Boost, Blast, and Build
Almost every generation of video games has a particular genre that seems to get focused upon by a majority of developers. In the 8 and 16 bit days it was the 2D side-scrolling platformers, nowadays its first- and third-person shooters, but back in the old arcade days it was space shooters. With the success of games like Asteroids and Space Invaders, tons of companies rushed to create their own space shooters, or at least knock offs of other’s titles in order to cash in on their increasing popularity. However, once another super popular genre came along and most companies shifted development towards the new craze, fans of the space shooter have found it increasingly more difficult to find new entries in the genre.
Luckily, thanks to the downloadable game space provided by the current generation of consoles there’s been a small revival for this somewhat forgotten game type. With flashy new re-imaginings like Space Invaders Extreme and Galaga Legions as well as newcomers like Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 1 and 2, longtime fans are once again able to find new experiences in the genre. The most recent addition is Gravity Crash on the PSN, although simply labeling it a space shooter may be a bit of a misnomer. Sure, Gravity Crash has everything necessary to be a typical space shooter including space, flight, a ship, shooting, and enemies. However, it quickly becomes apparent that shooting isn’t necessarily the focus of the title.
One of the first things you’ll notice when playing this title is just how slow your shots move. Rounds fired from your ship seemingly creep across the screen in the direction they were launched, often taking several seconds to hit their intended target, or harmlessly dissipate if you miss. While these slow motion shots can still be rather effective against stationary targets such as buildings or turrets, they can make hitting moving enemies much more difficult. In these cases, you can try to anticipate their movements and lead your shots, but it will often become necessary to simply move in for a closer shot if you’d like to take them out. If Gravity Crash had simply been an action-style space shooter, these sluggish projectiles could have honestly been a deal breaker.
Fortunately, there has been a clear focus put on movement and exploration in this title, as opposed to just simply running and gunning. While most of your objectives for completing missions will revolve around destroying certain enemies or buildings, enjoyment isn’t derived from their destruction so much as from their discovery. In the early levels, your intended targets are usually out in the open, simply waiting to be annihilated. However, as you progress the levels become much more maze-like in their design, which forces players through elaborate series of tunnels, traps, and warping wormholes in order to progress. While maneuvering about, you also need to be constantly on the lookout for hidden passages, door opening buttons, and triggers that can affect the world itself (such as raising or lowering the height of water or lava), all of which will help you to complete your ultimate objective and make it to the end of level wormhole.
Besides the level design and objectives, there are a couple other aspects of this title that make deliberately planning out your movement the focal point of gameplay. With a title like Gravity Crash, it should come as no surprise that gravity will constantly be working against your space ship, trying to pull it into walls and other hazardous objects. Controlling your ship basically boils down to controlled bursts of thrust that will help you to correct your course without adding too much momentum. If you get going too fast in any direction, it can be difficult to counteract it in time to avoid colliding with the environment or objects. This is especially true when trying to navigate through claustrophobic tunnels full of enemies and traps.
The other facet of the gameplay that forces you to focus on your flight technique is your limited supplies. Your ship can only carry so much fuel at any one time (indicated by a yellow bar) and also has a finite amount of shield energy (indicated by a blue bar). Slamming into enemies, objects, and the environment will cause your shields to quickly deplete while using the thrusters will do the same for your fuel reserve. Whenever either is fully drained your ship will cease to exist, erupting in an explosion. However, there are clusters of yellow crystals scattered throughout all of the game’s levels that can be shot into pieces and collected to regain some fuel and shield energy. These clusters are limited and can sometimes be difficult to find and get to, so you’ll need to pay close attention to where they are located and how full your yellow and blue bars are at all times.
I found this type of resource management and exploration-based gameplay to be quite fun, although I’m sure it won’t necessarily appeal to everyone. It can take awhile to get the hang of how much thrust to use to make your ship move the speed you wish and how best to feather the thrust in order to achieve slight directional changes, but once you do, flying around is rather graceful and enjoyable. Gently gliding your ship through extremely tight corridors under time-sensitive and harsh circumstances can get a little frustrating at times, but achieving successful results can feel exceptionally rewarding.
If you do find yourself digging on the game’s mechanics, there’s also a virtually never-ending supply of gameplay to be had in Gravity Crash. Besides the campaign and planet mode (planet mode simply allows you to replay the levels from the campaign mode) there’s also multiplayer for up to four players and a level editor. The multiplayer is a bit of a bummer, as it only allows for local play, but the level editor is a great addition to the game. With this you’ll be able to build your very own levels from scratch using just about everything found in the campaign mode. You can make your own environments, place enemies and objects, set objectives, and best of all share them online for others to check out. Making your own levels can be quite time-consuming, but the game certainly gives you all of the tools necessary to make your own great levels, and they are also fairly user-friendly. However, if you don’t have the time to work on your own levels you can still enjoy all of the user created levels already available online, as well as any made in the future.
If you’re looking for a straightforward space shooter, Gravity Crash may not be the game for you. However, if you’re into figuring out puzzles and mazes, keeping track of resources, gracefully flying a spaceship using controlled speed bursts, and strategically peppering enemies with slow moving shots, then you’ll definitely want to play this title. The game looks good with its neon-coated retro visuals, plays well once you get the hang of it, and has a virtually never-ending amount of content thanks to its level editor. Just be sure you don’t go into it expecting a fast-paced, shooting-focused experience.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.7 Graphics
Everything looks good but fairly basic. Luckily, the neon, Tron-like outlines help to make it more visually appealing. 3.9 Control
Controlling your ship properly can take awhile to get the hang of, but it is rather satisfying once you do. 3.6 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Everything from the sound track to the explosions sound good and really fit the game nicely. 3.9 Play Value
While only having the ability to play the multiplayer locally is a bit of a letdown, the single-player campaign is lengthy and the level editor and online level sharing ensure that you’ll never run out of missions. 3.8 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.