Disclaimer: The build tested is for the PS3 and a work in progress, and as such all features mentioned are subject to change.
By now you may have seen the announcement of Futurlab’s ‘Velocity’ over on the PlayStation Blog. Created by a team of 16 people, Velocity is a name that has been kept top secret up until now, as Managing Director of Futurlab, James Masden, explains: “We ran a ‘Name Our Game’ competition on the PS Blog, and we wanted to announce the winners of that competition on the blog, so we had to wait until our slot arrived.” It wasn’t an easy task though, as “a few people have tweeted the title by accident.”[drop2] Now that everything has been revealed, Futurlab has been kind enough to give TSA an exclusive look at this interesting mini, and it’s definitely one to keep an eye on.
First up is a little bit of background reading. Vilio, the “beating heart of the Toron nebula”, has exploded, becoming a red giant. This caused a galaxy wide electromagnetic pulse to disable all mining ships, colony vessels and Special Forces fighters. These ships are essentially stranded, relying on fossil fuels to survive.
A rescue mission has been sent out, but it will take ten months to reach the ships. What those stranded don’t know is that Vilio has begun to collapse in on itself, forming a black hole. All hope is not lost, as an experimental “Quarp Jet” is in development, which allows teleportation. This ability means that the jet can reach the other ships in time. As a test pilot it’s your job to take the Quarp Jet to Vilio, fend off scavenger attacks and rescue survivors.
From screenshots alone it would be very easy to dismiss Velocity as just another top-down space shooter. However, digging a little deeper unveils some very clever features, and a game that is almost as much about puzzles as it is about shooting down bad-guys.
Let’s start with the easy stuff; the game is broken down into relatively bite-sized levels (our code had 50), with each level featuring several areas in which you are assessed, such as survivor pods rescued and how long it took to complete the level. You are graded on how well you have performed, with points being awarded. These points are then used to unlock later levels. Essentially it boils down to rescuing as many pods as you can, as fast as possible.
The Quarp Jet moves left, right, up and down as one might expect. It’s nice and nippy, and has a weapon on-board that can be upgraded as you progress. You can also control how fast the screen scrolls upwards, which is essential in certain levels that have a tight time limit. Then the first curve-ball is thrown; pressing the square button brings up an aiming reticule, which you can move, and when the button is released the jet will teleport to that area.
This allows you to bypass blocked areas, teleport through a mass of bullets (if you’re quick enough) and even jump into the centre of a group of enemies and destroy them from the inside. It’s such a fantastic idea, which ramps up fairly quickly as you are expected to teleport to several locations in a matter of seconds to collect survivors before the screen scrolls past them.[drop] Then there are the bombs. These can be flung out in any direction and pack a real punch. They also have a secondary purpose; to deactivate certain units. This is where the puzzle nature of the game comes in. At key junctions the way forward will be blocked off by a shield, which needs deactivating.
To do that you must destroy certain units, although that will only work if you destroy them in numerical order. If you get it wrong then…well…boom. This means that you will be teleporting back and forth in a desperate bid to bomb these targets in time.
Sounds tense, doesn’t it? Well how about we throw in something else just to up the ante. During levels the edge of the screen might flash blue, and when this happens you need to quickly deploy a pod. This is a special pod though, and tapping L1 will bring up the level map and allow you to teleport back to it at any time. So, for example, you come across two paths in a level, one left and one right. Deploying a pod just before the fork means you can go left, collect the survivors, then teleport back to the pod and take the path to the right and see what’s there. That’s a basic example, and it gets a bit more complex with multiple pods used.
Initially it can seem overwhelming, but soon becomes second nature as your eyes scour for possible teleport points. The game has an almost perfect difficulty curve, allowing you to get to grips with new features before ramping up the challenge. Bronze and silver medals are fairly achievable, but don’t expect to earn gold without learning every square inch of a level.
I’m impressed with every single aspect of Velocity so far. It looks good, sounds great and the features Futurlab have included are a breath of fresh air in a genre that hasn’t really moved on for quite some time. It’s also the first mini that I have played for over two hours in one sitting, and the perfect example of arcade gaming.
Now, I’m off to earn some gold medals. Silver doesn’t really suit me.