Last year, one of my favorite surprise hits and overall most enjoyable PSN game was Shatter from Sidhe Interactive. Previously available only on the PSN, Shatter has expanded its horizons, and available modes, to encompass the PC market thanks to Steam. The PC version also includes Endless/Endless Co-Op and Time Attack/Time Attack Co-op that add to an already enjoyable experience. For the most part, the game is exactly the same as the PSN release and therefore I will re-use some of my original PSN review, making changes where necessary. For starters, lets examine the modes.
Shatter has the following modes, some of which are locked until you play through the story: Story, Boss Rush, Bonus, Endless, Endless Co-op, Time Attack, and Time Attack Co-op. Story is comprised of 10 levels, each with 7 waves (or stages), a boss battle, and a bonus round. The only exception to this is level 10, which has eight waves. Each level advance the story of BAT1138, a slave machine that broke out of his containment unit during an anomaly at the energy farm he was enslaved at. Outside of the opening and closing cutscenes, it's up to the level names and stylistic background to advance the story. In short, BAT1138 sets out to destroy the empire that enslaved him on his way home, which takes him through various empire controlled zones and facilities, all with
cool names and gorgeous backgrounds.
After beating your first boss and opening up the first bonus round, the Bonus mode is unlocked from the main menu. In Bonus Mode, it's simply you against three orbs; there are no objects to break or bounce off of, except you and the walls. The idea is to keep the three orbs in play as long as you can. The more contact you make with the orbs, the higher your score. As long as you have at least one orb in play, you will continue to earn points. This isn't as easy as it sounds, but it's fun to play, and doing well here can make a big difference in your score as you play through the Story.
Boss Rush Mode is only available after beating the Story. In this mode, players square off against each boss in order, one at a time, with a clock situated in the lower right hand corner of the HUD. Your goal is to defeat all of the bosses as quickly as possible. The number of orbs you have and your power meter carry from one boss fight to the next. The better you perform, the higher up on the online leaderboard you will go. This mode is also a great way to develop strategies against these bosses to use in Story mode, where you will earn your most points.
In Endless Mode, the goal is to simply survive for as long as you can to earn the most points. Co-op mode simply adds a second player to this idea. The same goes for Time Attack that has you racing against a clock for the highest score.
Co-op play is cool, but if you're just using the mouse and keyboard control scheme, you'll find things can get a little tight as the mouse player uses the right side of the keyboard and the other player uses the left side. In co-op, the balls are controlled by the last bat they bounce off. The ball will change color to indicate who has control, so you have to pay close attention to the color change. Sometimes the amount of visual effects on screen make it tough enough to keep track of your ball in single player, so watch out. A couple of other points about co-op that the game presents to you are that whenever a powerup is collected, or the front bat collides with a brick, the bats swap position. So you'll always have one player in the front and one in the back, but which player is in which position will change. Finally, fragments that either player collects counts towards the total score.
You can check out Leaderboards and earn Steam Achievements within the game, too. Leaderboards are maintained for overall score as well as Boss Rush and Bonus mode scores. Filters make it very easy to keep an eye on your high score and those of your friends. Players can also monitor their scores on a per-level basis too.
Shatter would still be enjoyable without the story, and without several other cool ideas Sidhe included. These additional mechanics are all introduced to you within the first ten minutes of the game via a simple pop up screen that tells you what the mechanic is, and how to use it. There's nothing left to do after that but master them and play. It's a very accessible game in that regard and I see it appealing to a wide audience because of it. That said, controls couldn't be much friendlier; players slide BAT1138 with the mouse or keyboard. You can really move your bat fast with the mouse, much quicker than I ever could with the PS3 controller. Orbs are released automatically at the start of Waves, but to release another (if you have one), you simply press backslash, \. Right Shift puts up your shield and Right Control unleashes the Shard Storm if your power meter is full. The left and right mouse buttons are used to Blow (Push) and Suck (Pull) bricks and fragments (and your orbs). Additionally, there are five spots on BAT1138 where orbs can bounce off of; knowing what side to use to make contact with an orb is key.
Contact made head on with the orb sends the orb back in a straight line, while hitting it with one of your edges sends the orb in a sharp diagonal angle. In between the center and the edge are two other spots (one on each side) that make the orb react accordingly. The physics in Shatter are very logical in terms of what you would expect whenever the orb hits an object, wall, or you. Still, Sidhe provided a handy element that shows you exactly where an orb is headed. A thin sliver of light about an inch long appears whenever an orb is in motion. You might not notice this visual cue right away.
Knowing how to best use the Push/Pull or Suck/Blow mechanics in Shatter is vital for success. With these abilities, putting that extra after-touch or spin on your orb is possible and it can make all the difference in hitting just the right object or getting past a boss's defenses. In fact, some bosses require the use of these abilities to thwart their defenses. Additionally, using Push/Pull helps you in a lot of other ways; it can save your orb from getting past you, i.e., going out of the field of play. You can also pull in certain objects and destroy them with your shield, and you can even pull in Powerups and power fragments.
