Sunday Thoughts: Shooting Up

As I sit here nursing both a stomach bug from hell and a terrible Edge connection, I’m thankfully still able to move my aching body enough to pick up a joypad and a laptop, and have spent the last couple of hours distracting myself by replaying the lastest PixelJunk title, Shooter.  Regular readers will already know I’m a big fan of the series, and our 8/10 review certainly cements Shooter as amongst the best the studio has offered so far, but it’s in the longtail that the fourth in the PixelJunk canon really starts to shine.  Allow me to explain.

Whilst PixelJunk Shooter’s main story mode can be beaten relatively quickly, I’m assuming that you won’t have ‘really’ completed the game on your first run through.  Sure, you’ll have flown through the three sections of the map, saved a few engineers and grabbed a few crystals – congratulations, but that’s not the whole game.  Shooter, as it stands, is easily the easiest of the four Pixeljunk games: Racers was pure hardcore only; Monsters opened up a bit but still needed an ‘easy mode’ patch and Eden just ramped up the difficulty meter all the way to eleven.

But Shooter, if you want to rush it, is pretty straightforward.  Where the game comes into its own is the clever way it asks you back to each mission via the superb map screens.  Do it now – go and pick the first set of levels (‘SOS’) and have a look at the five areas within – ‘Into The Abyss’, ‘Infestation’, ‘Rivers of Fire’, ‘The Volcano’ and the wonderfully titled ‘Gaseous Exposure’.  How many of them have you played?  All of them, hopefully, but not necessarily – you only need so many crystals to play the latter level and move onto the next zone.

But even if you’ve played them all, how many of them have the little images of a crystals and an a rescuee next to the yellow circle indicating completion?  The crystal appears when you’ve collected all that level’s hidden treasure and the engineer when you’ve rescued everyone, and the level’s not complete until you’ve got all three for each area.  It’s because of this that I enjoyed Shooter so much recently – going back over old levels collecting the last few remaining ice and humans is a real treat, you already know the level but now things are different.

For starters, some levels require you to do things in a certain order, if you shoot rocks holding lava in place first you run the risk of burning a survivor, or setting something in motion that you can’t reverse and thus hiding away a crystal forever, or at least until you restart and play again, and it’s this learning process that shows you the intricate yet never really shoved upon you connection between the game’s elemental forces.  Everything in each level has its reason and it takes a few goes for it to finally snap into place – nothing is wasted – a quality few games really possess.

So, take a couple of hours this afternoon to relax, grab yourself a nice mug of tea and sit back, turn up the volume of Alex Patterson’s sublime music track and see if you can bag those last couple of crystals hidden away – not just for the Trophies that accompany such an achievement, but to appreciate the finesse and finely honed structure of this brilliant game – it’s good for you, I’m feeling better already just thinking about getting back underground.  Once you’ve done that, move on to Racers, and we’ll see how hardcore you really are…