I’m not usually a fan of reaction based games, mostly because they do a great job of highlighting just how bad I am at them. Sure there’s a sense of accomplishment once I get there, but it often feels like I’ve either brute forced my way through or just lucked out. However seeing people master games like that can be quite entertaining, like watching Rocket League pros juggle a ball like it’s nothing. Ballistic falls along similar lines for me, being incredibly frustrating to play but would definitely make for good watching should someone decide to take the time to master it.
There is a vague notion of a plot in Ballistic, you being some kind of weapon of mass destruction set out to stop someone from capturing a planet (or something along those lines). What you are is a giant geodesic ball that can roll along any surface, shooting itself in any direction at incredibly high speed. Anything you come into contact with is instantly obliterated and that includes any innocent bystanders who happen to be in the way. That sets up the premise for the game: wreck a bunch of things and then find the teleportation pad to take you to the next level. Like many skill/twitch/reaction based games it’s a simple concept that’s incredibly difficult to master.
Ballistic uses the Unreal Engine 4 which means that, at a base level, the graphics aren’t bad. They’re quite simplistic, consisting mostly of highly glossy surfaces and geometric shapes, which is fitting given the Outrun-ish theme it seems to be going for. When you’re moving everything turns into a glorious blur of neon but, when you inevitably hit something you get an up close look and things aren’t as great. All the people models have to be store bought assets as they simply don’t fit the aesthetic of the game at all. The other various models (like the guns and whatnot) fit a little better but they’ve obviously been designed to not be looked at too closely. For more skilled players this might not be an issue but for someone like me, who seemed to spend more time still than blasting past, it was hard not to notice it.
The challenges the game presents you are usually pretty simple. Most of them will be a variation on move here, kill this thing and then find this other thing to complete the level. Sounds easy in theory but wrangling the ball to do what you want it to do is a challenge all in of itself. You have a couple controls at your disposal: roll, which allows you to move whilst you’re flat on a surface. Boost which pushes you in the direction of the camera and bullet time allowing you to more precisely aim your shots. You’d think that with these tools it’d be relatively easy to navigate your way around however it’s akin to trying to play billiards in three dimensions more than anything else. In order to get to a certain point you’ll have to estimate your current momentum, what you can add via boost and your time in flight before you hit there. Doing all these things whilst you’re blasting past everything at a million miles an hour is quite the challenge.
That being said once you get a handle on how things all slot together you can more accurately place yourself than you would otherwise. Mashing the boost button the second you leave a surface is most certainly the wrong thing to do, often leading you into unrecoverable situations. Nor is attaining maximum speed the solution to everything as once you get past a certain point the amount of influence you have over where you’re going is diminished significantly. In the end the challenge that Ballistic provides is one of balance: you have to figure out the right mix of everything to achieve your objective. Suffice to say it’s not the easiest game around, one that’s barely deserving of the “casual” tag it’s got itself on Steam.
Ballistic is an extremely challenging momentum based skill game, one that this writer would likely recommend for fiends who enjoyed similar games like Rocket League. The retro soundtrack is what attracted me to it in the first place and, unfortunately, the game play wasn’t enough for me to stick around for too long afterwards. Make no mistake, this is a challenging game, one that will reward those who take the time to master its momentum based mechanics. If, like me, you were seeking something a little less intense though it might be the wrong thing for you. For a specific subset of gamers Ballistic’s challenges will provide the kind of intense action they crave however, for this old gamer, I think I’ll leave my play time with it where it stands.
Ballistic is available on PC right now for $12.99. Total play time was 1 hour.
If you’re looking to watch people play games live there’s really only one place to look: Twitch. It started out its life as the bastard stepchild of Justin.tv, a streaming platform for all things, however it quickly outgrew its parent and at the start of last year the company dumped the original product and dedicated itself wholly to Twitch. Various other streaming apps have popped up in its place since then but none have been able to hold a candle to Twitch’s dominant position in the game streaming market. The one platform that could however has just announced YouTube Gaming which has the potential to be the first real competitor to Twitch in a very long time.
Whilst the product isn’t generally available yet, slated to come out sometime soon, it has already made its way into the hands of many journalists who’ve taken it for a spin. The general sentiment seems to be that YouTube has essentially copied the fundamental aspects of Twitch’s streaming service, mostly in regard to the layout and features, whilst adding in a couple of additional things which serve as bait to attract both streamers and consumers to the platform. Probably the most interesting aspects of YouTube’s platform are the things that are missing from it, namely the subscription payment system, alongside the dreaded ContentID system which will be in full force on all streams.
