America - Front
America - Back
08th Jan 2010 | 1,622 views
Gravity Crash heralds the rebirth of the ancient cave flier genre, harking back to the ye olde days of one-hit-death and impossibly steep difficulty curves.
Gravity Crash is an ode to Oids, ( and more than a nod to Gravitar and Thrust) with gameplay based around the holy triumvirate of precision flying, shooting and landing. However, unlike the classic Thrust, there are no brutal pendulum mechanics to deal with here.
Gravity Crash pits your small ship against the merciless forces of gravity, hard surfaces, lava and an ever diminishing fuel load.... Not to mention various enemies that will attempt to ram or blast you out of the sky. The ship has a thruster and is armed with a blaster, shields and a special weapon to defend itself with. When the shields are gone, a single hit or collision will destroy the ship.
To prevent crashing, the ship has a thruster and you can rotate it 360 and apply thrust to fly. The player also has to cope with inertia, based on the amount of thrust they have applied. Tricky? Yes.
Visually, there’s no doubt that Gravity Crash hits most of the right notes for a modern remake; neon glows, heat haze and particle effects abound. However, there’s a curious incoherency to the design of the more detailed buildings and structures, compared with the simplistic looking turrets and mechanised enemies.
A game like this stands and falls by its controls. The ship is responsive enough to allow some impressive feats of flying. Having said that, the blaster’s bullet speed is exasperatingly slow, making hitting small targets something of a chore.
The player can choose between ‘Classic’ and 360 controls and auto, or manual shield. Classic is the more ‘authentic’ play style, although I have to admit, I auto-shielded all the way. The shield itself is a mixed blessing, as while it negates one hit deaths, it also annoyingly brings an uncontrollable pinball effect if you hit an object or terrain in a confined space.
However, unlike Pixel Junk: Shooter, which has dared to innovate, JAW haven’t brought anything new to the party with Gravity Crash, instead choosing to slavishly adhere to ancient design conventions. With retro-tints on, this initially, this appears to be no bad thing, but ultimately proves to be Gravity Crash's Achilles heel.
The player is tasked to destroy a small range of enemy ground structures and/or collect crystals; initially this is quite addictive, as the simple objectives allow for brisk progress.
However, the same missions are repeated over the course of the 37 or so levels. Unfortunately, the one note gameplay begins to pall about two galaxies in and ultimately undermines Gravity Crash at its very core. There is no central hook to the gameplay; in fact the already limited gameplay is stripped backeven further by removing the requirement to land.
JAW have seen fit throw the ‘rescue survivors’ element out of the air-lock. ( I wonder if this was influenced by the appearance of PJS.) The little green guys can be killed or ignored and you wonder why they are even there, other than to provide points. As landing is one of the more difficult skills to master, why bother, if it isn’t required? The risk / reward ethos is out of kilter here.
The simple minded destroy stuff / collect crystals gets old very quickly, and isn't very satisfying. Only the most committed will grind through the repetitive missions to the bitter end. Gravity Crash doesn’t seem to understand its origins and feels directionless. It feels like it wants to be an out-and-out shooter, but is shackled by its heritage as a gravity based cave flier.
Another mechanic would have provided essential variety; an occasional Thrust style mission, or some variation on a tractor beam / transportation mechanic would helped no end. JAW could have even employed elements from Zarch and Descent and made a myraid of interesting mission types.You have to wonder why they didn't do it.
The level designs are a mixed bag; they range from the mildly entertaining, the downright tedious to the impossibly hard, with the difficulty spiking all over the place. A lot of planets don’t feel individual, with no actual ‘theme’ in evidence – structures are scattered about here and there, without any real thought.
Some levels are tightly packed, with every conceivable turret and structure strewn over every available surface, whilst others are starkly barren, with a rushed, unfinished feel to them. Apart from a couple of feature levels, found later on, they all start to blend into each other. (In contrast, Pixel Junk: Shooter levels are shorter, far more focused and enjoyable.)
