By Quintin Smith on May 5th, 2011 at 9:52 am.
Alien Trap are a Canadian indie dev from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. I know! You like them already, right? Well, here’s an even better reason to like them- their debut commercial game, Capsized, is far too beautiful for the likes of you and me. Could any game live up to those visuals? Well, this one does. And how.
I’m falling, and I can’t get up.
In a scene straight out of the best kind of pulp sci-fi, my marooned spaceman is plummeting through the thin atmosphere of a hostile planet with a swarm of maddened alien creatures soaring down after him. Each one is little more than a bulbous body, bared fangs and a shitty attitude, and worse, their top speed is faster than my descent.
To stay safe (you may have to recalibrate your understanding of the word “safe” here), I’m facing upwards and pouring bullets up into their gawping jaws, and the recoil from my gun is pushing me downwards even faster.
Alas, I know that all good things must come to an end. I might have my fall broken by a floating islet any second, and when that happens I’ll go through these beasts like paper through a shredder. Instead of letting this happen, I hold my breath and flick my energy grapple up onto the last landmass I went rocketing past.
Finding purchase, the elastic beam first stops me from falling, then catapults me upwards, casting me like a skimming stone through a tiny spaceman-sized gap in the swarm. There’s a moment of perfection as gravity takes a hold of me again and the swarm all starts decelerating so they can fly up and resume their chase, so for an instant, the lot of us are floating, perfectly still. Then I let loose a plasma mortar that lands slap bang in the middle of them, reducing the pack to a disgusting rain of body parts.
But there’s one creature still flying- one of the big ones, as big as a small car, and I’m falling back towards him even as he begins racing towards me. Acting quicker than the speed of thought I fire my energy grapple straight at him, pulling him towards me and me towards him at lethal speed. My space-boots catch the thing right in its jaws in a brutal flying kick, and it’s lifeless frame goes tumbling down towards the planet’s surface, far below.
God, I think to myself. Am I really trying to escape this planet? This is far too much fun.
…is the longest narrative intro I’ve done in a while. But if I’d kicked off by telling you that Capsized is a platformer that distinguishes itself with sprawling levels, plenty of combat and a focus on simple physics, you’d probably have started daydreaming about more exciting-sounding games, probably ones that take place in three dimensions. You certainly wouldn’t have suspected that this is a beautiful game, a daredevil’s game, that occasionally achieves breathtaking moments of tension. You wouldn’t! But it is, it is, and it does.
Capsized tells the story of a spaceman stranded on the galaxy’s most comedically inhospitable planet. He wants to go home. The natives want him to stay. Also, to die. While that’s about the full extent of the narrative, with the game preferring to let you get on with the excellent business of running away from space-tigers and detonating space-minotaurs, Capsized does do a great job of milking it’s alien rainforest setting. Discovering how to battle each of its ugly-beautiful inhabitants or even how to use your guns is very much a case of trial and error (and occasionally a case of trial and JESUS CHRIST, especially in the case of the last gun), leaving you feeling at first very alone and eventually a savvy Robinson Crusoe type. This is helped along by no small amount of harmless background flora and fauna that looks hostile, but is actually harmless, which is cute.
But as enjoyable as these moments of discovery are, the focus in Capsized is always on its balletic combat, which is always enjoyable, always challenging and sometimes stunning.
If you’ve ever played freeware masterpiece Liero or 2009’s low-gravity kamikaze samurai robot extravaganza Plain Sight, you’ll be aware of a special type of action that emerges when games are designed around low gravity, high maneuverability and flawed weaponry. Suddenly, the problem isn’t hitting your enemies with your gun, but putting yourself in the spot where you can do it, all while keeping yourself in a position where they can’t hurt you.
That’s the core of Capsized, and it results in some of the most enjoyable battles I’ve had this year. It peaked for me with a battle against some murderous temple guardians in a cramped ruin, deep underground. These guys could teleport, they could fire energy beams out of the staffs on their backs and they were built like comic book bodybuilders, and there was me, a tiny spaceman in a crumpled spacesuit, flinging myself around with the energy grapple like a doomed, imperfect Spider-Man, trying to put enough distance between myself and my opponent to fire a rocket at him.
I managed it eventually, though once the gossamer smoke of my high-tech blast cleared I saw that the guardian was already teleporting. He appeared right on top of me, grabbed me, and flung me across the screen like a hockey puck in less time than it took me to swear. I hit the wooden barrier over there with such velocity that I broke it in half, and what was on the side? A second guardian. Probably I should have said something like “This is starting to get… interesting!”, but what I actually did was yelp with terror before getting sluiced with laser fire. Brilliant.
Then again, that fight was something of a rarity in that it was the enemies who made it interesting. While Capsized’s bad guys are expertly designed, each one gorgeous to look at and so nuanced in their attack patterns that they can be combined with any number of other enemies to from a different deadly arrangement, more often than not the very best moments in Capsized emerge from some great feat of acrobatics or cunning or catastrophic balls-up on your part. While this is a rock-solid platformer, with levels that surprise and guns that pop and zip excitingly, it’s really as an action sandbox that Capsized shines, and you’ll get the most out of it if you have a slight competitive streak.
That said, I can’t remember the last platformer this good to grace the PC (VVVVVV?), and I’m not sure I’ve ever played a platformer quite this elegant. If ripping your way through an alien menace and looking good doing it sounds like something you’d enjoy, buy this game. You will not find a better use of £5.39.
Capsized is available through Steam.