Powerups, Orbs -- More On Gameplay
Powerups in Shatter are all positive, meaning there are no bad pickups. There are several types, too: 2x, S, Unstopaball, Maneuverable, 1Ups, and Power increase. The 2X powerup increases your multiplier, which is used in relation to your power meter. The S pickup is for doubling the available power fragments; pulling in more of these means that your power meter fills up quicker, which means your Shard Storm is accessible sooner. Unstopaball means that your orb is more powerful and can smash through some objects it ordinarily would bounce off of. The Maneuverable pickup, as far as I could tell, made BAT1138 move a little quicker, making those last second shifts easier to pull off. 1Ups are obvious, and it's always a great feeling seeing one of those coming towards you. Lastly, a crosshair-looking pickup gives you a big boost in your power meter which is positioned in the top left of your hud, next to your orb or life count.
When the power meter is full, you can unleash a Shard Storm by pressing Right Control. The power meter is drained anytime you fire up your shields, so use them sparingly. That said, when you press Right Control, the shards start flying and the game and music slow down for about five seconds. During this time, you're pelting out some potentially major damage, depending on how you use it. This isn't an ability that you can just start and stop -- once you press Triangle, you're committed to using your full power meter. It can take several waves to fill up a power meter, so you generally only get two, possibly three per level.
It's important to keep in mind that Shard Storms aren't always the magic bullet for bosses; latter bosses require a lot more orb bouncing skill, and Shard Storm won't damage them much, if at all. Shard Storms are most useful in the middle of a wave. It's not uncommon to destroy so many objects during a Shard Storm that suddenly you have one, two, even three on very rare occasion, powerups released. Knowing what powerup to go for when, even when there is just one released, is another strategic part to Shatter that make it all the more special. I can't tell you how many times I've gone for a powerup only to let my orb fall through while I was chasing after the powerup. Heck, I've even found myself caught in the middle of a 1Up and my current orb, and in a split second of indecision, lost both instead of getting one or saving both.
To this point I've primarily talked about 'my orb,' as in singular. It's entirely possible to launch more than one orb into the field of play, but that obviously makes things a hell of a lot more hectic. Since the number of orbs equals your number of lives, I played conservatively and only very rarely went with a second orb. Players generally won't have more than three or four total orbs anyway, and I found the experience engaging and challenging enough with just one orb to rarely use a second or third.
When all of your orbs/lives are gone, it's possible to continue at the current wave that you just died on (including boss fights). By continuing, players start at the current wave or boss fight, rather than starting the whole level over again. When all three continues are expired, it's game over. Fortunately, players can restart at any level they've unlocked (and levels only become unlocked by beating the previous level). Sidhe also made it easy to just restart the current chapter rather than continue, if you so desire.
This reminds me of another outstanding part of Shatter: its difficulty. It goes without saying that some waves and bosses are tough, and there were several occasions where I had to restart a level. That's fine and just part of gaming. However, there were also a lot of instances when I was on my last orb, facing elimination, and a 1Up comes popping out of a brick I just destroyed. I've even had a lot of moments where it looked like all was lost, but thanks to some good hits and a bit of luck, I managed to earn a pair of 1Ups and just like that I was right back in the groove of the action. It's that type of design -- allowing players to mess up and yet still have a great chance at mounting a comeback, that I really appreciated in Shatter. Anything that allows the player to keep playing and spend less time restarting, loading, or redoing things is always the sign of great game design.
Other Gameplay Notes And Presentation
So, how do you go about losing orbs anyway? The only way that you lose orbs is by letting them get past you. Think of it as game of air hockey, where anything behind you is your goal (to protect). If an orb slips past you before you can bump it back into the field of play, you have to relaunch an orb. Actually, that reminds me of another cool design decision Sidhe made; an orb will automatically launch from BAT1138 within about five seconds, but players can also just press \ whenever they are ready to launch. This bit of timing can make a big difference with boss fights and all of the moving objects you encounter. That said, these moving objects can wreck havoc on your orb's trajectory, too; the orb will smash most objects in one hit, although others require multiple hits. Regardless, unless you have the Unstopaball powerup, after contact, the orb will bounce off accordingly, and very possibly in a direction that will get past you. I still occasionally lose orbs simply by losing track of them amongst all of the graphical explosions and colors that are released when objects are destroyed. Other times, BAT1138 is momentarily unmovable because I got struck by an object that was floating towards me; these objects can be destroyed with your shield, but it's not too hard to forget to do this when the action is at full tilt on screen or when you don't have any juice in your power meter.
As far as presentation goes, Shatter is a beautiful game. You can tweak a few graphical settings, but even an average gaming rig will easily power this game at high resolution. I had zero problems running this at 1680x1050 with high detail on a older machine. Shatter is a colorful game with plenty of effects and eye candy. The framerate never suffers from these effects either. I can't say enough about the soundtrack, which is comprised of ninety minutes of electronica created by a New Zealand DJ named Module. The music is perfectly fitting to the entire feel and play of Shatter. I bought the soundtrack a few months ago and still enjoy it whether I'm playing the game or not. Finally, all sound effects are also well done, making the entire presentation an impressive package.
To the summary...