Sharper, faster, better. Velocity Ultra is the Velocity Futurlab always wanted to make, revamped for PlayStation Vita.
Despite living in Brighton for some time, and the quantity and quality of Brighton based developers, I’ve never actually been to a Brighton studio to play their latest game. I’ve been to Relentless and to Black Rock when they existed, but never actually to play whatever they were working on at the time.
It was therefore with some joy that I arrived at Futurlab’s new office in Hove; not only would I get to play Velocity Ultra, I’d get to do it without having to go to That London, something that seems to be required if you want to actually play something.
The original Velocity is a game I was unforgivably late in getting to. I’d actually played the game at its launch party, but it wasn’t until a month or so ago that I actually sat down with it at home. If you’ve played it you don’t need me to tell you that it’s utterly brilliant, and if you haven’t played it then, well, you really should.
Velocity Ultra isn’t the sequel to the game that many seem to crave, or even the fully blown PS3 version that would make fans extremely happy. No, it’s a native Vita version of the game, with updated assets, various gameplay improvements, and the much demanded trophies.
Initially I was worried when Futurlab announced this new version of Velocity, the original has a lot of charm despite its status as a PlayStation Mini. I love how retro the game’s graphics look when you play it on a big TV hooked up to a PlayStation 3, although it’s naturally still something that’s best experienced on a handheld.
Within moments of sitting down with Ultra my fears were swept away, replaced instead by the sheer joy of playing the game. Ultra is, unsurprisingly, absolutely brilliant.
You wouldn’t expect a game which was already incredible, a game that we gave 10/10 no less, could get much better but Ultra is just spellbindingly good.
“I can’t believe what we got away with in the original,” studio head James Marsden says, and it’s only by way of comparison that you can see what he means. He loads up the mini to show me on a second Vita and the difference is clear. When seeing the two versions side by side it’s amazing just how much better Ultra looks and plays.
It’s safe to say that this is the definitive version of Velocity, and boy is it good.
Despite both iterations of the game running at a solid 60fps, everything about Ultra feels smoother and more responsive. The game’s updated graphics play a big part in that, looking incredibly sharp in their new resolution. This isn’t a simple case of re-rendering the assets at a higher resolution though, many of them have been completely redone from scratch, with the new Quarp Jet looking absolutely amazing, and the updated style for the Zetachron making them look much more of a threat than they ever did in Velocity.
That crispness is perhaps the biggest change though. I’ll admit to being a fan of how Velocity looked, even with the heavy pixelation that came when playing it on the PS3. It was part of the game’s retro aesthetic and really added to the game, even if it was mostly due to the limitations of the platform.
Almost any trace of this previous form is gone, and yet Ultra’s clean lines and futuristic colour pallet somehow give it a more retro feeling than the original ever achieved. In particular the trail left by your redesigned Quarp Jet has an almost Tron-like quality to it, and the bullets fired at you by turrets somehow manage to simultaneously feel bang up to date and like they’ve been pulled out of a game of the Space Invaders era.
Velocity’s glorious sound track and sound design remains, sounding good through the Vita’s speakers. However, it’s when you put headphones on that it falls into place, the sound and visuals combining to completely immerse you in Ultra’s world.
It’s utterly entrancing, blocking out the outside world and becoming something that you could lose yourself in for half a day before you look up and notice that the sun’s vanished or that your bus stop passed by quite some time ago.
The core gameplay has remained largely untouched, but the control scheme has had an overhaul to take advantage of the Vita. Most notable is the binding of bombs to the right stick, something which improves things no end. While I never felt like I was really fumbling to hit circle before, it certainly seems like a clumsy system in retrospect.
Just like everything in Ultra, putting this part of your arsenal on the right stick feels more natural, like it’s how the game should be played. Not only does it add precision to the bombs, but you really do feel like you’re flinging them now – it’s very satisfying.
There’s also the option to teleport using the Vita’s touch screen. All you need to do is tap where you want to go and boom, you’re there. While this seems like it should be an ideal solution for a game with this type of mechanic on the Vita, it doesn’t work that well when you’re really flying through a level (no pun intended). There are points where it’s useful, particularly when you need to escape a tight corner with no time to place the reticle accurately, but for the most part hitting square and picking your destination remains the better method.
Look, I know that features like trophies and PSN leaderboards will make Velocity Ultra appeal to those who passed on Velocity because it lacked just those features, but that’s not why you should be getting Ultra. Regardless of whether you bought Velocity as a mini you should be buying Ultra for one reason – it’s utterly fantastic.
I have the minis version on my PS3 right now and I don’t really care anymore, all I can think about is getting my hands on a Vita and playing Ultra, playing Velocity how it should be played. You can keep Golden Abyss and Gravity Rush, this is the game that makes me crave Sony’s portable.
Sony have done themselves a huge favour by funding Futurlab earlier in the year, and not only can I not wait for Ultra, I can’t wait to see what comes after it either – it should be just as special.
Velocity Ultra is out in the middle of May for PlayStation Vita.