Daily Independent: Atomic City Adventures — The Case of the Black Dragon

The Daily Independent is a recurring feature in which we shine a light into the darkened wilderness of indie gaming, illuminating both the good and the bad of what we find there.

The first thing you notice about Atomic City Adventures — The Case of the Black Dragon is its distinctively retro-futuristic aesthetic. The cop glowering at you on the title screen is straight out of the fifties, even if he is sitting on a state-of-the-art hoverbike. Men in trenchcoats and fedoras abound in the background, and the ads all have that un-ironic pep that defines the middle part of America’s 20th century, at least in the popular imagination. What really clinches it is the music, an infectious, horn-heavy blend of swing and electronica that acts as the perfect musical incarnation of retrofuturism.

When it comes to the player character, however, ACA suddenly gets all cyberpunk. Pam Rogers is a former cop and a new recruit at the Vehicular Strike Force, a specialized law enforcement agency known for their reliance on a variety of badass-looking conveyances. VSF officers are apparently also allowed some leeway in the uniform department — Rogers’ getup pairs skintight, low-cut red spandex with a Judge Dredd-style visor and epaulets — needlessly to say, she cuts a comical figure.

That’s not to say that Atomic City Adventures takes itself too seriously. As I watched the first mission briefing, delivered through what looked like a vintage television set, I was amused to learn that the first adversaries the game would be throwing my way were a gang of bored housewives called the Damsels. These felonious females are apparently married to other, badder criminals, and decide one day to get in on the action armed with laser pistols and an array of quips about wearing the right shoes.

To combat them, Rogers is issued a heavily armed hoverbike — vehicle combat both on land and in air forms the main part of the gameplay in ACA. Once you’re dropped into the world itself, the game’s similarities to Grand Theft Auto become apparent: your buxom is avatar is controlled from the third person, and your native environment is a large downtown area, with vehicle and foot traffic seeded everywhere.

The design and textures are serviceable and mostly attractive, though notably low budget. I hopped on my hoverbike…only to find that it was stuck fast on an invisible object. Luckily, the game’s first loading screen tip taught me how to combat this problem: simply hop off the bike and press Y to summon it somewhere else. Though this mechanic undoubtedly comes in handy after you’ve spent a while wandering around on foot, it also smacks of an inability to fix the “hoverbike gets stuck on things often” problem.

Once the initial transportation hiccup had been resolved, I began a routine patrol, which soon devolved into shootouts with the Damsels and some “Synthetic Soldiers” who showed up announced (their design, again, leaning more towards cyberpunk robots than retrofuturism). ACA’s roots as an MMO show in the combat — every time you do damage, small numbers float up above an adversaries head. Shooting is skill-based, but you can lock onto a target and use various weapon systems that never miss but require a small cooldown.

Blowing away the Real Housewives of Atomic City had its pleasures, and being able to strafe your hoverbike made for a twist on vehicular combat. Even better were the chase sequences; some enemies make a break for it when you show up guns blazing, and running the rabbits to ground and obliterating them in a hail of plasma was consistently the most entertaining part of the game.

The game’s second mission introduces a missing person plot, which in turn provides the investigative pedigree implied by the game’s title. Spread across seven missions, The Case of the Black Dragon is likely to be but the first in a variety of Atomic City Adventures, and fans of open-world hoverbike combat and retrofuturism should look forward to more. Released on August 15th, the game is available on Direct2Drive for 14.99.

Check out our two previous Daily Independents, on Revenge of the Titans and Dead Horde!

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