When I heard that the team from Grow Home were making another game at Ubisoft, my curiosity was piqued. That it would be a first person shooter was even more interesting, but for it to be an online only PC game had me scratching my head. What were those developers at Ubisoft Reflections in Newcastle up to? With Atomega the answer is something fascinatingly unique.
Set at the end of the universe as the last star still burning verges on tipping over into a supernova, our highly evolved light and energy-based descendants play games to while away the few minutes left until they meet their end. The goal is simply to collect as much mass as possible, while shooting laser beams at any of your rivals that you come across. While that might sound like an apocalyptic take on Katamari Damacy, it’s given an intriguing evolutionary twist.
All eight players start the round as a simple little ball of light, with all of you racing down a corridor and trying to hit jump pads on the way to the huge arena ahead of you, basking in the light of the growing star. Your sole aim at this point is to pass through one of the many purple blocks strewn around the map, turning into a block with an eye, a little single cell organism, of sorts. Grab more blocks and you eventually evolve into an approximation of a strange pre-historic sea creature, before growing again into a velociraptor, a gorilla, and then a few larger forms still. It’s an amusing twist on evolution from beings that have only grasped the loosest concept of what evolution is, almost on the level of Job Simulator’s fantasy of what a working day entails.
With each evolution, you grow in size, grow in power with a more damaging laser to shoot, but also lose some of your nimbleness, until you’re a hulking King Kong-like beast, slowly stomping between the towers and loose buildings of the arena. There’s a really quite impressive shift in scale as you evolve, which Reflections have got absolutely right.
That’s also true of the map design, which manages to cater to both the smallest single cell and the biggest beast, The smaller forms can easily squeeze down into little runways, many of which boost you along to help you rapidly pick up blocks of matter, and they can also try to hide from the larger players which can easily kill them with a single shot. You’ll quickly learn certain routes to race through that you think help you to grab mass quickly, remember where the fountains are that often have piles of mass surrounding them, remember the way up to the top of the central tower, and so on.
There’s a delightful risk and reward to growing in size, though. On the one hand, every block that you pick up is multiplied so your score grows more rapidly, but you present a much bigger and juicier target for rivals close to you in size. Should your health be depleted, all your progress is lost and you return to being a little light ball, but you do have an escape of being able to teleport away, albeit sacrificing some mass and dropping one level down the evolutionary food chain.
Of course, the real aim is to reach the final evolutionary state: the Omega. In this form, there’s no growing any further, and your insatiable appetite for more mass starts to overcome you. You have to constantly accrue more mass to maintain the Omega state, with a huge multiplier that can easily propel you into the lead, but you can also be seen from practically every corner of the map. At this point, everything you hit with your laser, from simple blocks of mass to enemies, is used to feed you, but every shot that hits you steals mass as well, accelerating the meter that drains until you fizzle out into nothingness and have to start over from being a ball.
Helping you reach Omega are the various abilities that you can pick up to boost your attack of help protect you. It’s relatively self explanatory, with a knock back effect helping to stall someone’s movement, increased speed coming into use when trying to escape, a shield, health regeneration, and a semblance of the Omega’s mass stealing ability.
One of Atomega’s strengths is that it’s concise and to the point. There’s just the one map to learn and one mode to play, and while that could be limiting to the game’s appeal in the long run, it helps give the game an immediacy and an ease with which you can pick it up, play and get better. As with any online game these days, it will evolve – heh! – over time as the team at Reflections see how the community react and what they want. Personally, I’d be up for a Deathmatch mode with 50-odd players all as single blocks running around, but we’ll see what Reflections have in store down the line. Currently only out on PC (and via Steam, unusually for Ubisoft), I’d also hope to see this make the leap to console in the near future.
Atomega might not be the apex of the first person shooter’s evolution, but it makes for an inventive, fun and engaging off shoot that’s well worth checking out.