The main thing that will draw people to YouTube’s streaming service however is most likely the huge infrastructure that YouTube is able to draw on. YouTube has already demonstrated that it can handle the enormous amounts of traffic that live streaming can generate as they currently hold the world record for most number of streams at 8 million for the Felix Baumgartner jump back in 2012. Twitch, despite its popularity, has experienced numerous growing pains when it has attempted to scale up its infrastructure outside of the US and many have pined for a much better service. YouTube, with the Google backbone at its disposal, has the potential to deliver that however I’m not sure if that will be enough to grab a significant share of this market.
Twitch has, for better or for worse, developed a kind of culture around streaming games and has thus set a lot of expectations for what they’d want in a competing streaming product. YouTube Gaming gets most of the way there with the current incarnation of the product however the absence of a few things, like an IRC backend for chat and the paid subscriptions, could end up being the killer features that keep people away from their platform. The former is easy enough to fix, either by adopting IRC directly or simply providing better tools for managing the chat stream, however the latter isn’t likely to change anytime soon. Sure, YouTube has their one off payment system but that runs against the current community norms and thus will likely not see as much use. That then feeds into a monetization problem for streamers which is likely to deter many from adopting the platform.
All that being said however it’s good to see some competition coming to this space as it should hopefully mean more fierce innovation from both parties as they vie for more marketshare. YouTube Gaming has a massive uphill battle ahead of it if however if anyone has the capability to fight Twitch on their own ground it’s them. The next 6 months will be telling as it will show just how many are willing to convert away from the Twitch platform and whether or not it will become a sustainable product for YouTube long term.
Twitch.tv started out as the bastard child of Justin.tv, a streaming website that wanted to make it easy for anyone to stream content to a wider audience. Indeed for a long time Twitch felt like something of an after thought as divesting part of an already niche site into another niche didn’t seem like a sound business maneuver. However since then Twitch has vastly outgrown its parent company becoming the default platform for content streamers around the world. The sponsorship model it has used for user’s channels has proven to be successful enough that thousands of people now make their living streaming games, giving Twitch a sustainable revenue stream. This hasn’t gone unnoticed of course and rumours are starting to circulate that Google will be looking to purchase them.
The agreement is reported to be $1 billion all cash deal, an amazing deal for the founders and employees of Twitch. The acquisition makes sense for Google as they’ve been struggling to get into the streaming market for a long time now with many of their attempts drawing only mild success. For the Twitch community though there doesn’t appear to be any direct benefits to speak of, especially considering that Google isn’t a company to let their acquisitions just do their own thing. Indeed if this rumour has any truth to it the way in which Google integrates Twitch into its larger platform will be the determining factor in how the brand grows or ultimately fails.
At the top of the list of concerns for Twitch streamers is the potential integration between YouTube’s ContentID system and the Twitch streams. Whilst most of the games that are popular on Twitch are readily endorsed by their creators (like League of Legends, DOTA2, World of Warcraft, etc.) most of them aren’t, something which has seen content producers and game developers butt heads multiple times over on YouTube. With the Twitch platform integrated into YouTube there’s potential for game creators to flag content they don’t want streamed something which is at odds with the current Twitch community ethos. If not handled correctly it could see much of Twitch’s value evaporate after they transition across to YouTube as arguably most of it comes from its wide community, not the technology or infrastructure powering it.
On the flip side though Twitch has been known to suffer from growing pains every time a popular event happens to grace its platform, something which Google could go a long way to fixing. Indeed that would likely be the only thing that Twitch has to gain from this: a global presence without the need to invest in costly additional infrastructure. If Google maintains Twitch as a separate, wholly owned brand then this could be of benefit to both of them as a more stable and available platform is likely to drive user numbers much quicker than Twitch has been able to do previously.
We’ll have to see if this rumour turns out to be true as whilst I wouldn’t begrudge Twitch taking the cash the question of what Google will do with them is what will determine their future. Whilst the combination of Twitch chat and YouTube comments sounds like the most unholy creation on the Internet since /b/ there is potential for both Twitch and Google to gain something from this. Whether that’s to the benefit of the community though remains to be seen.
