Having just finished reviewing PixelJunk Monsters a few weeks ago, I spent the first few minutes of Shooter amazed at the complete shift in gears from one title to the next. While not sequential in their development (Q-Games released Eden between the two), the expert shift from focused tower defense to dual-stick shooter with a heavy reliance on liquid physics is pulled off more masterfully then many AAA developers handle the same game year over year.
Where Monsters' main innovation was giving the player a physical presence besides the towers placed for defense, Shooter's emphasis is clearly focused on the setting. Far in the future, with humanity having already expanded into the cosmos, the need to find more and more materials drives corporations to risk the lives of their employees on dangerous ventures onto unexplored planets. Cast in the role of a rescue pilot, you're sent to one of these planets on a rescue mission to save a group of miners from some rather untimely deaths.
As they are scattered throughout a vast tunnel system, rescuing all the miners is no small task. Armed with missiles, a grabby-claw-thing, and the ability to move in any direction, the majority of your time is devoted to puzzling your way through the underground, grabby-clawing any miners you find to safety while blasting any and all of the local denizens into a fine mist- sometimes doing all of this at once!
Making things more difficult is the abundance of liquid hot magma, which your rescue craft reacts to about as well as everything else does when it's confronted with molten rock. Lacking a life bar, the rescue craft instead has a heat meter, which goes up any time you are within a grabby-claw's length from the high-intensity red stuff, or whenever you are hit with anything enemy wise, which in some cases actually happens to be more super heated rock.
Thankfully, liquid hot magma doesn't react well with water. Digging deep into our science playbook, you will note that the water cools the molten rock and changes it from a liquid to a solid, removing the heat and making it no challenge to blast through with your equipped missiles. This back and forth serves as the basis for Shooter's gameplay, forcing you to often push the envelope on heat as you try to open paths for liquids to meet, mingle, and either join or get the hell out of the way.
As your craft makes its way deeper and deeper, the environment changes from hot to cold to industrial, each palette swap adding further difficulties to the already monumental rescue effort. Throughout all of them, liquid flows as liquid should, smoothly and ever downward, while the game throws new and interesting quirks, like a enabling you to shoot magma, or even shifting the way your ship deals with heat, allowing you to move through molten rock like water.
With the muted underground browns and beiges, the colors of the various liquids pop from the background as they slosh and froth. Set against these is the bright yellow of the rescue ship and the miners, and across every level there is a single unique spaceman, equipped with a flag and a portion of the narrative to tell to his rescuers. The native denizens of the planet also stand in stark contrast to the setting in which the appear. While semi-normal looking animals like bats do exist, the majority are hard-angled monsters, each showing far more in common with the later industrial levels of the foreign mining operation.
It's those levels as well, mechanical and modern in form and function, that serve to break the planetary theme. To me, it would have made sense to see this closer to the surface, as it would have been the first thing set up by the planetary explorers, but instead it, and the oily magnetic goo that accompanies it, are the last thing we experience. From a gameplay standpoint, given the properties of the goo and the identity of the last boss, it's placement in the order of things is easy to understand. But it drops the ball story and concept wise, and aside from a few minor issues I had with the control scheme, mainly it's use of the right stick for both direction and a power spin, it's easily Shooter's largest issue.
That being said, when compared to everything else, picking that problem out from an otherwise stellar game really shows the level of quality and craftsmanship that went into making this. For a short adventure that took around 5-6 hours to complete, it's a refreshing change of pace from the grit and grime reality normally sought by today's modern game. Planet collapsing tragedy aside, this adventure is not one in need of rescue.
Reviewer and Editor for Darkstation by day, probably not the best superhero by night. I mean, look at that costume. EEK!