The first few minutes of Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet (known as ‘ITSP’ from here on) are a daunting experience. After watching an opening cinematic showing your home planet being corrupted by an alien substance, you are put in control of a saucer shaped spaceship, released onto the planet…and that’s it; no hints, no tips, not even much in the way of story; just a dot on your map telling you to go to a certain area, which seems miles away. So off you go.[boxout] It sounds weird, but this is the beautiful thing about ITSP. You’re always told where you need to end up, but never how to get there – that’s for you to discover. Fans of level signposting are going to cry absolute buckets.
You’re more than likely going to read this a hell of a lot of times in various ITSP reviews (and sorry if it seems lazy), but the game draws massive comparisons to Nintendo favourite, Metroid. Rather than set levels, the game has one overall map for you to explore. At the start your ship is only equipped with a scanner, which is used to discover things about various objects/creatures in the surrounding environment. As you progress you unlock a veritable feast of weaponry and gadgets, which in turn allows you to access areas of the map that were previously unreachable.
Your gadgets are an integral part of ITSP, be it shooting an enemy or solving a puzzle. A press of RB will see a quick scrolling wheel appear showing everything you have. You can also map your favourites onto the four face buttons. Be warned though, the game frequently mixes things up so whilst your gun, saw and rockets may have worked fine in one section, they might be totally useless further on. Be prepared to change things up a lot.
Whilst you will spend a decent amount of time shooting stuff, it’s the puzzles where ITSP comes into its own. From simple ‘guide the rocket to hit the block’ puzzles, to more ingenious ones that span several areas, they certainly get the old grey matter working. One puzzle in particular had me absolutely stumped, to the point where I was certain I wasn’t going to be able to get this review out on time. I eventually figured it out, and the sense of elation was amazing. I may have sworn a little.
Even the boss battles are puzzles in themselves. Rather than just find the weak spot and blast it, you have to use multiple gadgets and even the surrounding environment to succeed. These battles also get pretty tough, so it’s lucky check points are so well spaced out.
It cannot be overstated how impressive the campaign mode is. Whilst it certainly won’t be to everyone’s taste, there’s no denying it’s done incredibly well and you’re constantly being introduced to new things, or being asked to exert a bit of brainpower. The worry is that any demo might not get this across, as you really have to spend a bit of time to get into the swing of things.
When you’re done with the brilliant campaign mode, which should take about five hours depending on your ability to solve puzzles (and if you like to hunt collectibles), there’s the multiplayer ‘Lantern Mode’ to try out. With room for up to four players online or offline, Lantern Mode makes you and your team collect a lantern each using your grapple arm, and see how many metres you can all get before dying. That doesn’t sound too bad, does it? What is bad is the many-tentacled giant thing of horror that’s slowly pursuing you. It’s utterly terrifying, and the panic one feels when accidently getting caught on an obstacle and watching the darkness envelope you cannot be described. In fact I feel a little bit ill.[drop2] It’s a fantastic addition to an already tempting package. When your team does become a tentacle snack, reloads are quick and the individual scores adds a competitive edge to proceedings. Yes, you need to help out your team, but that lone weapons upgrade in the corner sure looks tempting, you deserve it right? After all you did kill the lion’s share of the enemies back in that last cavern…
A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that Bastion was probably the best looking LIVE game on the market, but now it shares that title with ITSP. It looks stunning in motion, albeit in a totally different style to Bastion. Each area of the map has its own unique feel, and they are all fresh and help stop exploration becoming stale. The always ominous background audio is also exceptionally well done. However, don’t rely on sound to let you know when something’s about to happen, as occasionally things jump out at you. Big things. With many legs.
What ITSP also excels at is creating atmosphere. You’re totally alone during 99% of the adventure, and sometimes when the camera pans back you are nothing but a little speck on the horizon. Despite being tooled up more than a Gears of War convention you come to fear what’s around the next corner. Sure you might have rockets and lasers, but there’s always a bigger fish, and it’s almost certainly hungry.
Amongst all this praise I only really have a couple of niggles. Sometimes, when you’re in a hurry, switching between weapons isn’t as smooth as one might like, and there were a few deaths caused by incorrectly highlighting the wrong weapon and then trying to fend off a big insect thing with a scanner. If it had a soul then I’m fairly certain it was laughing as me as its missiles tore me apart. As well as that the grapple arm can also be a bit fiddly when trying to be precise.
- Looks sublime.
- Good audio.
- Some very well thought out puzzles.
- A wide array of gadgets, of which all will be used.
- The map is well designed.
- Lantern Mode.
- Selecting weapons in a hurry can be tricky.
- That grapple arm can be a pain.
Another week, another stunning downloadable title to tempt the cash out of your wallet (well, we did warn you). Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is a triumph in almost every way possible. Stunning to look at, wonderfully crafted environments and challenging puzzles all add up to an experience you really shouldn’t miss out on. If you enjoy a good adventure, but don’t like being slapped in the face by narrative every 30 seconds, then this is the game for you.