I’ve sat here for quite a while now, struggling to put my thoughts on to virtual paper regarding Futurlab’s latest mini, Velocity. This problem isn’t because the game is bad, but because it’s so good that everything I write dissolves into an unintelligible, excited stream of nonsense. Putting aside all fancy words – Velocity is utterly wonderful.[drop2] Created by a team of 16 people, Velocity is a top-down space shooter with a difference, which we will get to in due course. In terms of story, Vilio, the “beating heart of the Toron nebula”, has exploded, becoming a red giant. This caused a galaxy wide electromagnetic pulse which disabled 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.
The overall goal of Velocity’s 50 relatively bite-sized levels is to collect as many survivor pods as you can, as fast as possible. Each level features 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 medals and XP points being awarded.
The amount of XP you earn carries over to the next level, and is used to unlock later areas. A gold medal will earn you the most XP, whilst a lowly bronze means you have just about gotten by, but people are more than likely laughing at you behind your back. Initially you can earn enough XP to progress by getting bronze and silver medals, but sooner or later you’re going to have to go back and push for some gold.
In terms of control, the left analog stick moves the Quarp Jet left, right, up and down as one might expect. It’s quick without being over-sensitive, 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.
So far it’s all standard stuff, but fairly quickly you are introduced to the game’s main hook; 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. It’s such a simple idea, and one that throws the game wide open in terms of how the player approaches levels.
At first it can feel a bit fiddly, as you get used to the idea of moving whilst also aiming the teleport reticule. Luckily the game’s learning curve is perfect, easing you in with decent sized areas to teleport in to. Of course, Futurlab don’t want things to be too easy, so a number of other features are introduced. Are you ready?
Despite looking like a bullet-hell shooter, Velocity also has a number of puzzle elements. You first come across this when using bombs. Most levels have shields blocking certain exits, and to shut these down you must destroy the shield generators. These are numbered, and have to be dealt with in numerical order otherwise they’ll reactivate.
Shield generators in front of you can easily be destroyed by gunfire, but you’ll have to use bombs for those to the side or behind the ship. Firing a bomb is simply a matter of pressing the circle button and tilting the analog stick in the direction you want it to go. They are also handy for taking out some of the stronger enemies. During the faster levels you’ll be manually scrolling the screen, teleporting and aiming bombs within the space of a second or two.
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 telepod. 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 over several screens.
I’m having trouble expressing how fantastic it feels to perfect a level and blast through it at speed, teleporting effortlessly whilst scooping up dozens of survivor pods. It’s arcade gameplay at it’s very best.[drop] During levels, if you explore a bit, you’ll notice yellow pods. If you manage to collect one you will unlock a special stage which can be accessed via the “Flight Computer” option in the menu screen. I can only imagine that one day the Velocity level designer was in an absolutely foul mood and made these secret missions to vent a bit of anger. Yes, they are rather difficult as your ship isn’t allowed to touch any surface in the level. A brilliant challenge though!
Whilst I love the retro style of the graphics (very SNES) it’s the music that stands out the most. Co-written and co-produced by Joris de Man (Killzone 2 and 3), it gets the adrenaline flowing and compliments the gameplay perfectly. I listened through a decent pair of headphones, and at one point the combination of the music and an explosion from a bomb caused such a “boom” that I thought my son had fallen out of bed, and promptly dashed upstairs expecting to find him in tears on the floor!
Do you want to know the real ace up Velocity’s sleeve? If you play it on the Vita it’s even better. Not only does the Vita’s portable nature suit the gameplay better, but it looks pin-sharp and handles wonderfully. I got to level 29 on the PS3, started up a quick game on Vita to test it out and never actually went back to the PS3. Obviously that’s not to say those playing on the console will be getting the worst version, this is definitely not the case, but Velocity and the Vita are a perfect match.
- Looks and sounds great.
- The ideas it brings to the table are a breath of fresh air.
- Will last a good while.
- Works so well with Vita.
- Erm…playing it won’t make you more attractive?
I love this game, and have easily clocked up seven hours plus on it. Velocity is easy to pick up, yet provides plenty of challenge for those wishing to seek out every little secret it has to offer. It looks good, sounds sublime and will satiate those will enjoy shooting the hell out of things whilst also engaging their brains a little bit.
Not only is it the best mini I’ve ever played, but it could also stand toe to toe with some of the PSN’s big hitters. All of this for £3.99.
Note: this review was originally planned for the 16th of May but the embargo was broken today.