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.