The Old Do-Over
PixelJunk Shooter was originally released by Q Games as a PS3 exclusive in 2009. The game has finally made the jump to PC, but unfortunately it doesn’t live up to the hype that once surrounded it on PSN.
The premise is simple, mirroring the game’s underutilised features and design decisions. Alone or with a co-op buddy, you pilot a small spacecraft that is tasked with exploring the depths of an alien planet in an attempt to rescue a group of mining colonists, now in danger after they fiddled with the planet’s environment; though in reality the game is all about the puzzles and physics.
The way Shooter handles failure and health compared to other games is really interesting. There are a few ways to fail: one is to overheat from exposure to lava and other materials; so a mixture of swiftness and cautiousness must be observed. Even being hit by hostile aliens will overheat you, with only a few seconds to get out of the way or find a pool of water to cool down in.
It’s also game over if five or more of the aforementioned survivors meet an untimely demise because of the environment or from accidentally being shot. These might seem like small touches, but they’re some of PixelJunk Shooter’s most definable aspects. Games tend to be bland in the way they offer defeat to the player, so using new ideas like this creates a fun and refreshing dynamic.
What isn’t fun revolves around Shooter’s peculiar feat of jamming in a few solid hours of repetition into a game that was already short to begin with. Hidden collectables can be found in the odd crevice or obscure location. They seem arbitrary at first, but then you find out that at the end of each chapter you will need a certain amount of them to unlock a boss fight and the subsequent chapter.
This is fine at first as the requirements are modest, and depending on your play style will only take a few minutes to backtrack and find. The real issue begins when the requirement to enter the final boss stage sky rockets. So unless you’re an insane completionist, you’ll be seeing a lot of these levels again and again.
“Games tend to be bland in the way they offer defeat to the player, so using new ideas like this creates a fun and refreshing dynamic.”
Repetition also comes in the form of little to no challenge. The Portal series always sent me on a mental journey; it made me feel like an idiot at first, and then a genius when I figured out a difficult puzzle. The same can’t be said of PixelJunk Shooter.
And it’s a damn shame because there are some great building blocks here. The physics engine is robust in the way water and parts of the environment can be manipulated and destroyed, but the puzzles never made me think for a moment about what to do next.
This is because the game doesn’t know what it wants to be; half shooter, half underutilised puzzle/physics hybrid. It’s confusing, but I still want to see these same mechanics used in more interesting ways.
Thankfully I can… but only on the PS3. So far PixelJunk shooter 2 has yet to see a PC release. Hopefully when it does, it will have learnt from the mistakes of its predecessor, and unleashed the game’s dormant potential. I hope.
Some interesting, and yet underutilised ideas, held back by Repetition and overly simplistic puzzles that fail to showcase an excellent physics engine.