Wot I Think: Megaton Rainfall

Megaton Rainfall‘s goal is to let you feel like a superhero. Originally created with VR in mind, the earliest build I played years back on an Oculus Rift featured what still makes up the core of the game: swooping around via the gift of flight, trying to blow up alien ships while not accidentally levelling the city around you. Released now in flat-o-vision (I’ve no idea why the PC release is non-VR only, after the PSVR release last month), I find a game containing absolutely astonishing ambition, incredible achievements, beyond comprehension scale and awe, and the weirdest sense that you’re not really being allowed to have fun.

Megaton Rainfall is an awe-inspiring achievement. At first you think, “Wow, they built a planet,” before then realising, “Crikey, they built a solar system!”, before it hits you that they built a galaxy, after which it finally dawns on you you’re playing a game that contains the universe. And you can fly seamlessly all around it, observing details from the cars driving past cathedrals on Earth’s roads, to a cluster of spiral galaxies in one corner of reality. Of the cities that are scattered sporadically over the otherwise geographically familiar Earth, any single building can be obliterated, brick by brick. Gosh. Gosh. And yet, it’s always impossible to shake the feeling, no matter how much more elaborate and breathtakingly vast it becomes, that this is a game where the enemies get to have a much better time than you.

There are these amazing cities, incredibly detailed, and the enemy’s job is to smash it all to bits in spectacular ways, causing vast towering scrapers to come crumbling down, the screams of the masses heard under the noise of destruction, church towers exploding into bricks, evil spaceships transmogrifying into buildings… Your job is to not let them get on with the smashing, but also to try really awfully hard not to destroy anything yourself.

Destroying stuff, as any three year old will tell you, is always more fun than keeping stuff safe. In all of Megaton Rainfall’s swoopy, swishy battles, the baddies get to wreak incredible destruction, while the number of innocent civilians you kill with errant blasts of your powers is constantly being counted, and once it gets too high, you get reset to the last checkpoint.

It’s like being given a JCB in a porcelain doll exhibition and being told not to break anything. However, it’s still one hell of an exhibition.

If anything, Megaton starts off too modestly. You’re able to fly around a recreation of planet Earth, visiting the (presumably) algorithmically generated cities (no human would have created these road layouts, not even the one that designed Swindon), realising that your superhero powers allow you to distribute terrifying destruction if poorly wielded. So, of course, you will wield them poorly, gazing in amazement at the detail with which these buildings collapse, the way people and cars are ricocheted off the sides of houses, how skyscrapers so gruesomely collapse around the holes you blast through them. And then you’ll be told off for doing that, and instructed you’re only supposed to be shooting at the tiny red weakspots on the sides of the silvery UFOs. Boo.

It is within the first hour, however, while guided under water to look at a school of fishes the extraordinarily detailed game has put there, that you’ll be given the power to fly at one trillion times the speed of light.

This is where Megaton shines. One trillion times the speed of light. It doesn’t do things in little bits near the start. When you get given a new power, it changes how you play, whether it’s a new way to attack that if pointed in the wrong direction can level an entire city block with thousands of deaths, or, as with here, to suddenly be able to fly across the solar system and swish through the rocks that make up the rings of Saturn. It’s phenomenal. While I was supposed to be heading back to Earth to deal with more threats from the Intruders, I instead flew to the Moon to take some nice pictures of the Earth over its horizon. You can do that. That’s ridiculous.

And yet what I was supposed to be doing was carefully shooting at some more variants of the Intruders’ fleet, which is by far the most boring thing there is to do in the game. Oh, woe. The thing the game’s about is the worst thing about it!

Because when you get fed up of being careful, and you will, you start being the baddy and just go crazy destroying stuff until it stops you, then you’re having a good time. But the game says a big “NO”, resets everything, and flashes up one of its many sarcastic remarks about how you oughtn’t do that. “Maybe I didn’t explain it clearly: Humans are good. Aliens are bad.” See! They knew! That’s the agony of it. They knew people were going to want to do that instead of play properly! But they still carried on making the other game.

This theme gets stronger the farther you get. The powers it adds later are measly, some of them utterly useless (there is no cause to drill into the ground, at all). And any hopes you might be harbouring that this is in fact an exploration of how with great power comes great electricity bills risk of corruption are abandoned as you realise, no, you’re just not supposed to hit the buildings no matter how much more fun that would be.

The other side to this is what appears to exist as a sort of side-quest to the main theme of stopping UFOs from causing trouble: exploring the rest of the universe. I still can’t really believe it’s happening when I do it – you fly off, your speed increasing the farther you are out from something, until you can see spirals of galaxies, and then pick one at random, fly toward it, and see hundreds of thousands of stars on screen. Pick one, fly toward it, and you’ll enter a unique solar system, perhaps one with a blue novaing sun, perhaps a tri-star system which must make for very confusing sunsets. Each will have planets, so pick one, fly toward it, and you can enter its atmosphere (should it have one), and then fly low to its ground. You just picked one of literally billions of dots in this game, and found a planet’s surface.

