A solar system-sized quantum anomaly has swallowed up the planet of Tantal, which, let’s face it, doesn’t sound particularly great for the planet’s inhabitants. Even less good is the fact that the anomaly is also hoovering up the residents’ life energy, which is really putting a cramp in their alien plans. The one bright point in all of this? Well, they’ve called you in to save them.
As a mercenary, you’re heading to Tantal purely for the cash, and all the gear and upgrades you’ll be able to grab along the way. As far as you’re concerned, this anomaly is the best thing to happen to Tantal in quite a while, so, much like the best friend of a Tory cabinet member, it’s the perfect time to make a quick buck.
While a quantum-sized anomaly may have appeared to suck all the oxygen out of Stadia’s first party software plan, it seems that we’re still going to see the occasional exclusive on the increasingly beleaguered streaming platform. As such you won’t find PixelJunk Raiders anywhere else right now, and for fans of Q-Games PixelJunk series that might sting a little, even if Raiders doesn’t quite hit the quirky heights of Monsters or Eden.
What Pixeljunk Raiders gets right is its atmosphere. Synth-led tones murmur their way into your ears, while your eyes glide easily across the lurid crust of Tantal. There’s a chunky vibrancy to the visuals that’s straightforward but compelling, and despite the simplistic architecture and landscape it’s still somewhere you’ll want to explore.
It’s a shame then that the gameplay itself isn’t so much chunky as it is clunky. You spend your time running around the procedurally generated surface of Tantal rescuing its citizens, and though they never say a word – not even a quick “thank you” – they look fairly pleased at getting out of there. There’s alien beasties here and there that might get in the way of that, but you can send them packing with a swipe of a weapon or a thumping with those old fashioned mitts of yours. It’s not quite frictionless, it’s more engaging than that, but it’s hard to put your finger on exactly why it disappoints. There’s a lack of flow, a mechanical feeling that leaves you detached from the melee combat.
An unusual and Stadia specific feature comes in the shape of State Share’s Quantum Imprints. You can share the stage you’re in at any time, along with an echo of every item you’ve used there, with other players by taking a screenshot which generates a shareable link. If you create an imprint while you’re out on a mission, you’ll create an echo of yourself that other players can interact with. Whatever you’ve used, whether it’s a mine or healing item, another player can set up in the same place by using some of the currency they’ve earned in that level. The ultimate aim is for Stadia players to pass these levels between each other, steadily building and changing the set-up available. It’s a great idea, in theory.
While it’s certainly interesting, it mainly falls down on the fact there’s no indication what you’re going to get when you spend your money. Just because you think it makes sense to heal up somewhere doesn’t mean that anyone else does, and it just doesn’t form the camaraderie or community that it could have, or at least not in its current state. The State Share function also really relies on the fact you’ve got a bunch of Stadia-savvy pals to play with. I would imagine that, for most people, this is going to be unlikely right now.
You progress through the ranking system by taking on missions, saving Tantallians and collecting alien loot from whatever you find, with your reward being the addition of some spliced alien DNA to fit out your clone body, or perhaps a new hat. There’s often more smashing of pots and chests than slicing and dicing be-tentacled aliens, and ultimately it all just feels a little underwhelming. I really dig the set-up, and parts of the execution are good, but like it’s host platform, there’s a pervading sense of missed potential.