09 September, 2014

Review - Double the Game, Double the Speed in Velocity 2X

Velocity 2X is a kaleidoscopic nova of vivid cel-shaded graphics and striking synthesized beats. During its voyage across star fields and nebulae filled space, Velocity flourished and evolved from a teleporting sci-fi shoot ‘em-up, in its new form; part platformer, part top-down shooter, and all parts stunning. 

Velocity 2X

Replete with Quarp Drives, Velocity 2X skyrockets past its predecessors, leaving puzzle-platformers and shoot ‘em-ups alike, behind in a cloud of space dust. The developer, FuturLab, step up their game by adding a whole new game to the Velocity series, Velocity 2X is a hybrid shoot ‘em up and side scrolling puzzle-platformer in which you assume the role of heroine Kai Tana escaping from and promptly decimating the dominating Vohk.

The crucial element, the catalyst, that ensures the two halves of the game work in concert is the shared sense of speed and urgency; I always wanted to drive on and on, faster and faster. Naturally this would lead to repeated deaths on the most basic of obstacles, alas it would not deter me for long and by the next level I would be sprinting and teledashing towards the edge of the screen with reckless abandon.

Confession: I collect crystals for the pleasing bleeps they emit. 

The controls are tight which makes mastering the myriad of abilities and tools a joy rather than the slog that learning two control scheme simultaneously could have been. Furthermore, there are parallels between the platforming and shooter abilities; you can teledash in both, but while on foot you have a set distance preventing you from bypassing every wall, but your ship has a much greater level of freedom, jumping to any visible location. Conversely, your ship can only drop teleportation beacons behind it, but when platforming you’ll need to throw and ricochet beacons through and over obstacles. Similar yet varied abilities, helps to distinguish the two sides of the game and allows for wildly different puzzles and layouts, not only from chapter to chapter but also within each level. You’ll likely switch between the types of gameplay at least two times during a level, if not more, keeping you engaging and fixated throughout.

Velocity 2X rarely allows you to forget to use an ability; the puzzles are intelligently designed to make sure that you approach them using all the tools of your trade. This frequently led to me trying harder to react faster, until I would remember a single simple rule or tool, a different method to solve the problem. There is no feeling more rewarding than the sensation of such a discovery and watching it cut several seconds from your overall level time.

The ingenuity of Velocity’s level design is never more apparent than during the boss fights – though technically you fight a single boss, a rather angry Vohk gentleman with world-shattering weapons, the encounters always escalate. Culminating into fights in which you solve puzzles during the battle – breaking down his defences – both while in your ship as shoot ‘em-up and by landing inside him and taking the fight across the platforms. These multipart fights are the most exhilarating and the game does an excellent job of breaking up the complex maze-like levels, with the blistering pace of more straightforward time critical stages.

Graphically, Velocity 2X’s is fantastic; the sharp, saturated, cel-shaded graphics are brought to life through glowing lights and blossoming explosions.  The style of the levels change frequently enough that it never manages to get stale, with each environment seeming more beautiful than the last. Furthermore, the parallax effect between the foreground and background adds a real perception of depth, as well as imbuing a sense of discovery each time something striking emerges from behind the level geometry. Fortunately, there are a lot of striking things to be discovered and the art style of Velocity 2X remain stellar throughout.

I played both on the PlayStation 4 and the Vita, using the cross-save functionality and the game ran flawlessly at 60 frames per second on both platforms.

In space no one can hear you scream over the sick soundtrack of Velocity 2X.

The music deserves the same level of praise as the visuals, the fantastic electronic soundtrack is well worth indulging in even outside of the game. However, much like the visual style, the music gels with the gameplay more directly than one might necessarily expect. It is a constant driving force, always pushing you to move faster and faster – which admittedly usually served to get me killed sooner, but that simply allowed me to listen to the soundtrack again which is a price I’m happy to pay.

Velocity 2X does not falter once in its pursuit of amalgamating the two classic types of gameplay; top-down shooters and 2D puzzle-platformers together. It sends you streaking through space filled with all manner of complex labyrinths of shields and turrets, and across planets populated with sprawling ice caves and lush jungles patrolled by the lethal Vohk. It is fair and fast, any time you die it was probably your fault – which happened a lot for me, because I was constantly being absorbed by the art and music that renders the game with startling beauty. Velocity 2X is a striking game that dodges the doldrums that plague so many sequels by simple evolving its gameplay into a second genre, whilst ensuring its formula isn’t lost or diminished.  

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