There’s nothing to do when you get there, because – well – there wouldn’t be, really, would there? Early on you’re warned there are only two sentient species in the universe, and this isn’t – nor is it trying to be – No Man’s Sky. You aren’t going to find flora and fauna, but rather rocks or wobbly patterns. And yet, despite the outrageous pointlessness of this breathtaking creation, it still feels spectacular to explore. Someone made this! Which, as it happens, is the mini-plot that can be uncovered via this universal travel. And yet the whole time, you’re achingly aware that what you’re meant to be doing is what now seems like the piddliest of unimportance: worrying about those Earthling cities.

The other issue I’ve found is that the later I got in the game, the buggier it became. The drilling, which you can sort of use against some enemies a bit, often leads to some inescapable clipping problems. And I’ve had the whole thing just lock up when I least wanted it to. But this is pre-release, so presumably we’ll see patches arriving as the problems are reported. Although rather problematically, the final mission appears to be so bugged that it can’t be completed – some alien ships appear to have entered a quantum state, existing in two different places at once, but never the one I’m near to. (Looking on the game’s leaderboards, of the five people who’ve registered a score for the penultimate mission, only one has done so for the final, so I suspect I’m not alone.)

Yet this rather significantly game-breaking issue doesn’t change much about how I feel. I feel like Pentadimensional Games have created something beyond comprehension, something utterly extraordinary, and then had little idea of what to do with it. A fairly crummy shooter takes place in a corner of a phenomenal universe, that perhaps made a lot more sense when it was a pioneer of VR gaming. Now, it all feels a bit like watching a VR demo in 2D, its ridiculous way of having all the dialogue subtitled in 3D letters that fling around the screen underlining this point for you. In VR it induced the most horrendous motion sickness. On my monitor it does not, but instead realises the most bizarre combination of ambition and the complete lack of it in one game. Astonishing, but flat.

Megaton Rainfall is out on the 17th November on PC via Steam. The price is yet to be revealed.

37 Comments

  1. Wolfram86 says:

    Sounds like what they really should do is let you clue together where the alien worlds are, find them, and destroy them. Also… no VR on PC??

    • Shuck says:

      Also, they missed a trick in not having the alien spacecraft be just as interesting to destroy as the cities – instead of trying to hit a small spot, have players smash their way through a destructible spacecraft made of distinct components, smaller alien craft that could be sent careening into the larger craft, add in some nice explosions. It should have been pretty obvious, really.

    • funderbolt says:

      The developer tweeted a few days ago that VR is temporarily exclusive to PSVR, so hopefully a PC version may be in the works. (Actually the tweet said “temporally” exclusive, so exclusive to PSVR only in this dimension I guess?)

  2. Someoldguy says:

    If only you could find the Alien planet(s) perhaps you could put those destructive powers to use blowing up their military production centres. Given your heroic status, destroying alien cities and killing civilians on a massive scale is no less morally questionable than destroying your own. Flying around their worlds, identifying acceptable targets from unacceptable ones and blowing the crap out of stuff really does sound fun.

  3. Napalm Sushi says:

    I was worried from the outset at the apparent dissonance between the tech of this game and its narrative. I’m really disappointed to be validated.

  4. Megatron says:

    Well, it sounds like an exceptional experience. Space Engine, but with Earth Peril to stop!

    I love Wolfram’s idea above. Let’s get some alien stronghold planets in there, perhaps a megastructure or two (hundred), and turn this into a fight to save the UNIVERSE. I’d buy the shit out of that.

  5. dare says:

    I think I kind of like the idea of Superman Simulator, having to be super-careful in a world of cardboard. I’ll probably buy this even if it’s a bit rough, it just looks that interesting.

  6. Premium User Badge

    reddog says:

    When encountering a game like this (haven’t tried this one myself, though), I often wonder if they simply ran out of time. Great environment art, an engine that is an amazing technical feat, and then a handful of half-baked things to do. It’s as if the developers only got the preliminary work done, and then someone told them “all right, that’s enough, time to wrap this thing up into something that looks like a finished product.”

    Brainstorming for what to do in a game world like this is just so easy. Children can do it, literally, they do “game development” all the time. Developers could maybe learn a thing or two from children. Games need to have a heart, be exciting, feel alive, have actual content = fun interactions.

    • Shuck says:

      I wonder the same thing. Lack of time is always an potential issue, but doubly so for VR games – the dev time for those is necessarily going to be much shorter given the small market and lack of expected revenue. It seems very much like a problem that could have been figured out once someone got to sit down and play the basic game, which suggests that they didn’t have any time beyond that point to iterate or respond to issues that came up during development.

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      I think you’re glossing over one or two of the other facets of game development.

