Forty-three people contributed their voiceacting skills to the making of Aquanox. Forty-three people are responsible for turning an almost-decent underwater shoot 'em up into an intolerable endurance test. It's not that it's bad - it's worse; it's 43 people having just come bottom in their How To Act Badly class, willing to humiliate themselves and display their lack of script-reading talents to the public. Forty-three people who should hang their heads in shame.
Let's put it another way: despite what people tell you, presentation is a major factor in how much you like a game. If you're going to waste away your single-player campaign making the shoddiest exposition scenes ever committed to CD, people like me aren't going to be very happy. "But, surely," you say, "you can skip them?" Why, yes of course you can. Pre-mission talks can be put to an abrupt stop, neatly missing out all plot points that spew from the mouths of the non-animated cartoon characters who populate the underwater cities, getting you right into the thick of the action. In fact, I'll fill you in, and tell you the plot right here and now, shall I? Well, as it happens, you play a mercenary called Emerald Flint in a 27th century politcally unstable undersea world, full of powerful corporations who you can hire your services to. However, it was around this point I started to switch off in the face of misplaced pauses, mispronounced words and mangled accents.
Of course, some would say I should just turn the sound down and read the words instead... tch, I mean, really. If I wanted to read a plot filled with cliched, inexplicable character introductions and no clear direction, that'd be the first thing on my mind.
Get To The Action
Yeah, yeah. Most people don't care about the story. They just want to shoot at things with the guns, torpedoes and lasers. But why? Being as you can count the number of aquatic PC blasters on the fingers of one-and-a-half hands, I've got a certain theory about these types of game: space shooters are more popular y'see. Everybody loves to circle and spin around and about that blackened void targeting enemy craft and blasting them into the infinite depths of the universe. (Actually, it's less 'blackened' and more purplish-greeny red since those new-fangled 3D cards came out, but I digress.) They just can't get enough of those games. Nevertheless, nowadays, the market's becoming saturated, and nobody in their right mind is going to buy a lacklustre genre game when they could be buying their Freespaces and their X-Wings.
Thank the Lord, then, for diversity! "Hurrah!" went the developers as they realised they had the entire underwater genre almost to themselves in this day and age. "It's not set in space, so people will think it's unique and different and won't notice that it's just the same as everything else. That way, we can put out an unoriginal shooter and sell it off the back of the reputation of an admired predecessor while shaming its name in the process." That game, for those not up to speed, being Archimedean Dynasty, which at least had the audacity to be made five years ago when there weren't so many games - Aquanox being nothing more than a graphical update that hasn't made any concerted attempt to move with the times, by any great shift. Best make do with the explanatory text, then.
Taking its cue from the first game, the action in Aquanox plants itself less in the simulation and more in the arcade field, simplifying the controls as much as possible in order to concentrate on the fighting. It's essentially the same, but somehow here it doesn't always work. Being underwater, control of your craft naturally feels a lot different than it does in space, implemented via either joystick or the ASWD/mouse combo. Free from the powerful levels of inertia, you can strafe, FPS-style, around your enemies and give them a right good kicking. It's a set-up that feels a little too familiar since I'd often find myself trying to pedal backwards instantaneously as in a game of Quake, say, when I was still speeding forward. There are no gradients of speed to select from; you have to either keep your finger constantly on the accelerator button or leave it off. The handling of the ships often feels sluggish, too. Granted, this is partly to do with the effects of water and gravity, but who wants that when we could be having fun instead? It is ironed out a little when you get the faster models of ship, but that means wading through 20 or so missions, in crafts that respond with little enthusiasm to your whims.
Targeting is achieved with only one button. This was never a good idea. There's no differentiation between targeting your friends, enemies or buildings unless you have them dead in your sights. Couldn't these people at least have conceded a Target next enemy' button? Hasn't anybody learned anything since the days of X-Wintft Contrary to popular (ie not my) belief, it doesn't make the game any more challenging; it just makes it tedious. Weapons are nothing to write home about and you can't even select the torpedoes you want out of the different ones bought, having to fire them off in order. The enemy Al is adequate, if a little too reliant on sitting in one place and shooting you head on. Missions are the standard fare of patrol, protect, escort (along with four -count 'em! - instant battles) with no opportunity to improve with scores or medal accolades. And, well, that's about it, really.
And sure, all things considered, with everything wrapped up on the CD and played out on your monitor, it isn't too bad. I mean, it's adequate enough. There's nothing that deems it unplayable and the casual fellow could muddle through it without any real trouble. Thus, let it be damned. For being yet another game to fall to the level of staid averageness that blights this industry. They may have used this game to show off the graphical capabilities of the GeForce 3, but playing it's a different matter. Fans of Archimedean Dynasty will probably be the first to pound their keyboards in fury when they discover nothing has been done to improve on the formula. The rest will nod their heads, grimace at the speech and move onto something better. Yes, it's OK, but I never want to play it again.
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
Archimedean Dynasty achieved a reasonable amount of critical acclaim on its release, and having sold 150,000 copies, it would appear PC gamers took it to their hearts. So it shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone that a sequel is in the works, except Blue Byte is no longer at the helm. Instead, Massive Development has taken up the reigns and is currently working round the dock to improve on the original in every possible way.
