By Kieron Gillen on September 9th, 2009 at 11:46 am.
Dejobaan’s indie-points-chaser is a free-jumping mentalist. The full version is $15. I had to explore. The dark urges made me do it. Here’s Wot I Think…
It’s quite the thing. “AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! — A Reckless Disregard for Gravity” to give it its full title, Aaaaa! to give it its shortened title and Aaa(Snip!-Ed) to give it what we’ll be calling it, is this year’s Trials 2. That being a hyper-punishing, score-chasing laugh riot which you will adore. No, I think you’ll find you will.
What I think I like most about Aaa(Snip!-Ed) is its developer, Dejobaan’s mix of sheer, fearless personality while not letting it impinge upon the actual game. For example, take its start. Dejobaan logo. A claim of having made games for decades. A big late-90s chuggy guitar, an enormous logo pulsing in time and a processed-voiced female monologue informing us that…
In the year of our Lord, Nineteen Eighty Two, Polystructures fell from space. Massive but light, they touched the atmosphere, and stuck.
Scientists made new materials. Builders made new cities. Families made their homes thousands of feet above ground level.
Art made the floating super-sculptures, and culture made the floating caviar socials to regard them.
In the year of our Lord, Twenty Eleven, you cannot look up from beneath a city and see the stars.
But you can look down from above it. And you can jump.
The jumps you make are not about art. They are about a reckless disregard for safety.
The jumps you make are not about culture. They are about a reckless disregard for regulation.
The jumps you make are not about science. They are about a reckless disregard for gravity.
Which is frankly an insta-classic opening on-par with SHODAN at the start of System Shock 2. Also, a fine example of the mad joy of creating a fictional wrapper for a game that requires none, just because it’s funny, just because thinking of how something like this could happen is holy. But most key – it’s a monologue over the start screen. You can go and start a new game whenever you like, or sit back and be serenaded. Wankier people would have made it a cut scene. Wankier people should sling their hook.
It’s a game about a reckless regard for gravity. Base-jumping with a sci-fi/fantasy twist. You make your way from the top to the bottom of a series of impossible structures, trying to maximise your points score. Dejobaan do everything to maximise the scoring possibilities. The basics are kisses and hugs, respectively scored for getting in the vicinity of a structure once and scoring as you stay close to any structure. Score-plates float in space, breaking when you hit them and rewarding points. Other methods unlock as your progress, such as colliding with birds, grafitting certain buildings and performing thumbs up or flicking the finger at spectators who are either for or against you. Manage to deploy to parachute and land in a specified area, there’s a bonus. Thread the needle – as in, zoom through a very long and thin bit – and that’s another one. There’s also things like bounce-pads and teleporters to try and maximise your scores.
Of course, if you hit anything, your bones have an exciting new existence as paste.
Since you have this freedom of movement and a variety of methods, it’s actually a game as much about exploration as pure reactions. Looking around and working out what’s the best way to raise your points at any fall is paramount. Of course, also being able to nip around skillfully isn’t exactly of no importance. It’s not anywhere near as death-happy as Trials – but since there’s no save points mid-fall, it really couldn’t be. Generally speaking, the missions are short enough so the instant-kill isn’t a problem. In fact, it’s a boon. And, much like Trials 2, a cause of comedy.
However, being a 3D environment, it’s here where the level design skills of Dejobaan are brought right to the fore. They’re careful in providing clues to what may or may not be a good route to take. Higher scoring crash-pads lead you towards interesting places, and often are placed to even suggest the sort of swaying rhythm a level is trying to encourage. Still – you musn’t underestimate the puzzling, deductive part of the game. When you’re scoring two stars on a course, you play a free-falling Sherlock Holmes, trying to work out whatever it is you could be missing.
The larger structure takes the form of an enormous mass of levels, arranged in a cylinder, which you can rotate and unlock with the points you’ve scored. It’s given guidance by both the increasing level of points required to open levels – so eventually encouraging you to go back and try and five-star a previous course – and the fact you can only unlock levels which you’ve already unlocked an adjacent one. In terms of organising progress, I think this is always a particularly strong one, in that it allows a player to try and improve themselves anywhere across the entire game to push on further. You’re not stuck on a single level, banging your head against a wall. And that’d be literally, in the case of Aaa(Snip!-Ed).
There’s also extras worked into the cube-cylinder. Tips are shown there, but there’s unlockable abilities – the caffine-high which slows down the game matrix-style for tricky parts, most notably – and even little snatches of surrealistic monologue comedy for your pleasure. It’s worth a note on the comedy stylings of the game, which are clearly a product of the world which begat them. Put it like this: I wasn’t surprised when 4Chan got name-checked. There’s a few misses. There’s some stuff which hits an YTMNDistic stance, which is less comedy, more badge of otherness. There’s some stuff which is total RPS-top-bar-gag-nonsense. And there’s some stuff which is genuinely, splendidly funny (The anti-relaxation tape monologue: applause for that one, chaps). It’s the game which you can see most of the developers inner-workings since Space Giraffe. I like that.
But fundamentally, they keep all that in the presentation. The game – bar the surrealistic style it embraces – focuses in on the actual joy of defying gravity and the fragility of meaty, pulpy flesh.
My reservations are primarily in what it’s missing. The team, clearly working on a tight budget, appear to have focused in on what they could pull of perfectly rather than over-reaching. Which is sensible, but the thing which may keep it away from Trial-esque mass-success is that a fatal collision just ends the game with a sudden spark. Trials 2, with its rag-dolling falling about post-fuck-up, lightened failure. Failure was a joy. As such, occasionally Aaa(Snip!-Ed) feels like it’s lacking a punchline. While rag-dolling may be beyond their technical abilities, since they have a character bouncing off stuff after collisions in play, continuing to bounce helplessly after you’re dead – whilst staying in the first person – may have added some more pay-off.
The second problem is that it lacks what most of its modern score-chasing peers – Audiosurf, Trials 2- have embraced. That is, an online leaderboard. It’s the sort of thing which would have helped cement the game’s community, and it’s distinctly lacking. The game does mitigate against its effects. More than either of the aforementioned games, Aaa(Snip!-Ed) offers a structured single-player experience to work through, and chasing after five-stars on individual levels – with the reward of unlock points – is highly compulsive. But I think it’d have been better with both.
UPDATE: Captain Hairy in the comments thread says: “There is an online leaderboard. Both the top 5 shortlist in game, and also a full listing you can access through the Steam Community profile page.” The review code wasn’t actually integrated with Steam, so we didn’t have that. Pah. Yet also, Hurrah!
The demo’s available here, and the full game can be bought for fifteen of your Earth dollars. It’s a personable, compulsive and characterful game which has taken a simple concept and ran with it, with all its heart. My list of notes while playing were scattershot – Blob, The Fifth Element videogame Jim used to be into, That Ballistics game Jim used to be obsessed by, Wipeout, Blue Jam, Jet Set Radio Future – and that it recalls so much shows exactly how much life there is in it. It’s a a game which doesn’t let anything – least of all gravity – hold it down.