Publisher: Crunchtime Games
Developer: Crunchtime Games
Release Date: September 3, 2008
There are few downloadable games out on the market as addictive as Geometry Wars or as polished as Super Stardust HD. These titles stand at the pinnacle of modern arcade shooters, with swarming enemies, various game modes and insane action constantly bringing you back for more. Shred Nebula would like to share a spot on this hallowed ground, but it falls just short of greatness. While all of the elements are there, the game never comes together into a fully fleshed-out experience, and small detractions hold it back at every step. This is a good game, but it is by no means ready to dwell among the heavyweights.
You'll likely go into Shred Nebula expecting the same two-stick shooting setup that has become all the rage these days, but you would then be in for a surprise, as the title eschews the new convention in favor of something more complex. Rather than steering with the left thumbstick and controlling with the right, ship functions are mapped all over the controller, forcing you to wrap your brain around a complex set of ideas before you can easily navigate your vessel. With different buttons controlling thrust, reverse, primary and secondary weapons, special weapons, boost, active shields and hyper jump, the whole setup can be quite daunting. After a while, the controls all start to fit, but they never reach the point where they become intuitive. Even after several hours with the title, you'll still likely fly into dangerous gases or slam into enemy ships because you were too busy juggling commands to keep it all straight in your head. Hardcore gamers who believe modern arcade shooters have become too easy will be pleased, while everyone else will be flustered for quite a while.
The game itself features both single-player and multiplayer components, with the single-player experience being broken down further into story mode and score attack. The story is your typical sci-fi formula, where you are sent alone piloting a ship known as the RIP Rocket to investigate what has happened to the "Lost Expedition," a team of ships lost over the course of a decade. As your adventure progresses, you'll come to discover that there is no simple explanation for what has happened, as wars between various alien species and experiments gone awry have caused the whole galaxy to hurtle toward the very brink of collapse. Of course, you must set things right all by yourself, in a manner befitting an intergalactic hero. The story is actually fairly interesting for those who wish to follow it, and you'll likely get a kick out of the various races backstabbing and lying to one another all in the name of some goal that none of them quite understand.
Story mode is composed of 22 stages, each of which is both a beauty and a beast. The levels are beautiful, featuring nicely layered graphics full of stars, planets and swirling nebulas, and yet these same graphics cause significant headaches. The biggest graphical issue is that it's nearly impossible to tell which objects are actually part of the stage and which are part of the background, so you'll likely find yourself flying into rock walls and asteroids simply because it was impossible to know they were actually part of the level design. There is nothing worse than trying to shake an enemy by flying through an asteroid field that appears to be in the background, only to suddenly smack into a rock that's actually a part of the stage.
Most of Shred Nebula's stages play out in a similar fashion, wherein you are normally beset by waves of enemies while you try and track down a beacon or make your way to specific objectives marked on your map. Every third level or so culminates in a boss battle with a particular enemy's "juggernaut" class ship, and these battles typically devolve into you running and hiding long enough to recharge your shields so you can bounce the big baddie's shots right back at him. Really, the whole experience is essentially an exercise in cut and paste, with each new alien race attacking you with the standard complement of small "swarm" ships, more capable fighters, and then a capital ship meant to decimate you once and for all. The only thing that keeps the experience even remotely fresh is the fact that each race of baddies has a different set of special attacks to keep you on your toes.
As you play, your ship gains new abilities, and your weapons will power up to stronger and stronger versions. Strangely, story mode contains no real death penalty, and even when you run out of your allotted ships, you are simply plopped right back down where you exploded with a new set of lives. Really, the only incentive to not throw caution to the wind and plow straight into danger is for the sake of keeping the fire rate increases and power upgrades you've snagged for your main weapon, but you can easily regain any power you've lost within a level or two.
Once you've blasted through the campaign, which shouldn't take more than a few hours tops, you can jump over to score attack, where you are given a finite number of ships and instructions to survive as long as possible. Each stage is comprised of five waves of enemies, each wave more difficult than the last. Also, as you progress through the levels, you face tougher and tougher foes until, eventually, you are bobbing and blasting your way through boss ships with every wave. This is clearly the mode meant for the hardcore, and you'll find it to be much more exciting and rewarding than the more simplistic and forgiving story mode.
Shred Nebula also showcases a bit of multiplayer, with local co-op and online deathmatch making appearances. The co-op is actually a bit of a pain, as the screens are split vertically and everything on-screen is considerably shrunk. Deathmatch is considerably more fun due to options at your disposal. Whenever engaging in a fragfest, you can choose to pilot not just the RIP Rocket, but any enemy fighter in the game as well. That lends itself to all sorts of strategic play, as you can opt for the ship that leaves a toxic trail in its wake if you're afraid of being followed, or the versatile craft that features both aggressive and defensive modes, allowing you to switch strategies on the fly.
While Shred Nebula is definitely an enjoyable game, it never manages to overcome its faults and really shine. The visuals are nice, but the environment can be hard to discern. The story is fairly interesting, but it's told in a completely non-engaging way. The combat is fun, but it's also highly repetitive, and the same strategies work on almost all enemy types without fail. If you are really in need of another space shooter, then this isn't a bad choice, but if you weren't already eagerly anticipating Shred Nebula, there's nothing here that makes it a must-play experience.
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