Velocity 2X - Review
A sequel to FuturLab's 2012 release Velocity, Velocity 2X is a wonderfully crafted ode to the 16 bit classics of the past. Part ship-based combat and part side-scrolling platformer, this sequel sees FuturLabs strike out with some new ideas, all whilst retaining that core retro feel that makes the series so appealing.
This isn't just a game that relies on nostalgia though, the scrolling vertical ship levels start easy as you try to navigate basic areas as fast as possible, blasting apart a few enemy ships and speeding through tight spaces. These levels are easily Velocity 2X at its most retro, harkening back to the likes of Dangerous Seed and Gaiares on the Sega Megadrive/Genesis or arcade shooters like R-Type, whilst retaining their own unique feel.
Once, you've got the core controls nailed down, Futurlab slowly start drip feeding in a host of mechanics that prevent the game's fifty missions from getting stale. Early on you acquire a bomb upgrade, allowing you to not only fire forward but also horizontally as well as behind you, which can be used to destroy various switches that dot each level. There's also a short-range warp ability, enabling you to phase through walls with a jab of the square button and pointing in the relevant direction.
In later missions, as levels become more complex, the game introduces the teleporter, enabling you to drop select a point on the map and warp back to it when necessary, which is vital when levels start having multiple routes and switches that need to be destroyed in specific order. In fact, some of the game's latter half feels as much a puzzle game as it does a scrolling shooter, forcing you to navigate labyrinthine passages as fast as possible to prevent you from dying, all while trying to destroy a number of colour-coded switches in the correct order and warp through walls.
What's most impressive is how Velocity 2X staggers these abilities so that you're never overwhelmed. Each new upgrade comes just as you've got to grips with the previous ones, ensuring that the game's always doing something new, without throwing too much at you. Each of abilities is smartly mapped to a different button (square for teleport, triangle for warp points, right stick for bombs) meaning your fingers can easily glide from button to button almost as if you're playing a rhythm action game.
Of course, this time around, this ship shooter is only half the game. Futurlab have also saw fit to introduce side-scrolling platforming sections, with protagonist Kai Tana getting to set foot on solid ground. While the shooter elements feel more like retro game design given a modern twist, the platforming is more out-and-out fresh, albeit with a slight old-school mentality, being remarkably similar to Rayman Legends which is certainly no bad thing.
Once again, the developers do a phenomenal job of slowly unveiling a series of new mechanics at just the right pace. A teleporter allows you to access new areas by throwing it, much like a grenade, and warping to wherever it rests. Meanwhile, the phase jump, used by jabbing square, is used in tandem with the rifle in order to take down enemy aliens that can only be killed by shooting at them from behind.
Whilst there isn't the constant threat of a scrolling screen in these sections, like there is in the ship, there's still a strong emphasis on completing these sections as fast as possible. As with Rayman Legends, platforming is more about quick reactions and sudden changes, your fingers deftly switching from one action to the next as quickly as possible, and levels are built in such a way that speed is always a primary concern.
Needless to say, the game lends itself perfectly to those players enamoured with speed-running, but quick completion of events is also necessary even for those playing rather casually. End-of-level success is determined on a number of criteria including how quickly you finished a level as well as the number of collectibles, such as pink crystals, you managed to obtain.
And if all that wasn't enough, Velocity 2X also manages to squeeze in a pretty decent amount of story between missions. Each level starts with a short comic book style opening which provides a gentle sprinkling of characterisation to Kai Tana, who's easily one of the better female protagonists who've been designed in recent years. The fact that the game manages to incorporate these light story elements so effortlessly, and not lose sight of its main goal as an arcade shooter/platformer, is just the icing on the cake.
Joris de Main and James Marsden's sci-fi electronica-infused soundtrack also adds to the effective atmosphere of the game's art. Rather than go for the heavier over-the-top style that inhabits a lot of the "bullet-hell" sub-genre, which this game is only loosely connected to, Velocity 2X's visuals and audio manage to remain an immensely calming experience, in direct contrast to the intense action that's on screen.
Death leads to only a minor setback, with the real cost not being that you've failed necessarily, but that it's going to cost you precious seconds on your final score. This can lead to slightly underwhelming boss encounters, which, whilst on the whole being well crafted, and playing to the game's strength, can be taken apart with your unlimited supply of resets. Still, this is only a minor complaint. After all, the real challenge is not completing the levels, but rather, completing them in style. Each one is short enough that for those looking to do a perfect run won't find it too frustrating to have to start all over again should they mess up.
Velocity 2X is quite easily one of the most well-crafted, intelligent games to be released this year. A wonderful fusion of old-school shooter mechanics and 2D platforming that also manages to be incredibly refreshing and modern at the same time. Futurlab never pander to nostalgia, instead they've created a fusion of both the old and the new.
It's games like these, just as much as the big budget triple-A affair, that'll really set Sony's new console apart.
Velocity 2X was released on September 2nd for the PS4 and Vita. A PS3 version is planned for release later in the year.
This review is based on the PS4 version.
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