Fresh-baked impressions from the front lines of Live! You’ve probably downloaded both demos for yourself by now – because digitally delivered content rocks – but in case you haven’t, please read on.
Space Giraffe is the newest from Jeff Minter of old-school fame. While on the very first instructional screen the game proclaims “THIS IS NOT TEMPEST!”, it is actually quite similar. More an updated version of the old and very respectable arcade game, though quite a bit of new technique and control is involved. Players control the “giraffe,” a flickering energy circuit like Tempest’s old livewire. Also like Tempest, battles take place on the rim of a 2-dimensional structure that is sometimes a flat or curved wall, sometimes looped onto itself to form a tunnel shape. In addition to shooting, the giraffe can jump and (when available) use its “tail” to perform a smart-bomb type attack. By shooting enemies and jumping, the player creates a “Power Zone,” indicated on the level by a glowing line. As long as the zone is pushed back from the rim of the tunnel, the giraffe can physically shove off enemies who have climbed up onto the rim. The zone is also powered up by jumping. Shoving, or “bulling” enemies off in this manner scores far more points (via a multiplier) than shooting them, so more risky play is thus rewarded. Different types of enemies, with abilities like blocking a lane of the grid temporarily, also appear to liven things up.
Giraffe is nice and cheap at $5.00, but it’s maybe a little less than I expected or hoped for. There’s definitely the potential for fun, but the game also seems terribly determined to bask in a self-referential sense of coolness. The level-clear message gives reference to this: “CONGRATURATION! YOU R SUCCESS! A WINNER IS U! BUT, OUR GIRAFFE IS IN ANOTHER CASTLE!” The next line is a review of the player’s performance for the level; if most of the enemies were simply shot it’s always an insult (YOU R SUCK, YOU R MEH, YOU R UNAMBITIOUS, etc). If more enemies were bulled off the rim, the message becomes more congratulatory.
Giraffe is actually pretty intense graphically, with plenty of warping, blurring and filtering going on as well as a lot of onscreen activity. Colors cycle constantly and the experience seems designed to imitate something like a playable drug trip. I found it at turns semi-cool and somewhat annoying. Originally I had thought to buy Space Giraffe as I’m fond of some of Minter’s older titles; now I’ll be playing the demo more over the next few days and seeing if it grows on me. The free trial is nice enough to include 9 levels plus a tutorial; the full game apparently has 100+ levels.
The Blazing Angels 2 demo is somewhat more entertaining (says the arcade-flight game fan). It doesn’t quite have the Crimson Skies vibe I was rather hoping for, but it is an interesting arcade flight shooter. Players can choose one of three planes to fly the lone 1P mission on offer. Like the original Angels, BA2 focuses pretty heavily on using the left trigger to keep sight of your target. Of the three planes available, the German flying-wing type seems rather overpowered with more armor, firepower and speed than the alternate choices (both of which are at least more maneuverable). At first, players will just be holding the left trigger, swinging the gunsight around towards the thus-highlighted targets, and shooting them down one by one. Over time the player learns a bit more about keeping focused on objectives and can use the targeting system to highlight friendly defense targets too (making it easier to protect them and focus on nearby enemies who are endangering them). A small taste of the upgrade/customization system is available after completing the demo once; players can purchase upgrades with the points earned in their initial run-through. Sadly, not much is on offer for tryout, and not all of it makes a difference in the plane’s immediate performance. Still, it’s neat to see the system in action and get a glimpse of what some of the available power-ups will be.
Angels 2 looks fairly nice; some of the textures and objects look gritty (it’s not that aliased) and muddy, but then the mission does take place in a heavy rainstorm. Still, after the visual splendor of the Ace Combat 6 demo (which has at least as much action going on, it’s worthy of note) I find myself hoping BA2 gets more graphical tuning before it’s released to market. Sound design seems congruent with the first game in terms of gun and engine effects (not bad, not great); the voice work seems slightly better (a good thing). Also, at least for German enemies, the voice-overs are actually in German, an immeasurable improvement over the English-with-terrible-fake-accent crap from BA1.
My issues thusfar are simply that the game isn’t pretty enough for its age – the graphics aren’t incompetent, but don’t reflect what other developers are doing with the same hardware – and the plane balance. Unless the machines have balancing changes made for multiplayer, vicious imbalance is already rearing its head – and this is just the demo! Either of the two jets can easily shoot down the dual-prop plane, and the heavier jet can easily shoot down the second. Hopefully this isn’t a harbinger of what’s to come for the multiplayer. In the single-player campaign, better planes over time as a reward for missions makes plenty of sense, but for versus play the offerings need to be balanced.