You’d think that since I have something of a obsession with competitive style games, ones that often require fast reflexes, would lead to an appreciation for other twitch based games. In general though I don’t find that’s the case as more often than not I find myself feeling drained by the experience, wondering why I’m giving myself RSI just to get to the next level. I am a sucker for unique takes on traditional game mechanics though and Race The Sun, the first PC game from independent studio Flippfly and hot off their Kickstarter campaign, manage to bypass much of the anxiety I felt with other similar styles of games whilst still providing a challenging experience.
You’re a solar powered craft, gliding peacefully across the planet. The problem is though that you have a limited life as you can only move when the sun is shining down of you. This presents something of a problem as the sun is going down…fast. The race is on then for you to catch up with it, extending what short life you have so that you can continue your journey across this spartan world. It’s not that simple of course as the way is covered with obstacles and shiny trinkets, things that can lead to your untimely demise should you break your concentration for a split second.
Race The Sun utilizes incredibly simple graphics with the vast majority of detail in the world being provided by the shadows cast from all the untextured objects. It’s something that you’ll be thankful for as you progress through the game as later levels will be littered with innumerable objects, all of which are capable of putting an end to your short journey. Thus the simple visual style allows you to determine safe paths very far out although being able to stick to them is another matter entirely. Whilst Race The Sun is only available on PC currently I could easily see the game running very well on a wide range of mobile devices something which I’m sure is in the works considering Flippfly’s previous title.
The mechanics of Race The Sun are simple in essence, you simply have to keep going forward and avoiding any obstacles along your way. The further you go the more points you get and you can boost your score even higher by collecting “Tris”, small pyramid structures that dot the landscape. In principle this would make for a pretty straightforward game, very similar to other games like BIT.TRIP Runner, however Race The Sun throws in a bunch of other mechanics to ensure that your journey is never quite the same nor as simple as you might first think.
Initially all you do is avoid obstacles and in doing so you’ll earn yourself points, eventually levelling you up. As you level up you’re granted more and more powers such as being able to collect jump power ups or be able to equip your ship with new powers to make certain aspects easier. These challenges, whilst starting off simple, rapidly turn into the game’s main source of replayability as they encourage you to attempt behaviour that is antithetical to your main goal of moving forward to increase your score. The most memorable one by far was the one where I could only turn left through 2 whole regions, something which proved to be incredibly difficult given the fact that one mistake can lead to your downfall.
The powers also help spice things up a bit as they enable you to do things that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to. The magnet for instance, the first power you get, allows you to collect Tris from further away than normal. It doesn’t seem that noticeable at first but you’ll be able to do things like saddle up next to Tris that are on high platforms to collect them without having to use a ramp or jump power up to do so. Whilst I’ve yet to unlock more than the first 2 powers suffice to say that they can be game changing and I’m sure the ones I haven’t unlocked yet are.
Race The Sun’s world is also regenerated every 24 hours, giving you enough time to become familiar with it but not long enough that you’d be able to write a strategy guide for it before the world shifted again. Due to its procedural nature some of the worlds are more conducive to certain types of play than others so if you’re finding yourself being unable to complete a certain challenge it’s probably worth your time to wait until tomorrow to give it another go. Of course it can also be somewhat frustrating to get a great strategy down only to have it dashed by the world remaking itself but for the most part any tactics you come up with in one world will be transferable to the next.
Race The Sun is a great little distraction, offering up intense twitch based game play coupled with a minimalistic style and intriguing game mechanics. The daily world regeneration and leaderboards will ensure that anyone with a competitive bent will find a lot of enjoyment out of it, attempting to find the best path through Race The Sun’s world in order to maximise their score. It might not have the staying power of similar games in its genre but it’s very enjoyable, offering up a challenge that’s both unique and refreshing.
Race The Sun is available on PC right now for $10. Total game time was approximately 1.5 hours with 24% of the achievements unlocked.
Reaction based platformers are like kryptonite to me. Initially I revel in the challenge, figuring out how the mechanics work with each other and eventually getting good enough at them that I feel like I could master anything thrown at me. Then, inevitably, the difficulty of the game increases and I find myself floundering, my newfound prowess laid to waste at the developer’s hands. This usually then leads onto a rather self destructive spiral where I’ll continue playing until I get past the point that’s blocking me but of course I usually can’t leave it there and the descent into madness continues. You’d think then that I’d avoid this genre altogether but when something like Element4l crosses my path I was too intrigued to say no.