      • Sandepande says:

        Nah, that’s just the technical stuff, balancing and whatnot. Children tend to be very creative and unlimited in their imagination (individual tendencies obviously vary), and they’re rarely stuck to a pattern…

        • fuzziest says:

          That tech stuff is most of development.

          There’s a reason pretty much every person who works in games hates ‘idea guys’. Ideas are useless, it is implementation that is everything. A seemingly great idea can take ages to properly implement and then on testing turn out to be terrible and unfun.

          • zgtc says:

            This is clearly untrue, as no games have ever shipped with any story elements cut down or omitted.

  7. Premium User Badge

    Drib says:

    I can’t help but wonder if Sony paid them to make it only VR on the PS4VR.

    Am I being paranoid? This sounds like something Sony would do, right?

    • Shuck says:

      It could very well have just been a natural function of development – target the biggest VR market, and build to that display and controller. It was probably done in an engine that made a PC port not-too-onerous, but making it work with the various PC VR displays and controller schemes was seen as throwing away development money, given the smaller user bases – and expected sales – for each.

    • April March says:

      According to a thread above, they did – but it’s a timed exclusive.

  8. sagredo1632 says:

    Pity. They should have allowed a continuation in the failure state, perhaps prompting the hiring/creation of the heroic alter-ego that you never managed to become, making you the arch-nemesis of the story.

    Also, no game of this sort should be mentioned without at least a reference to that timeless classic “Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex.”

  9. Railway Rifle says:

    So this isn’t Megatron Rainfall, when the Decepticons have an evil plan to control the weather. Still, “superhero sim opens out into Noctis” sounds cool.

    Someone made this! Which, as it happens, is the mini-plot that can be uncovered via this universal travel. And yet the whole time, you’re achingly aware that what you’re meant to be doing is what now seems like the piddliest of unimportance: worrying about those Earthling cities.

    I like the concept that the game goes cosmic with the Dr. Manhattan way of leaving behind the insignificant Earthlings.

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      Yeah, perhaps the game is saying that with great power comes an inability to care about the things you’re supposed to care about.

  10. poliovaccine says:

    I don’t even care about the lack of focus described here, the rest sounds too damn fun to pass up. I might just grab this and hope there are supervillain mods in the near future.

    • Hans says:

      Played it on PS4 where none of these issues exist and it was a ton of fun while it lasted.

      Don’t listen to weak-stomached Walker.

  11. LennyLeonardo says:

    Is this possibly a sort of test run for technology that will be used for something more involved later on?

  12. KDR_11k says:

    And this is why Earth Defense Force never penalizes you for destroying the city you’re supposed to protect.

    I guess they made protecting the city the key thing because you’re so superpowered that you cannot be hurt yourself but that kinda turns it into the world’s biggest escort mission.

    Still weird to allow intergalactic travel when gameplay is limited to Earth…

    • Baines says:

      Besides, you can argue that EDF looks at it from a practical side. The aliens are gradually wiping out all life on the planet. Your bosses, and seemingly the planet at large, have come to grips with the idea that the “good guys” blowing up a few cities is an acceptable price to pay for even having a chance of saving humanity.

      Besides, everyone knows the time for recriminations is afterward. Once you’ve eliminated the imminent threat, then everyone will turn on you and ask why you personally blew up Big Ben at least five different times.

  13. milligna says:

    If you’re going to sneer about VR, at least get the nomenclature right: simulator sickness is not motion sickness.

    • Premium User Badge

      Skabooga says:

      I’m no expert, but Wikipedia is:

      link to en.wikipedia.org

      In the above, simulator sickness is referred to as a subset of motion sickness; thus, John Walker was correct in his terminology. i.e., someone is justified in calling a ‘German shepherd’ a ‘dog’ instead.

  14. fish99 says:

    Having watched my brother play this, the technology looked amazing, but the game was over way too soon.

  15. brucethemoose says:

    Well, a no-penalty option would be trivial to patch in, right? If that’s what alot of reviews say, that’s probably what they’ll do.

  16. Ragabhava says:

    Hm, I really thought this game was about climate change.

  17. K_Sezegedin says:

    I’m so confused as to who looked at this gameplay design and thought they needed to simulate an entire universe.

    I wish these guys were working for Frontier.

  18. Saarlaender39 says:

    So, “Megaton Rainfall” is more a “Megaton Reinfall”? ;o)
    (Sorry, I think, you need to understand German, to get that pun)

  19. Peppergomez says:

    bring on the mods

  20. Marclev says:

    Given this description, I looked it up on Steam expecting it to be $40, only to find it is in fact £10!

  21. Kingseeker Camargo says:

    From the game’s Steam page:

    So what’s next? We are receiving lots of suggestions about possible improvements in the game. The free roam / villain mode is in the top 1 list of the requested features, and also the possibility to buy the OST. Please keep those suggestions coming: although a small team like ours can’t promise to implement everything, we’ll still be working on improving our game at least for 6 months. But our top priority is still to fix all the bugs and make sure the game works for everyone.

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