March 18th, 2012 | By Richard Glenn
And so it continues.
Last time, I reviewed Inferno+, the first of four games in RadianGames’ Quadtastic Launch Collection. An often frantic, yet quaintly measured take on the twin-stick shooter, let’s just say that it impressed me.
This week, there’s a nice change of pace with…well, with another twin-stick shooter.
Ballistic may share some of the traditional twin-stick conventions with Inferno+, but, in many ways, it’s the antithesis of the latter’s steadily-paced trek through a vast array of ever-changing landscapes. Ballistic is, conversely, a standard, prototypical twin-stick package that has an unashamed crack at drawing on the notable success of such genre luminaries as Geometry Wars and Beat Hazard in its attempt to tap into the zeitgeist of arcade-style, score-driven madness.
Ballistic’s content is standard-fare and light enough to be written on the back of a napkin. In essence, you can either pit your wits against increasingly more devilish and fast-paced waves on enemies in a breakneck battle for survival, or you can go for a high score in one of the game’s five challenges; consisting of the Pursuit, Division, Entropy, Firepower and Focus modes. If that all seems a little bare-bones and insubstantial, there isn’t a particularly compelling counter-argument to be made. Instead, Ballistic squats hopefully on its laurels as a shallow collection of high-score quests in an attempt to forge its identity as a simple, yet mercilessly addictive slice of fun.
Let it not be said that it doesn’t make an admirable attempt of it. Waves Mode packs a considerable punch as a potentially life-sapping piece of compulsion, offering over a hundred levels of incrementally increasing difficulty. It’s undoubtedly Ballistic’s bread and butter, serving as a perfectly competent example of the video gaming medium’s “one more go” syndrome in all its wonderful, antisocial glory.
It’s clear that RadianGames tries to carry a similar impact with each of its challenge modes, but the results aren’t quite as profound as they are in Waves Mode. In isolation, each challenge proves to be a serviceable, if short-lived, exercise in good old bad-guy blasting action, but there’s never quite enough substance to allow them to stand out as a collective unit. If it’s longevity you’re after, Waves Mode might just have you covered, but don’t count on the challenges providing you with any kind of comparable long-term draw.
The challenges certainly aren’t helped by their own inherent ambiguity either. At first glance, it’s often difficult to discern any meaningful differences between each individual challenge, a problem exacerbated by the lack of in-game explanation or tutorial system on the part of the developers. Once you’ve had a stab at each one, the mist eventually clears and your goals and obstacles become a little clearer, but it certainly isn’t an instantly gratifying, pick-up-and-play affair that one commonly associates with the twin-stick genre. More often than not, the action boils down to the simple formula of “shoot enemies; ride over bombs to obliterate hordes of enemies; collect lives with which to assist in ongoing onslaught against enemies.” Heck, it’s not even quite as intuitive as that. From the onset, it takes a few minutes of unnecessary trial-and-error before you figure out which pick-ups perform which function and whether the gold circle you just glided through constitutes a bomb or an extra life.
What’s nice, on the other hand, is that that RadianGames have attempted to bolster the game’s lasting appeal with the introduction of a slew of gameplay perks. As you progress through each wave, you’ll have the option to activate an increasing number of in-game modifications, ranging from an increased rate of fire to homing attacks and more powerful bombs. These perks offer the welcome capacity for experimentation as you test out the effectiveness of different combinations of powers and weapons in different sets of in-game circumstances, giving players a much-needed incentive to revisit Ballistic’s content for extended periods of time.
Ballistic neither looks nor sounds atrocious, but there really isn’t an awful lot to write home about with regards to its graphical or sound design. RadianGames has stuck with genre conventions and attempted to deliver a minimalistic, yet mesmeric timbre and this abidance by such a well-trodden path is telling in its execution. While you’re never likely to be immersed in the rhythmic techno beats and brightly coloured geometric entities flying across the screen, the grating sense of repetition and tedium that often crops up in low-budget games is welcome in its absence too, rendering the game’s audiovisual ambience yet another component of Ballistic’s sizeable pile of competently executed, but unoriginally conceived ideas.
As alluded to in my Inferno+ review, RadianGames hasn’t been able to buck the trend of PC twin-stick shooters working with the keyboard and mouse controls without a few hiccups, and Ballistic is, predictably, no different. Once again, the game can be played to a respectable degree with the keyboard controls, but you’d definitely be best served by plugging in a gamepad in order to enjoy the full luxury of universal, 360-degree movement and shooting. Even though this is a quandary that wasn’t conjured up by RadianGames and that will no doubt plague many of its future counterparts, it’s still a shame that a game in this day and age requires additional purchases in order to be fully enjoyed.
Be under no illusions that Ballistic is an unworthy entry into the world of twin-stick shooters, but it’s difficult to consider it much more than a cookie-cutter example of a filler title going through the motions. If you pick it up as part of the bundle, you’ll probably find it to be an adequate complement to Inferno+’s more cerebral approach to interactive gameplay, but, as a stand-alone purchase, there are better options out there.