Velocity Review [PS Network]

Velocity is a 2D spaceship shooter that rewards quick fingers and wraps pitch-perfect controls in retro pixellated garb.


Like the bastard love-child of Space Invaders and N+, Velocity is a 2D spaceship shooter that rewards quick fingers and wraps pitch-perfect controls in retro pixellated garb. Although it looks at first glance like any other vintage-styled platformer/shoot-em-up, Velocity's old school graphics hide the type of finely polished controls, addictive gameplay and fiendish level design that also characterise recent indie successes like N+ and Super Meat Boy, while the relentless vertically-scrolling screen adds a dash of Canabalt to proceedings. Velocity is the second game to come out of Brighton-based indie studio FuturLab, and it carries over the best elements of the developers' award-winning debut Coconut Dodge, in which you control a crab (€œClawrence€) attempting to grab shiny coinage while dodging falling coconuts. FuturLab have built a reputation around creating addictive games from deceptively simple concepts and Velocity continues this in spectacular style, as what seems like a straightforward flying-and-shooting game quickly evolves into a challenging and engrossing game of dexterity and perseverance. Velocity plays out over 50 levels, with a finely pitched learning curve that develops through a clutch of tutorial-based starter levels before careening into ever more fiendishly designed mazes of force fields, battle stations and enemy hordes. You control an experimental Quarp Jet tasked with gathering up military spacecraft stranded in space after being hit by a wave of electromagnetic pulse emitted by an imploding star: however, a few things stand in your way. One are the alien Zetachron fleets that have been dispatched to prey on your helpless allies; another is the landscape €“ a maze of force fields, switches and enemy turrets and battle platforms. Lastly, there's the time factor: that imploding star is quickly becoming a black hole, forcing you to race through levels manically grabbing up survivors, flinging bombs and shooting your way through enemy hordes. After being led by the hand through the initial levels things quickly speed up, with tutorials for different abilities peppered throughout the later levels as you start needing to call on them. Your major ability €“ and the mechanic that differentiates Velocity from numerous other space shooters €“ is the ability to teleport, which starts off as a novelty and soon becomes an essential tool for reaching otherwise impossible-to-get-to areas or aiding you in frantically zipping through levels before the clock runs out. The teleport ability adds a further layer of depth to the game beyond that offered by similar titles that share its heavy reliance on muscle-memory, and is a gleefully fun and well-developed concept. Velocity skillfully blends together three types of gameplay: platformers, shoot-em-ups and speed racers. These are reflected in the three level categories: Search & Rescue, Hostile Forces and Critical Urgency. Search & Rescue levels have a focus on complex level design featuring force fields which can only be turned off by hitting a set of switches scattered throughout the level in a particular order. These levels later develop into fully-fledged mazes that require use of your long-form teleport ability, where you can drop teleport points throughout a level and use them to return to that point to nab switches at earlier points in the level. Navigating and memorising complex routes to wind your way through the Search & Rescue levels within strict time constraints is a particular high point of the game, but the Hostile Forces levels add an essential dash of violence to the mix as you shoot down droves of Zetachron standing between you and the survivors. While technically you can concentrate on collecting survivors and teleporting around enemies during these levels if shooters aren't your thing, the masses of trophies on offer for level high-scores are reliant on taking down as many as possible, and defeating a horde of enemy spaceships will drop valuable power-ups for enhancing your weapons. Finally, the Critical Urgency levels require breakneck speed and hair-trigger reflexes to navigate: if you can get past the last level, I'll gladly raise my hat to you! For completists, there's plenty on offer: trophies are available for discovering secret areas, collecting hidden trophies, gaining perfect scores on each level and unlocking and completing bonus missions €“ as well as some more obscure challenges (game of Space Coconuts or Minesweeper, anyone?). Velocity is steeped in sci-fi lore, with top prizes named after sci-fi heroes (€œRipley€ for collecting every trophy; €œRiver€ for saving every survivor), levels named after fantasy and sci-fi characters, mathematicians, astrophysicists and sci-fi novellists (A'Tuin's Path, Asimov Colony, Fermat's Bridge), and a final bonus mission cheekily entitled Ender's Game. Beyond Velocity's retro-styled graphics, a deeper narrative backstory and extra visual enhancement is provided through the unlockable artwork featured throughout the game. An entirely different style to the pixellated visuals of the main levels, the art features modern variations of the types of futuristic, neon-bathed visions that grace the covers of vintage Orson Scott Card or Phillip K Dick novels €“ including a Star Trek-style transporter scene that would happily work as stand-alone art. The soundtrack is similarly stunning. In fact, it's nothing short of astounding €“ co-written by Killzone 2 composer Joris de Man and FuturLab's James Marsden, it's a mass of thumping techno that once caused my housemate to come in to check I wasn't doing an aerobics workout (in a good way). It's the element that pushes Velocity from being a great game to being an amazing game, and a significant contribution to its already addictive replay value. Velocity will be available for download through PlayStation Network for PS3, PS Vita and PSP on 15th May (US) and 16th May (EU), price TBC. It is currently available for free for PlayStation Plus subscribers.

I'm a completist. I love platformers, indie games, bad horror movies and Joss Whedon. You can find me over on Twitter at @ejosully, where I talk about largely unrelated things.