Wednesday, September 28, 2016

PC Review #151: Clustertruck

Title: Clustertruck
Developer: Landfall Games
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux, PS4
Price: $14.99
Clustertruck is an exercise in simplicity. Strip everything away, and you're left with a frantic game of first person platforming across a dynamically shifting path. It's how developer Landfall Games builds upon that foundation that Clustertruck truly impresses, delivering a chaotic rush of aerial acrobatics, insane wrecks, and unpredictable levels.
In this self-described "truckformer", every stage begins the same way: you, on top of a truck, amid a convoy of similar trucks driving forward. For a split second, all is calm...and then Clustertruck's brand of chaos ensues. Drivers weave and crash, trucks tumble and jackknife and barrel onwards with reckless abandon. Somewhere up ahead lies your goal, and you must navigate these high-speed pile-ups to reach it. That alone would be a satisfying challenge, as you leap off trucks in mid-air, wall-jump off siding, and truck-surf through the chaos. The dynamic nature of the convoys makes success a matter of a keen eye and fast reflexes, as you use any truck-based surface to maintain your forward momentum.

But Clustertruck's levels aren't asphalt straightaways. Across themed worlds that range from steampunk to sci-fi, these levels are mad gauntlets of hazards and chasms and multi-tiered environments. Massive hammers smash trucks into the void. Lasers and barriers force you to evade with precision. Huge drops send you plummeting to roadways far below, aligning your descent to land atop more trucks. Gravity wells send trucks and yourself flying across levels, long soaring seconds of airtime that often challenge you to leap from truck to truck.
It's this variety in dangers, terrain, and level design that turns Clustertruck's already-intense style of first-person traversal into a wild test of platforming prowess. Every level and region introduces something new, be it a shift in how levels are designed or some new obstacle, sometimes for only a single stage.

Death is frequent but rarely frustrating, since instant restarts and relatively short stages let you quickly get into a flow of "try again and improve" on even the most hectic levels. But once you've survived the game's 90 levels, what other challenges could await a truckformer-ing master? Speedrunning and earning points by pulling off tricky maneuvers is one avenue, but more importantly is the collection of skills and abilities waiting to be unlocked, that completely change your approach to your levels.
Slow-motion alone grants you more precision and air control to deftly dodge and stick landings, the grappling hook lets you latch onto trucks and the scenery to zip forward, and unlocks like the jetpack and double jump drastically increase the distances you can leap. Additional unlocks turn the game into a truck-filled version of SuperHOT where time is linked to your movement or add additional explosions and danger for a score multiplier.

It's choosing your loadout of unlocks that flip Clustertruck on its head. Leaping from truck to truck is crazy enough, but hooking on a truck as it tumbles through the air then slowing time to leap off the truck with perfect precision to reach the end of a level is another level of satisfaction. It combines the fast-paced traversal with an element of experimentation that changes how you look at the level architecture and truck placement. Trucks in mid-air are grapple anchor points, a tunnel lets you bounce a truck spawn pellet down the track, and so on.
Clustertruck takes such a simple premise and just wrings every possibility from it, as truck-surfing evolves into daring leaps over missiles as those trucks fly across huge gaps. If the developer's levels are this insane, one can only imagine what kind of gauntlets the community will create through the in-game editor.

Clustertruck is available on Steam, GOG, and the Playstation Store. The game is coming to Xbox One soon.

Friday, September 16, 2016

PC Review #150: Flat Heroes

Title: Flat Heroes
Developer: Parallel Circles
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
Price: $14.99
The wave of local multiplayer games have been washing onto the PC and consoles shores for quite some time now. From Nidhogg and Samurai Gunn to Push Me Pull You and Overcooked, there's no shortage of titles in that vein. A few offer modes and gameplay for the solo player - Towerfall Ascension and Inversus to name a few - but Flat Heroes offers the best of both worlds, a finely-tuned evasive platformer featuring a sizable amount of modes for both single and multiplayer.

Flat Heroes is one of those games where its polish and style is evident straight from the menu, as its clean minimalist screens smoothly shift between menus and level selections. The set-up is simple: an acrobatic square, in ever-shifting single-screen gauntlets, don't get hit. Of course, that last part often isn't so easy. For solo player, you start in Waves mode, distinct stages and boss fights that wrings smartly-designed challenges from the game's varied hazards. From screen-filling rectangles that threaten to crush you against the walls, to swarms of homing rockets and bubbles, to ricocheting triangles that streak across the screen in a frenetic hailstorm of color, each hazard is a new test of your platforming prowess. 

Thankfully, your square's agility is more than enough to handle Flat Heroes' dangerous onslaught. With simple hops, wall clinging, and air dashes, you can leap and tumble through levels with ease and precision. The controls are perfectly balanced to always make you feel in control, but with enough fluidity to feel reckless and tense as you just barely dodge over incoming swarms or outrun a laser grid.
Flat Heroes rewards your progress through Waves with new color palettes and more importantly new game modes that cleverly twist the core foundations precise evasion and agile movement. Battle is a geometric take on deathmatch where you dash through enemies, while Runner and Catch are Flat Heroes' versions of capture the flag (with a slight dual stick shooter angle as Runner lets you shoot projectiles). Each is a hectic rush of close calls and exploding squares, and can all be played against the AI if friends aren't around.

Flat Heroes's minimalist platforming is currently on Early Access, with more modes and levels planned in future updates. But as is, the game already shines, through its responsive agile gameplay and slickly-designed aesthetic. You can purchase Flat Heroes on Steam