Element4l puts you in control of a curious little creature, one that’s made up of the 4 different elements that drive its world. Your quest is simple: you are on a mission to create sentient life and in order to do so you have to seek out soulparts that have been scattered around your world. You start off by being a small bubble of air, floating on the breeze, but as you seek out more soulparts you’ll be able to transform yourself into ice, rock and fire, enabling you to soar to ever increasing heights. To succeed you’ll need to use all of your abilities in concert as you will not progress without mastering them all.
The artwork of Element4l is simplistic but very beautiful, reminding me of other games like Journey. There’s really not a lot to it but the combination of different effects and lighting makes Element4l quite a nice visual experience. This is then elevated even higher by the amazing soundtrack that accompanies it which seems to swell and fade at just the right times. Sure it didn’t always line up, especially if I had been struggling on a particular section for some time, but let’s just say I’m glad the developer left the soundtrack in MP3 format in the game folder, it’s just that good.
Mechanically Element4l is a momentum based platformer where keeping your speed up as much as you can is the main aim of the game. Initially it starts out as just a helicopter based game where you have to keep yourself from touching the sides but as you unlock more elemental powers you eventually find yourself spending most of you time sliding around, looking for dips/rises in order to ramp up your speed again. There’s also a few other mechanics thrown into the works to spice up the latter half of the game, adding in a good level of frustration even when you’d expect such a power to make the game easier.
Each of the different elements has a specific property associated with them that’s advantageous in a certain way. Air allows you to float and pulse yourself upwards. Rock allows you to drop and stop really fast, something which you’ll need to use often in order to build momentum. Ice allows you to slide on nearly any surface and has the peculiar attribute of not using any energy, allowing you to transform into it at any point. The last one is fire which is the only ability that can directly contribute to your momentum in the X-Y plane, giving you a small boost to the right hand side of the screen. They all sound simple enough and indeed the reason I was attracted to Element4l in the first place was the apparent simplicity but the way the mechanics interact with each other is anything but simple.
Initially you’ll be able to fumble your way through most sections as the amount of momentum required to make it past certain obstacles is usually pretty low. However there are quite a few tricks you can use in order to boost your momentum up and whilst some puzzles don’t necessarily require you to use them you’re usually far better off doing so in order to give yourself a little more leeway.
For the most part it’s about timing your transformations and abilities to capitalize on the momentum you’ve already created. So for instance say you’re heading up and you need to go higher, usually you’d wait until you got to the peak before using an ability in order to get the maximum effect. In Element4l the forces are additive and so you’re much better off using your puff ability (in air form) on the way up in order to generate more upwards force. The same goes for rock as that lets you drop incredibly quickly, very handy for when you’re going down a ramp. Fire is tricky as whilst it gives you a little boost of speed if you don’t transform out of it quickly you’ll end up losing it (or dying). Thus I found transforming into ice immediately after fire was usually the best way to keep my speed up, unless I needed to be in fire form for one reason or another.
The latter additions add an interesting twist to the base game play, usually forcing you to think of novel solutions to the problems presented. Probably the most interesting one was the sparks that gave you 5 seconds of unlimited energy, something which you’d think would trivialize any puzzle, but in fact it makes them quite a lot more difficult as you can get yourself into a whole mess of trouble in no short order. The same can be said for the little sparks that refill your energy bar as, sometimes, you’ll be able to complete a section without using them but others will require you to use every single one to progress.
Thankfully the experience is pretty much bug free although there are couple mechanics that have some emergent behaviour that I don’t think was intended. For instance when you get turned into water (although it kinda looks like bubbly steam) turning into air directly afterwards shoots you up with a lot of force, far more than it does with any other transformation. Additionally should you respawn whilst you were in steam form any momentum you had at that point will be transferred to you upon respawning. This sounds like a great way to break things, and indeed you probably could, but the times when I happened to me would send me shooting back into a lava pit behind me. Apart from that though the game is glass.
Element4l is one of those games where it’s simple understand yet incredibly hard to master. Much like Super Meat Boy before it I spent the vast majority of my time stuck on puzzles towards the end, running them time and time again until I managed to get my timing perfect. Therein lies the challenge, frustration and ultimate satisfaction that comes from these types of games and whilst I might dread them initially it’s hard to deny that awesome feeling you get upon completion. If you’re a lover of this type of game or love highly polished indie experiences then Element4l is for you.
Element4l is available on PC right now for $9.99. Total game time was 4 hours with 60% of the achievements unlocked.