One of the stranger side-effects of Microsoft buying Minecraft studio Mojang is that quirky sci-fi platform shooter Cobalt has just quietly continued to exist. Published by the now-mighty Swedish company and made by Oxeye, development on it continued for years, eventually resulting in a low-key release accompanied by a broadly positive critical reception, like in our review here.
Oxeye are clearly not done with Cobalt, though. This Friday, the multiplayer-centric spinoff Cobalt WASD landed on Steam, sacrificing some of the original's mechanical complexity for fast-paced accessibility. After playing a couple rounds online, I found myself pleasantly impressed with its blend of twitchy platform shooting and mechanics borrowed from Counter-Strike and Tribes.
The biggest change between Cobalt and Cobalt WASD is that this release is entirely mouse-and-keyboard centric, as the title might suggest. In the style of Abuse, Soldat or any number of 2D platform shooters on PC, you move with the WASD keys (fully rebindable, of course), and aim and shoot freely in all directions with the mouse. Gone is the complex inventory management and bullet-deflecting dodge-rolling that defined Cobalt, but some of the more interesting elements such as 'skiing' down slopes to vault huge distances remain, activated by simply crouching on an angled surface.
Between the skiing and the bundle of utility items (including a very effective grappling hook that can slingshot you through the air) you can buy at the start of a round, there's a pleasingly technical Starsiege: Tribes edge to the game, even though the default play-mode's structure is lifted from Counter-Strike. Two teams of four, two bomb sites. Kill the whole enemy team and/or defuse the bomb to win. Simple, but effective design, and the maps are large and intricate enough to enable some very creative movement to reach an objective quickly.
Don't worry if you don't have a full 8 players to fill a server with, either. Bots will fill whatever empty player slots there are, and so as to leave nobody feeling left out in smaller player-count matches, you're free to possess any surviving bot on your team if you happen to die before them. It means that all you need are two players to play a decent team-game. Good to see, considering how niche the original release was, and something I'd love to see more smaller multiplayer games attempt.
Oxeye also announced that they're not quite done with the original Cobalt as well, and that a major new update was coming for it soon after the release of this spinoff. Considering how long the original game was in development, 'soon' might not quite be as prompt as you'd expect, but I have my fingers crossed. I've been meaning to return to it and finish off the main campaign sometime.
If you bought the original version of Cobalt way back in the way (before it surfaced on Steam, at least), you may already own Cobalt WASD. Just log into your Mojang account page and see if you've got a Steam key waiting for you redeem it. If you're fashionably late to the robo-party, then you'll find the game on Steam, priced at a quite reasonable £5/$7.