Some people have been describing this as a pseudo sequel to the Dreamcast's rather poorly received Spawn. "The same but fixed!" they cried. I confess I've never played Spawn so I can't really compare the two. I'm quite sure that if Spawn was nearly as good as this I would have played it though. This game is really ringing my bell.
I had planned to give it a miss, but when I saw WASP was on the soundtrack, I had to pick it up. I wasn't even sure what kind of game it was - only that it was gonna have a rocking soundtrack. Megadeth, Halford, Corrosion of Conformity and Entombed are all given top billing. It's strange then that two unknowns - Dust to Dust and Cyber-T - are given three and eight tracks respectively, and the headliners are given one each. Considering Sega's financial situation perhaps this is easily explained. The tunes suit the game perfectly, I'm happy to say. Money well spent.
The game itself might be best described as a third person over-the-shoulder quake, in small arenas with gobs of weapons. The camera always faces your opponent, but with you in the foreground. It's because of this that it's not often facing the direction you're going. At first I found it frustrating and I was yelling at the game to "Look this way, dammit!" After a few rounds however you learn the maps so well that you can tell where you're going with ease. Pressing Y instantly switches the targetting onto the next opponent, a function you learn to appreciate fast when you take on two CPU bosses for the first time and they try to sweep you into a pincer.
Combat has two styles: an up-close and a ranged attack. Sega saw fit to lavish the weapons on us, with some surprising variation. Each weapon has a fierce secondary attack too, usually with poorer aim and consuming more ammunition, but effectively doubling the number of weapons. The weapons cover the entire gamut from swords to traps and mines and rail guns and rocket launchers and laser-guided satellite-dropped bombs o' doom. You can only carry one close combat and one ranged weapon at a time and the ammo is limited so rapid discharge and frequent re-arming is the name of this game. If you can't get up close with either of the two swords, you drop back and pick up something with some distance - perhaps you'll pass over the flamethrower and pick up the rocket launcher. You can let loose a stream of anime-styled six-rocket bursts, pick up and plant some traps or explosive mines, then nail your opponent with a flame-thrower when he falls prey to your dastardly tricks.
Sega's taking the unfortunate but all-too-common route again, and will remove the online play from the North American release. The Japanese version didn't support the Broadband Adaptor, and since a local call is required to play, you can't play online with the import either. Considering the fragmented and chaotic phone system in North America this might not be a bad decision, but it's unfortunate they didn't put the link cable to good use. As it stands, split-screen madness is the best you'll get, but it's good indeed. There's no slowdown, and since you can always see your opponent anyway with the game's camera system, there's no element of surprise lost.
The graphics are, as can be expected from a late-released game, stunning. The characters were designed by Simon Bisley, who you might remember from such games as Loaded. Every weapon is large and well rendered, the characters even moreso, showing a surprising variety for Bisley, perhaps to appeal to Japanese sensibilities. The backgrounds are well presented, looking almost as good and a lot like Soul Calibur, but with wildly varying terrain and destructible environment.
When the action gets frantic and you're in the zone mindlessly launching attacks and running for your life, you'll find yourself frequently impressed as someone finally succumbs to the onslaught and the action stops. The camera will swoop and rotate around the loser, locked into a death pose with the killing blow slow-motioning through them. Stunning bit of work, and very very rewarding. Much to the rest of the family's unhappiness, I found myself whooping in the middle of the night as I'd pull off a particularly sweet kill.
It's not a game for everyone - it's a visceral blaster which proudly shows Sega's arcade roots. The game makes no apologies for what it is. My criteria for games are quite simple: I likes 'em fast and I likes 'em competant, and Geomatrix delivers. Twelve fighters, fourteen arenas, and a rocking soundtrack, perfect control and a camera that rarely misses. Definately the best game I've played in a while.
- Covers stolen from internets
- Crappy screenshots mine