What’s electric blue, dazzlingly digital, and glows in the dark? Gare Sapphire Mechs, from Brazilian developer Prexen Studios, is a top-down action shooter for the PC that combines Tron-like aesthetics with the universal appeal of large, complex machines that have one very simple purpose: blowing stuff up.
Gare Sapphire Mechs is set in Vitris-47, a digital world of mechs and mechanics. Players control their very own upgradable mech, in which they join the resistance movement to fight against the tyrannical Idalin empire. The bad news? The Idalins also have a bunch of high-tech mechs, and all their firepower is now directed at the resistance – meaning you.
Gare runs exactly like a well-oiled, highly-polished machine. WASD-based controls and helpful starter tips make the game user friendly, and the missions are pretty straightforward. The Tron “influence” is pretty heavy-handed, but that doesn’t make Vitris-47 any less beautiful. The digital cityscape is defined by clean graphics and animation, with neon-lit buildings and trees which are both cool to look at and convenient to hide behind during the heat of battle. Standard sci-fi sound effects and an understated techno beat are to the digital city what birdsong and rustling leaves are to a real-life park.
Once you get past the pretty lights, however, Gare begins to lose its shine. While it’s nice to look at and is good for an hour or two of digital distraction, derezzing enemies (who, after a while, start to look pretty much the same, with only small differences in design) over and over again can get a little tedious. The levels, though stunning, don’t vary much outside of size, and even the missions all play out fairly similarly, despite providing different goals.
Your mission briefs may have an urgent tone (and poorly proofread writing), but the battles themselves tend to feel a bit slow; after extended play, Gare begins to feel more relaxing than rousing. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – it’s still fun, in a distraction-from-work sort of way – but it doesn’t quite mesh with the idea of warring with an entire empire for the control of all of Vitris-47.
What is stressful during the fights is the lack of distinction in the boundaries of the playfield. It’s surprisingly difficult to tell the difference between lines which indicate the edges of the environment (which you can’t cross but can shoot across), lines which indicate obstructions (which block both movement and projectiles), and lines which simply indicate different structures in the area (which can be crossed and cannot be used for cover). It may just be the nature of the grid, but if that’s the case, perhaps it’s time the grid got a facelift.
The most appealing part of Gare’s gameplay isn’t the fighting, but the upgrading. Players are given several choices in modifying their mech, including purchasing new leg types, body types, and different forms of firepower. In addition, collecting three stars in each stage earns you star perks, which grant extra-special, high-tech sounding bonuses like “Quasar anti-matter generators” and “biometallic upgrades.” Completionists and upgrade junkies, rejoice! Thankfully, upgrading to the next level up in your gear does help – just not as much as you might have hoped. But that’s all right, because wars are not won by firepower, but by user-power! Right?
Gare Sapphire Mechs (created by users, for users) is, overall, a good time – just not the best. With a little more work and a bit more variation in gameplay (and a decent editor for the writing), it would easily be worth the $9.99 price tag. As it is now, I recommend checking out the free demo first, unless the thought of leaving missions unfinished makes your eye do that crazy little twitching thing. Both the full game and the demo are available for download from the official site, and Gare is also up for voting on Steam Greenlight.[review pros="Gorgeous design, fun for short periods of gameplay, fair amount of upgrade options, user-friendly control system" cons="Gameplay becomes a bit monotonous after extended play, boundaries unclear, numerous writing errors" score=70]