Monday, September 7, 2015

Hyper Void (PS4)

In my twenty plus years as a gamer I've seen all kinds of shmups (shoot 'em ups) come to light. From the Atari 2600's "Yar's Revenge" (which basically amounted to clusters of tiny moving pixels) to the more complex, and intense bullet hell shooters of today the creations developers have designed have evolved in more diverse ways than what most video game genres can claim. I think the fact that shmups aren't the hardest thing to develop makes the interest in creating such games all the more attractive to developers thus making them an easy go to project, and one of the most plentiful of indie gaming experiences for gamers to purchase these days. I think the developers who grew up at the time I did when arcades were a hit, and such shooters were commonplace really connect with the genre on a personal level. Thankfully there are also gamers around who still love the high scoring challenges, and challenging nature that such games provide as well.

When it comes to Inframez' vision of a shoot 'em up I think it's safe to say that "Hyper Void" somewhat surpassed the visual hype that was the trailer, and at the same time kind of lived down the sickening graphics that most of you will be worried about. At the heart of the experience "Hyper Void" is a simple space saga in the making that will most likely be lost to the gamer due to the more binary terminology, and the way the story elements are presented in-game. Sure there is a story if you stop long enough to read it, but spamming the various shooting options, and control functions will often times cause you to skip the virtual panel pop-ups that house said information. Regardless of this fact the gameplay itself is a deeply involved "Wipeout" inspired gaming experience that will definitely test your mettle as a high scoring arcade game player, and try to impress you while doing so. The game is both simple in layout, easy to pick up on, and vastly complex in the way the visual environments are depicted. If you remember the wire frame computer graphics of the 80's arcade scene, and enjoyed that first introduction into the realm of 3D I think you might just enjoy 'Hyper Void' for it's visually heavy gameplay. Be warned though it does have the potential to cause seizures in those who have a family history of it. Thankfully the warning is one of the first things you'll see when the game starts up.

In 'Hyper Void' you will be piloting a somewhat generic style spacecraft (Think "Raiden") with illuminated exterior lighting, and a handful of capabilities that will help you overcome the warped trek across the vast expanses of outer space. The spacecraft in question comes complete with three different types of shots/bullets that each have varying effects on the obstacles, and threats that you'll face. Each shot is governed by an energy meter, and fires in it's own unique way/pattern. The "SQUARE" button fires two glowing green bullet shaped projectiles that are good for eliminating the more resistant obstacles. The rapid fire red colored bullets/projectiles which are assigned to "X" are good for quickly clearing out the lesser more plentiful obstacles while the final sort of lightning beam that is assigned to "CIRCLE" is the weakest of all, and only good for certain types of obstacles/instances.

Along with these methods of dealing with the series of threats you'll face you'll also be using what is known as a "Dash" maneuver which can help your ship to quickly avoid bullet hell spray, or phase through beams of energy to avoid reaping any damage. As far as movement goes you've got two options. You can use the DPad directional buttons (which I recommend), or you can use the left thumbstick. Just keep in mind that when looping around the various shaped tunnels the inputted controller directions will sometimes reverse on you making you have to adjust accordingly. In the way of governing meters you will have the previously mentioned circular weapon energy meter which will deplete if you hold down the shooting buttons (I recommend spamming instead), and a sort of life meter with three segments that account for how many hits your ship can take before it explodes into a prismatic blast of radiance.

If you are a shmup enthusiast you'll likely also be wondering about power-ups, and this game does have them. While moving forward, and shooting the many things before you you will sometimes happen upon a colored glowing orb that changes colors. Shooting the color changing orbs when they are of a certain color (Red, Purple, Green, Blue, Yellow) will afford you boosts of varying kinds. When the orbs are red your weapons charge/meter will refill allowing you to use the ship's weapon fire more readily. When the orb is purple it will regenerate your shield/health meter upon being shot. The green orb on the other hand will offer invincibility in the form of a wire frame shield while the blue orb will clear out all objects in a burst. The final colored orb, being that of yellow will cause your ship to fire all three weapon types at once no matter which face button you are pressing. Timing definitely matters when shooting the orbs as it can mean the difference between clearing an area, or repeating it.

In the way of areas, or levels you will find that each universal coordinates is mapped out on a solar system style map by title, and by accompanying number. Initially you will play each area in order in a non-stop manner. Your goal, or aim for each level is to basically survive while shooting targets for points/objective purposes. Areas of interest are sectioned off into automatically saving checkpoints, and further into story panels as well as the occasional boss fight that will have you using strategies to defeat the mechanical monstrosities. Alternate objectives to some levels, or areas include the collecting of a set amount of hidden orbs which can be shot after taking down the proper obstacle as well as a "Hyper Mode" that can be unlocked if your end score is high enough. On the overhead map that lies beyond the main menu threshold you will see the areas that have these extra objectives in place. Underneath the listed title of select locations/levels will be red, and yellow letters that will be followed by an equals sign, and the number of items that can be found in accordance to that extra item. Once you've achieved the extra item, or goal the added lettering will turn blue with a number following the equals sign signifying that you've completed the extra goal/s. After quitting the game via the "OPTIONS" menu, and returning to the map you can enjoy the "Hyper Mode" version of the level/location. These bonus modes basically make your ship move more quickly, and actually rotate as it does so. I did not see the actual level speed up which was a blessing. Had it have done that I probably would have thrown up from motion sickness.

