play Razor2: Hidden Skies using the mouse, another limitation I do not approve of.

Between mission, you can spend earned credits upgrading your ship. There are three primary weapons that can be upgraded five times each, improving their damage, rate of fire, and speed. There are also slots for extra weapons with finite ammunition that fire powerful missiles, bullets, or pulses. You have access to all of the weapons from the beginning, although they aren’t terribly powerful. Other on-board systems include engines (rated in speed and acceleration), shields (with different protections), and energy cells (which provide power for shields and the primary weapon). Items and upgrades is one area where Razor2: Hidden Skies does not disappoint.

Razor2: Hidden Skies has a fast pace that features constant action. Each level takes about five minutes to complete, but it feels a lot longer than that since you are being continually bombarded by enemies. Unfortunately, the gameplay isn’t as interesting as it could be. First, there is hardly any weapon usage strategy: just hold and shoot, choosing the right primary weapon for the locations of enemies on screen (cannon for in the front, stray fire for more spread out, and laser for powerful opponents) and firing off the ammo limited items when things get hectic. Most of the game involves avoiding enemy fire, as energy recharges your shields over time, but not too quickly where you can haphazardly fly around. Pick-ups are available for additional bullets and energy, but the repetitive AI patterns and battles become tedious after a while. Each level ends with a boss battle, which is always way more difficult than the rest of the level with an insane amount of incoming firepower. I don’t like having to play through five minutes of uninteresting, relatively easy combat to lose during a dramatically more difficult boss encounter. This lack of balance means frustration soon sets in, and the repetitive nature of shoot ‘em ups doesn’t help.

In the end, there’s nothing totally unique in Razor2: Hidden Skies, and it’s the lack of these features that ultimately hold the game back. The game’s eight linear and repetitive levels must be completed in one sitting, and without friends as Razor2: Hidden Skies does not have multiplayer of any kind. There are a number of weapons that can be upgraded using credits earned during your campaign, and none of them are restricted from use initially. The fast pace does feature constant action, although there is no real variety in enemy encounters or how to deal with them: just hold “shoot” and switch weapons based on how many enemies there are. The boss battles are unfairly more difficult than the typical encounters, resulting in a lot of end-level frustration. The visuals and soundtrack are a selling point for the game, but overall Razor2: Hidden Skies doesn’t offer something new and different for the shoot ‘em up genre. It’s fun, but nothing we haven’t seen before.