Since the very beginning of video game history, developers have strived to give us new and exciting ways of blowing stuff up in space. Whether it’s deadly invaders from planets unknown or chunks of asteroids, it’s all been in preparation for Velocity 2X. Strap yourself in, grab yourself a glass of tang, attempt to figure out what the hell parsec is – and get yourself ready for the craziest space trip that you’ll take all year.
The last time that we saw test pilot Kai Tana, she was heading straight into a black hole. Now she’s been captured and experimented on, all the while struggling with her memory. She manages to escape her captors, her timeline clicking back into place as she remembers how she was imprisoned in the first place, and it’s not long before she’s leading a rebellion against those that had held her. Using her top-notch flying skills and her newly enhanced body, she vows to bring down her enemies both in the air and face-to-face.
Mixing genres is a risky business, as anybody who remembers the obligatory stealth sections in old-school first-person shooters will testify. The problem wasn’t that these sections couldn’t be successfully fused, but that they tended to be forced in unnaturally as a way to check off some internal anti-originality checklist: a) Red barrels; b) Annoy the player with an infiltration mission.
FuturLab could have easily made Velocity 2X an improved version of the original – and considering the silky smooth design choices in that game, we wouldn’t have thought any more about it. However, instead it’s decided to risk adding on a whole new style of play, on top of perfecting the already near-perfect gameplay of Velocity Ultra. More amazing than that, it’s decided not to separate these levels, but weave them together in individual stages. Mastering both is the only way to top the leaderboard.
Firstly, the space levels are far slicker than they were before. Saving allies lost amongst the stars and shooting down alien scum may seem like the main objective, but actually that's just a mask for a speed-driven assault course. Dodging walls with the short-distance teleporter means that you can make it across the screen in an instant, and this makes for brilliantly original level design. Later you’ll gain access to a long distance teleporter, which will have you jumping across the entire stage at a push of a button, hitting switches to open up new pathways.
Occasionally, you’ll be forced to park up your ship and jump onto foot. The genius in this transition is that the gameplay stays largely the same: shoot enemies, rush through a maze of pathways, and teleport short distances to get around obstacles. Although the “genre” appears to change, what you’re doing is largely the same. It doesn’t hurt that the actual transition between the two happens without any delay either, something that could have very easily broken the momentum.
Both methods of gameplay are introduced early on, and then are built upon for almost the entirety of the game’s fifty levels. The difficulty curve is masterfully balanced: you’ll never complain about anything being too easy, and you’ll never come to a place where you physically can’t get past a problem. This changes entirely when you take medals into account.
In a game like this, beating a stage isn’t enough – after all, any old person can hop into a space ship and make it to the end of a level, especially in a title that doesn’t have lives. Get to the exit and you’ll be shown a number of statistics: how long it took you to get there, how many people you rescued, how many crystals you picked up, and how many points you grabbed overall. Collect everything, beat the par time, and get all of the points, and you’ll be rewarded with a perfect medal. Yes, this really is as difficult as it sounds.
Picking up everything isn’t that tough if you don’t pay attention to the fact that you have less than a minute to make it through the whole stage, so you’ll need quick reflexes, excellent muscle memory, and complete patience if you want to truly master every single level. It’s true difficulty, based on player skills, and not levelling up over time or beating overwhelming odds.
Genre fans will be happy to know that the sequel adds boss fights into the mix, and they’re everything that you’d expect. Here, you dodge attacks while exploiting gaps in the enemy’s defences; it’s exactly as you remember, but with a few twists – most notably that you’ll end up going inside the foe and destroying them from within. These are great fun and are spread out enough that they don’t become dull or predictable.
On top of leaderboards and perfect medals, there’s also a whole host of additional content to find. With bonus levels, codex entries, cheat codes, and diaries – not to mention the Platinum Trophy – there’s plenty of incentive to keep returning. The perfect medal run alone will probably take you well over 20 hours, and that’s if you do it on your first playthrough.
It’s not just content that FuturLab has been focusing on since the last game either; those that played Velocity Ultra will definitely appreciate how things have evolved visually. The same basic style is definitely still there, but it’s been improved almost beyond instant recognition. With a rock steady 60 frames-per-second, and lighting that has to be seen in motion to be fully appreciated, the Brighton-based studio has set the bar for what indies should be aiming for – retro-inspired is no longer an excuse.
Moreover, Joris De Man, the composer on a handful of the Killzone titles, returns to score the sequel, and provides a memorable musical accompaniment to the action. With a history of writing chip music for the Atari scene, De Man brings a familiar flavour to what is otherwise a very modern sounding set of tracks.
Velocity 2X is everything that a game should be. Requiring skill and dedication, it’s been built for core gamers ready to challenge themselves; for people who desperately miss the likes of Contra and R-Type. Don’t be fooled, though, this isn’t a throwback or even a celebration – this is a modern game done right, and the new standard for which indies have to aim on PlayStation.