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Platforms: PlayStation 4 (review platform), PlayStation Vita
Games have undeniably come a long way since Space Invaders. Besides the obvious cinematics, storytelling, and graphical enhancements, the games industry and gamers in general have moved on from the traditional top-down space shooter genre that once dominated the gaming landscape. Even the bullet hell shoot-em-up (‘shmup’) games that act as their modern equivalent are still in a niche genre at best. With all the platformer and roleplaying games paying homage to their roots this console generation, Space Shooter fans would argue that their favorite genre had been due for a retro throwback of their own. This sentiment was the driving force behind British studio FuturLab’s 2012 release: Velocity. The game features simplistic visuals, but experiments with the traditional space shooting formula by granting the player’s ship the ability to teleport across the screen. Players use this ability to navigate levels filled with gates and switches to be found and shot, mixing elements of action-puzzle games with this space shooter base. Originally released for the Playstation Portable in 2012, the game received an updated remake a year later entitled Velocity Ultra for the Vita, adding enhanced graphics and controls. Once more, FuturLab is revisiting the concept with a sequel for the Vita and Playstation 4 titled Velocity 2X. While many can see the company’s devotion in its attempt to revive and evolve the Space Shooter genre, there is a concern that their attachment to this idea might limit their creativity.
Players take on the role of Lt. Kai Tana, a spaceship test pilot cybernetically enhanced by aliens after a terrible crash. In the custody of this bloodthirsty species called the Vokh, she escapes and commandeers a ship in order to fight the Vokh fleet and rescue the survivors of their wave of destruction.
The key difference between 2X and the older Velocity titles is that, aside from the regular spaceship gameplay, levels now have on-foot sections. These segments take the form of a 2D platformer, where players dash through corridors as Kai Tana, gathering collectible crystals and blasting enemies such as turrets, bats and shielded aliens with her laser handgun using the right analogue stick. With a press of square, she can dash through walls to the other side almost instantly, so players are free to continually rush through these corridors at high speed. A press of triangle enables the player to aim and throw a “Telepod”, which lets them warp to wherever it lands. With a great sense of speed, clever design, and tight controls, these on-foot sections became my favorite part of 2X. Unfortunately, this did not appear to be the case with the developers.
The major issue with the on-foot sections is their brevity and scarcity. In terms of the game’s pacing, the amount of time given to them is akin to a typical game’s vehicle sections ironically enough. The majority of the game is the space-shooter combat and exploration traditional with Velocity. You advance upwards, shooting other ships, opening locks, and warping around the teleporters strewn across each level. Occasionally, you’ll find a door in which you dock your ship and play an on-foot section, but these tend to last 2 minutes at most before you’re back out on the ship until the next one. I’m sure this is acceptable to players who enjoy the spaceship gameplay, but it came to be a disappointment to me, as I found the on-foot sections to be significantly more enjoyable.
Velocity 2X’s visual design edges between striking and bland. While the visual novel styled cutscenes consist of decent artwork and character portraits, regular gameplay takes place on generic space station scenery that barely changes across the game’s 50 levels, with ships and characters also looking sterile and basic. It’s dressed-up with some nice particle effects, but at its core, 2X’s graphics aren’t particularly exciting in motion. Music fares better, with some high-octane tracks pumping you up as you play. Sadly, the selection of songs is small, with what ends up feeling like the same 4 pieces being played again and again throughout 2X’s 50 level run-time.
With a lack of variation in style and audio, Velocity 2X feels more suited to short bursts of play, which goes against its overall design based around speedrunning and repeating levels. Later stages will be locked until you acquire a specific amount of XP. You earn XP by earning gold rankings on each level in terms of completion time, collectibles found, and points from destroying enemies and objects. In the end, it comes across as unnecessary high-score grinding to pad out the game’s run-time, instead of an enjoyable invitation to challenge yourself.
At its core, Velocity 2X’s gameplay is fast, fun and compels you to keep coming back to play it. Unfortunately, the package is brought down by a lack of variety, poor pacing, and the distraction of on-foot gameplay that would be much better suited to being its own game rather than being thinly spread across this one. If you’re into space-shooters or fast games in general, then this is worth a few plays, but as a whole, Velocity 2X could have used a few more calibrations before liftoff.