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UPGRADE COMPLETE: Meta-sarcasm

A game to make you laugh at games, a game to make you feel a little bad about yourself, and a game in which you destroy hundreds of spaceships within mere moments. UPGRADE COMPLETE has much in common with meta-brother-in-arms Achievement Unlocked – it turns one of the peripheral systems of gaming into a game itself. In this case, it’s a shmup built around chasing upgrades – spending in-game cash on more powerful weapons’n’that. Also, on new menu buttons, on background music and even on a more jolly GAME OVER screen. The combination of out and out silliness and excessive visual escalation is an awful lot of fun. At the same time, I’m not entirely convinced the gag/swipe works – and perversely, that might just be because the game itself does work rather well…

First up, its target/victim isn’t quite as immediate a scourge as achievements were. It’s satirising an issue that’s a lot less prevalent, and a lot less annoying. Hands up if upgrading your character/abilities in a videogame is something that makes your wee boil? That said, a compulsive desire for new stuff is something that a lot of games spin to their advantage, at the expense of depth and character – Diablo and its many slavish copycats being the best example.

UPGRADE COMPLETE seems a little bitter about this: “maybe next time you’re playing a game you’ll rate it more on how much fun you’re having and less on how complex the upgrade system is“, says its ending screen, with palpable poisonousness. Of course, you can upgrade this winning screen into an agreeably over-the-top, self-celebratory party exclaiming how awesome you are, but even that’s dripping with sarcasm. Bitterness definitely fuels this wee webgame.

I wonder if the creators from Armor Games had intended to create a deliberately annoying experience- that earning cash to buy a Mute button or to ugprade the game’s graphics from Atari-esque blobs to sharp cartoon ‘splodes was supposed to come over all infuriating and futile. In fact, watching this small thing escalate and change so obviously is hugely entertaining. But not as much as designing your own ship is – it’s entirely modular, built from a collection of weapons, boosters and coin-collecting magnets of your choice. Each of which is upgradeable, natch. The placement is impressively open – see my stupid horizontal weapon array (the red blobs inside the blue crescents) in the screenie above.

Come the end of the game, you’re a veritable death machine, even if you do look a five year’s old first, fugly Lego experiment. I worry, a little, that such a neat system has been unfortunately lost to the satire – that modular ship design in shmups is a wonderful, smart idea that’s really worth exploring, and here it’s been thrown away as one snide gag amongst dozens.

Nonetheless – UPGRADE COMPLETE is a worthy experience and experiment, and it’s well worth looking inwards at yourself as you excitedly, expensively upgrade your missile launcher to level 5 and wonder why.

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Alec Meer

Senior Editor

Co-founder of RPS. Dungeon Keeper & X-COM 4 Life.

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