I should also mention that the enemies each have specific attack patterns, and bullet spray projectiles. Learning to deal with them in the most efficient manner is crucial. You'll find in your playthrough, as I did that it's not always wise to shoot every enemy though, and that sometimes strategy is more important than straight out blasting your way through an area. The bosses in particular will attack you in a mostly fixed pattern, but will require your attention to detail, and an appropriately applied strategy to defeat. Aside from enemy types You'll also find that the level design varies. The shape of the wormholes that act as a warp point from area to area vary in shape. Some wormhole tunnels are tube-like while some are half-pipes, and others more misshapen. There are even some areas when your ship will be more stationary, and others still that are like flat plains. Using the various terrains to your advantage is a must.

When it comes to the graphic design, or nature of Hyper Void's levels you'll find a mixture of pseudo sci-fi realism (planets, asteroids, and even a spaceship graveyard that looks like it's in hell), prism style colors, and various motion blur effects that come together in a rather vivid presentation. During my playthrough, despite the game being the in-your-face light spectacle that it is I never once felt sick from watching the ship go around in loops, or quickly from side to side. Maybe I'm more resistant to such things, but with all of the flashing lights that come from weapon fire, and whatnot there is the very real threat that this game could cause someone to have a seizure. That warning at the beginning of the game is there for a very good reason. Do take note of it, and heed it's warning.

As far as the soundtrack goes it is symphonic in nature, and is truly one of the best indie soundtracks I have heard. The music which varies from level to level enriches the mood, and ambiance further drawing the player into the deep lighted darkness that is Hyper Void's outer space. The added synthesized announcer voice-overs that announce your in-game feats of high scoring prowess also enhances the virtual reality that you are playing in. Collectively the visuals, and the soundtrack "Hyper Void" aren't really all that bad. I will say that it could have used a breaking point to take you back to the map menu screen between each level though, and perhaps a leaderboard to keep the player interested in the game past completion.

The Verdict ...

If you are able to get past the red flag that is the seizure threat in "Hyper Void", and can enjoy a flashy gaming experience like I do I think you might actually find this limited gaming experience to be enjoyable enough. It's not particularly grand in scale with the modes, and features it offers, but it's the type of game that can be enjoyed even if it is only for streaming purposes. Playing solo can be fun to a certain extent as can playing in the company of friends. Replay-wise "Hyper Void" is lacking though. Had it have had a survival mode, and global leaderboards it might have changed that. That of course would have meant implementing a randomly generating level that extended for as long as the player could survive. Even a boss rush mode would have added some extra depth to what the game had to offer. As far as the story goes it was not added in a way that really makes the gamer want to stop, and read. A developer really has to make the story as entertaining as the gameplay if they want to drive the point of said story home. Simply popping up story panels consisting of heavy text, and adding a brief to the point 'Star Wars' inspired scrolling text at the beginning intro doesn't cut it. If the developer were to add in character art with likable characters, and dialogue plus some cutscenes (animated, or not) it would make the story elements more important to the gamer. As it stands though that is not the case, and the story takes a distant second place. 

I will say that despite the issues I had with the applied story elements the gameplay did hold up pretty well for an indie gaming experience. It was definitely one of the more interesting, and impressive hands-on visual journeys I've taken through the outer reaches of fictional space. Not only that but it was challenging on a shmup level. It took me back to those arcade simulator experiences I briefly spoke of earlier, and filled my heart with feelings of nostalgia. The fact that the in-game elements kept me interested, and playing through the many repeated moments that I faced due to my haste was a testament to the game's attractive nature. Seeing as there's 29 levels, plenty of epic boss battles, and PSN trophies to be earned I think 'Hyper Void' "might" be worth the $9.99 asking price, but only if you are a truly enthusiastic fan of the shmup genre, and only if you can get past the fact that the game's story took a back seat to the provided gameplay. As far as the cross-buy value goes the fact that it's obtainable for the PS4, and PS3 will only be relevant to those who own both Playstation consoles. It is cross-buy, by the way. 

Repeating what I said earlier I find that this game is definitely more about gameplay than it is the implied plot. It could have honestly used a little more in the way of features for replay value sake, and some added emphasis on the story elements as well. Depending on if you can get past the faults I've mentioned your personal opinion of the game could go either way. I'm personally undecided as I find it interesting, and visually entertaining, but at the same time not as good as it could have been. I'm honestly leaning more towards a pass because It's not the type of game I'd continue to play after having completed it. As far as a recommendation goes I'll let you be the one to decide whether, or not it's something you'd like to own, or play though.

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