The sequel takes place in the year 2666, five years after the end of the original game. Sure enough, a new force has emerged to threaten the safety of Neopolis, the scene for the underwater battle between good and evil. A mysterious pirate gang called the Crawlers are up to no good and have joined forces with rebels in a civil war that has shaken the world of Neopolis. Just when you thought things couldn't possibly get worse, a scientific experiment goes horribly wrong unleashing hordes of godlike creatures into the world, which may sound horribly clich&l but let's face it, they have to give you something to shoot at or the game would be no fun at all.
In its simplest form, AquaNox is an arcade underwater shoot 'em up with dazzling graphics and more than its fair share of spectacular gratuitous explosions. Beyond that, you can expect to encounter mercenaries, pirates, squid and all manner of underwater wildlife intent on your destruction. There are more than 70 NPCs in the game, many of whom will have key parts in the storyline, so we assume there will be a lot more to this title than simply blowing things up. There are more than 30 single-player missions, nine different player ships and 40 different enemies, including some terrifyingly large creatures.
You Will Be Scared
While AquaNox is not expected to break new ground in gameplay terms, our hopes are that the atmosphere and storytelling that made the first game so good are still intact. We've been playing the Beta code for a couple of weeks, and the action is incredibly fast paced, and is probably best described as a cross between Quake III and Starlancer, only underwater... obviously.
Archimedean Dynasty went a long way to giving players a reason for relentlessly pursuing enemies and blowing them up, we hope this is still the case with the sequel. Massive Development has dropped the simulation elements which they say weren't useful in the first game, and added easier navigation and a greater selection of tactical options, which will hopefully add more depth to the combat side of the game. While we will obviously reserve our opinion until we get our hands on the review code, we can say AquaNox is looking very good indeed at this point. In Massive Development's own words: We promise: you will be scared stiff'. I don't know about you, but I'm shaking already.
Too often seen as the poor cousin of the space shooter, the deep-sea action game hasn't seen too many triumphs over the years, though one example that did swim against the cunrent was Archimedean Dynasty. Emerging from small German codeshop Massive Development in 1996, it was reviewed by Paul Presley at the time for a titanic 92 per cent, (of course, Leisure Suit Larry 7 was awarded a questionable 79 per cent in the same issue...)
Aquanox is the sub-oceanic sequel to this submerged classic, and what's more it's looking rather spectacular. The richness of the colour palette has created an extremely atmospheric setting for the action, which centres around combat between small attack subs. You play the role of Emerald 'Deadeye' Flint, hero and mercenary, in a post-apocalyptic future where we all live in cities beneath the sea. When a botched military experiment rouses an ancient race of gigantic and somewhat unsociable sea creatures, it falls upon you and your four wingmen to save the day.
Designed as a blend of space-shooting and FPS-style gameplay, the stripped-down controls adopt FPS strafing and shooting principles, with absolutely no sim-type nit-picking to dilute the action. Eight distinct submarine vessels will become available during the game, with all manner of guns, torpedoes, electro-disruptors etc, available for purchase along the way. We expect to have this one in for review quite soon.
Yes, for a fleeting moment we were thinking the same thing: a game based on everyone's favourite mindless Europop outfit? Excellent! You'd have a choice between playing as the little duckfaced girl with the scarlet hair, or the shouty, bull-necked cellmate from Hell, and it would be a sort of cross between Tomb Raider and that dancing game on the PlayStation, with loads of gratuitous hard-core pornography cropping up between levels. Well, they're Dutch or something, aren't they? Huh? Anyway, it'd be fantastic. Except for the soundtrack, which would eventually drive you to suicide.
But that isn't what it is at all. In fact, Aqua is the sequel to the overlooked classic Archimedean Dynasty, a game which earned a whopping 92 per cent from ourselves waaaaay back in issue 46. Why the original never really set the registers ringing is a moot point. Perhaps it was the unusual undersea setting. Perhaps it was the competition from more traditional 3D blasters like TIE Fighter and The Darkening. Or perhaps it was because saddling a game with a clunky title like Archimedean Dynasty is almost as off-putting as calling it Alan Titchmarsh's Unicyding Crochet Adventure and hiring someone to stand in front of the shelf, ringing a bell and telling potential customers to scarper. What were they thinking? Most people fell asleep halfway through reading the name, for God's sake. They might as well have called it Don't Bother.
Anyway, the sensibly monikered Aqua can be summed up fairly accurately as an underwater take on Elite. You take on the role of an aquatic mercenary called Emerald 'Dead Eye' Flint (presumably he's got a glass eye or something) and must rid the undersea world of an as yet unnamed (but "sinister and horrible") menace by darting around in a variety of futuristic submariney-type things, firing watery laser bolts at wibbly-wobbly bad creature-type things. We're promised plenty of scary organic enemies which will test the developer's curved surface technology to the very limit. As you can see from the screenshots, this is a good-looking slice of game pie.
But hang on a moment... Developers Massive claim Aqua will boast both an epic interactive plotline and a load of do-what-you-like Elite-style open-endedness. Which should be impossible. Still, they reckon they'll be implementing a clever sort of'plot guidance system' which enables you to do largely as you choose, occasionally 'catching' you to advance the unfolding storyline with a series of interrelated missions. A kind of free will on stabilisers.
Like all potential blockbusters, Aqua is powered by a highfalutin engine with a stupid name - Krass -which supports all the 3D cards and is simply dripping with all the volumetric bump-mappy bi-linear whoojamflippery you could ask for. What else? Well, not much. There's no publisher as yet (that's still being finalised), and it isn't out for a long time. We just thought you'd appreciate a gander. Because we care. About you. In a gentle and concerned, yet faintly sinister way.
Now close your eyes and please stop crying.