You’re on a date with a hot girl. Things are going well — you’re getting to know each other, there’s chemistry developing, and you’re enjoying yourself. Then, she throws up on your lap, says all gamers are losers, and spends the rest of the date bitching about her ex-boyfriends.
That’s my experience with Capsized.
Capsized (XBox360 [Reviewed], PC)
Developer: Alien Trap
Publisher: Alien Trap
Release Date: April 29, 2011
Maybe I’m sounding a little harsh. Capsized isn’t a bad game — far from it — but, like the date in the analogy above, I arrived at a point where I was frustrated, uncomfortable, and just wanted it to end.
Capsized is a sci-fi 2D platformer with FPS-inspired gameplay elements, and it presents itself in an artistically impressive package. No, this is not an Unreal engine game that will hold your graphics card at gunpoint — Capsized exemplifies how beautiful aesthetics can be achieved without bleeding-edge technology. Environments are hand-drawn and painstakingly detailed, with post-processing effects adding depth and atmosphere to Capsized’s vibrant alien world.
The game’s story is told through comic panels between levels. No cinematics, no voice-overs, no cutscenes — no need. The comic panels deliver the plot succinctly and fit perfectly with the game’s visual style.
The story is simple. You are an astronaut, and your ship is damaged in an accident. Forced to take an escape pod, you crash land on a planet inhabited by hostile aliens, where you must rescue your crewmates, salvage ship parts, and eventually escape.
The plot may be basic, but that’s part of its charm. It serves its purpose — to give context to the game — without trying to be more than it is.
To help you navigate Capsized’s lush environments, you are given a few tools: a gravity ram, a grappling hook, and a jetpack. The gravity ram expels a short-range burst of force, allowing you to knock obstacles out of your way or give yourself a boost — Newton’s third law is hard at work. Fire the ram against the ground or a wall, and you’ll blast yourself in the opposite direction.
The grappling hook latches onto whatever it strikes, then reels you in along an elastic energy beam/wire/thingee. If a grappled object is light enough, the hook may instead reel it towards you, or reel you both toward each other, allowing you to pull obstacles out of your path. The hook doubles up as a vehicle — with some well-timed grapples, you can swing across levels like Spider-Man.
As for the jetpack, well, let’s face it — jetpacks are a welcome addition to any game.
You’ll need to use these tools in creative ways to work your way through levels and solve puzzles, such as by placing a boulder to hold down a button, or holding slab of rock above your head like a shield to deflect a hail of darts. They can also be used to fight the host of alien baddies that stand between you and escape, but you’ll probably need to make use of the game’s impressive array of weapons that can be found throughout each level. Sci-fi versions of bazookas, shotguns, flamethrowers, and sniper rifles are included, as well as some guns too alien to compare to real-world weapons. Each weapon has two firing modes, further increasing your options.
The aliens themselves run the full spectrum from fist-sized mosquitoes to towering bipeds with guns, and each must be dealt with in a separate manner. Some fly, some remain stationary, and some run at you. Some bite, some fire various weapons, and some drag you away, kicking and screaming.
The variety in enemy tactics, sizes, and abilities is an asset — however, toward the later levels, it becomes overwhelming. The game throws too many different enemies at you at once, suffocating you with snap decisions that will determine whether you survive the battle and punishing you with death for not making optimal choices.
I first noticed the difficulty ramp up when I found myself fighting a new alien that could fly, fire homing missiles, and activate a gravity-well shield that attracts nearby objects (and the player). With the shield mode on, weapon fire is absorbed and fired back at the player once the shield deactivates.
Taking down this bugger was a challenge, and required careful kiting, timing, and use of homing missiles of my own — all while fighting off other aliens. When I finally took him down, I let out a satisfied sigh. I had killed the boss. The level was over.
Until I read the on-screen notification: 1 out of 4 killed.
That’s right –I’d have to do that all over again, three more times, to finish the level.
From then on, it was just one frustrating level after another, as I had to fight more and more enemies in increasingly diverse ways — all while solving puzzles. I felt like I was playing chess with a row of linebackers charging at me.
As you take damage, overlays of blood and cracked glass appear on the screen, obscuring your vision during critical moments when you need to find a route that isn’t crawling with enemies.
Capsized uses the “die, die again” death mechanic, giving players four lives at the start of a level and bringing up the “you lose” screen once you’ve burned through them. Additional lives can be picked up throughout the level, but my issue was never having insufficient lives.
The concept of “lives” is an antiquated difficulty system, a relic from the arcades that made you insert another quarter to keep playing. I understand that Capsized is going for a retro feel, but gaming has evolved away from “lives” for a reason.
Dying sucks. It breaks immersion, removes the tension you felt as your health was dropping, and reminds you that you’re playing a game. Capsized otherwise does a wonderful job immersing you in an alien world with its visuals and music — I wonder how having only one life and a dialed down difficulty would change the experience.
Between the jetpack, hook, gravity ram, and wall jumps, Capsized offers so many methods of locomotion that simply navigating levels is fun — it would have been nice to see this aspect of the game focused on more, with difficulty arising through a need for greater navigational skills, rather than just cranking the number of enemies up to “ridiculous.”
Although I was eager to complete the campaign, I must comment on how short it is. With only 12 levels, the game can be completed in a few hours. It feels as though the content for a longer, less difficult game was squeezed into this 12 level package.
Apart from the campaign, Capsized offers a number of fun Arcade modes, such as Survival, in which you fight an endless wave of enemies, and Bot Match, where you can fight in astronaut versus astronaut death matches. If you can connect a gamepad to your computer, you can even play splitscreen Duel or Coop modes, though that is unfortunately the extent of the multiplayer.
At the end of the day, there’s some good fun to be had in Capsized, but unless you’re a hardcore platformer gamer, the difficulty of the campaign may sour your experience.
- Art direction
- Innovative movement mechanics
- Varied weapons and enemies
- Physics is put to good use
- Overwhelming difficulty
- Short campaign
- Multiplayer modes are restricted to splitscreen with a gamepad