The smaller levels generally work better than the larger ones, which are usually an exercise in tedium to traverse. For a game like this, spending 15-25 minutes in a level is far too long, especially those that require lots of back tracking. Not a great idea for a game requiring high levels of concentration and a ship with limited fuel.
The lack of enemy types is disappointing, especially for a 2D game. To compel the player forward, a constant stream of new enemies unique to each planet, or galaxy type would have been welcome. Unfortunately, the same few enemies are constantly recycled, and there’s a lack any real imagination in their design.
The mishmash of random organic and mechanical threats, make the level design feel disjointed and thrown together. Flying enemies bobble about in front of you unconvincingly; you’re more likely to collide with them trying to blast them. You end up ignoring them, as they aren’t much of a threat, unless they are blocking a passage.
As rule, enemies are colour coded. Red = enemy. Later on, yellow does too, for some reason. There are also lots of what seem to be inert or ‘friendly’ looking structures also scattered around. These appear to serve no purpose and can be destroyed with gay abandon, with no actual consequence.
The boss encounters should have been a welcome break from the monotony of the missions, and could have been really special, but unfortunately, they are a feebly realised bunch, especially compared to the those found in a certain other game. The bosses aren’t even much of a threat, and are easily disposed of.
The bosses are usually buried deep within the level; you’re more likely to come to grief getting to them, than actually taking them on. (The battle cruiser boss is particularly odd, as it suddenly rotates 360 degrees for no apparently good reason, which just looks wrong.)
One small update to the gameplay are the 'special weapons'. There is a choice of four, but you will have no idea what they do, or their effectiveness on enemies. Choosing one is pot luck and you’re stuck with it for the duration. You can’t even change your weapon after completing a galaxy. To make matters worse, instead of cool, enemy smiting, smart weapons, they are largely ineffectual damp squibs; a classic smart bomb would have been the way to go here.
To sum up, Gravity Crash attempts to pack a lot into a small package, but is a missed opportunity to build on classic gameplay, that initially flatters to deceive.
The game is derailed by its lengthy, but ultimately shallow, single player campaign that quickly becomes a joyless, repetitive slog. With more creative mission types, better designed and balanced levels, combined with imaginative, well choreographed boss fights, it could have lived up to its potential.
While Gravity Crash is generally more forgiving than the early cave fliers it apes, it still provides a steep learning curve for anyone new to the genre. This may be something of a commercial misstep in finding a wider audience.
The inclusion of the 360 degree firing option seems to be completely at odds in this genre, and included either as a mistaken attempt to appeal to Geometry Wars fans, or to somehow compensate for its difficulty.
The token multi-player and other game modes are under-developed and instantly forgettable. It would have been better to include them as part of a dlc pack, or forget them all together and focused on an improved campaign mode. They feel a box ticking exercise and shoehorned into the initial release.
The frankly nonsensical and trite plot appears to have been tacked on at the last minute, serving only to further undermine the experience. This kind of puerile drivel should have been dropped from the outset.
The easy to use editor could have been the masterstroke, but is undermined by poor access to user generated levels on PSN.
In a toss-up between Gravity Crash and Pixel Junk: Shooter, the later is a far more fun and focused experience, that understands the mindset of the PSN market. Gravity Crash is an example of gameplay conventions that should have been put to out to pasture long ago. Sadly, JAW appear to be unable, or simply unwilling to build upon 'classic' mechanics and are content to wallow in the past.
I’m sure a few old diehards will initially love this game, but they will probably have to agree that simply re-hashing a concept we’ve being playing over the last 20-30 years is really quite lazy.
While gameplay shouldn’t innovate for the sake of it, it does need to move with the times. Unfortunately, for Gravity Crash, Pixel Junk: Shooter proves that you can, to great effect, within the confines of a classic genre.
Time to take off those retro-tinted specs... The future's bright, but in this case, it isn't neon.
Cool retro visual style.
Funky Sound track.
Great level editor.
Steep learning curve.
Dull missions and hugely variable level design.
Ultimately boring, repetitive and frustrating gameplay
Stupid and unnecessary plot.
Multi-player is dull and levels are poorly designed.