Puzzle games seem to be the most likely to be combined with other game genres. You can have an action game, platformer or RPG take on puzzle elements and have it be enjoyable. The same can be said for the common shooter, which also seems to infiltrate other genres, like rhythm and RPGs, to create memorable experiences. It makes sense, then, that a developer would try to put these two together, and that's what Alkemi Games has done with Transcripted, a game that meshes the puzzle and shooter genres so well that it feels natural.
Transcripted starts off with an interesting tale, though it could have survived well without one. You play the role of Adam, a programmer for a medical research company that's investigating a new viral strain that could either be human or alien in origin. The virus is threatening to endanger mankind due to its mutating at a rapid pace. With the help of your boss and an AI partner, NADIA, you've discovered that the only way to deal with the virus is to break down its DNA structure. Remotely piloting your nanobot, it's up to you to reach and destroy the heart of the virus before it spreads further.
Surprisingly, the story is quite good. Even though the cut scenes are displayed in the most minimal of fashions, the dialogue makes up for it by being engaging and informative. No matter which stage you go to, the preceding cut scenes make it seem like something big is happening, keeping things fresh. The dialogue between the AI NADIA and Adam is the real reason to view the scenes, as the interplay is sarcastic and humorous, reminiscent of Portal's GLaDOS. Even though you'll still understand the story if you skip the cut scenes, you'll be rewarded if you choose to watch them.
As stated earlier, this game is a hybrid of shooter and puzzler, with each genre getting its chance to shine. The shooter aspect comes in the form of a twin-stick shooter similar to Arcadia, Geometry Wars or Super Stardust, where movement and shooting are independent. Microbes can be shot and destroyed in a level, though your gun is governed by an energy system that slows down your firing rate if you choose to continuously fire all of the time. Shields also come into play, as they reduce the damage you take from incoming fire and collisions with other craft. Shooting down enemies yields ample amounts of health and experience points, which can be spent between levels to upgrade your capabilities.
Enemies also leave behind special colored cubes, and picking them up unleashes the puzzle aspect of Transcripted. In every level, you have a constant DNA strand that needs to be destroyed before you move on to the next level. The strand happens to be multicolored, making the game feel like Zuma, albeit with a more mobile craft in your possession. When in possession of a cube, you'll be slower but immune to enemy fire, giving you time to concentrate on getting the right shot to break down the DNA strand. The protection doesn't last long, however, as you become vulnerable again when you fire off the cube or hold on to the cube for too long.
The merging of the two genres results in a very frantic experience. The inherent juggling of alternating focus between harvesting cubes from enemies and taking down the DNA strand amplifies the fast-paced nature of both genres but does so in a way that doesn't feel uncontrollable. The speed changes when you're in possession of a cube force you to become a little more strategic about when you should possess a cube and when you need to toss it. This interplay between modes and speeds immediately becomes important, as every level throws in a new enemy or game mechanic to test you. Larger organisms can give birth to smaller ones when destroyed. Certain analyzers need to be manually activated to expose more weaknesses in the strain. Other strands need to be slowed down via switches that can only be activated by cubes. Other enemies only react to cubes while boss characters can only be defeated with a combination of plasma fire and matching cubes.
The mixing of genres feels like they naturally belong together. They also seem to benefit each genre independently. Puzzle fans will appreciate the added mobility of your craft while shooter fans will like that the challenge comes from something other than a larger number of adversaries. The constant evolution due to each level's additions keeps things from getting stale, which is important because the game only has 25 main levels and five challenge levels, complete with online leaderboards and restrictions.
When taken at face value, it can seem overwhelming, especially to those who may be used to the reliable pace of puzzle games. Thankfully, there are plenty of ways for players to deal with the action. All of the previous levels can be replayed to gain more experience for upgrades, though it'll only happen if you can beat your previous high score. Also, both the shooter and puzzle aspects have independent difficulty levels. Depending on what you're more comfortable with, you can ramp up the shooting difficulty while making the puzzle elements as easy as possible or make the whole thing a brain-teaser with light shooting.
There aren't really that many complaints one can have with the title, though one can see how some parts might not appeal to all. Despite the varying difficulty levels, some players may feel that the difficulty of the challenges ramps up too quickly. Though new mechanics and enemies at every level keep things fresh, you only have one level to get accustomed to the new addition, and that may not be much time for players who are being introduced to either genre. It also doesn't help that some of those additions don't feel very helpful or, in some cases, enjoyable. Some of the alternate weapons, for example, don't seem very useful when compared to your default gun. The escort missions can feel jarring since you're protecting the DNA strain instead of breaking it apart, and the analysis missions don't feel very useful since the ease with which the strain can be destroyed doesn't differ much, with or without the analysis. The complaints aren't enough to hurt the game too badly because the rest of the title certainly feels polished.
Graphically, Transcripted is beautiful in a minimalist way. The environments are darkly colored, with the foreground showing off less color. The pathogens share a similar tone, with a brightness set between the foreground and background, but they are discernible from the rest of the environment. Your craft and the power-ups are more brightly colored, making it easy to quickly tell what's good and what's bad. The stark nature of most of the world gives room for the cubes, projectiles and DNA strands to get some graphical flourish in the form of light bloom. It isn't intense enough to be blinding, but it makes it more visually appealing and gives it a look akin to what one might see in an electronic microscope, further making it tie in with the medically themed story.
The sound is great. The voices used in the cut scenes are good, with each actor playing his or her role well enough without sounding bored or overacting. This is especially true of the actress playing NADIA, as she masterfully mixes in attitude and emotion to what is normally a straightforward and emotionless role. The music, however, is what really grabs your attention. Unlike your typical shooter or puzzle game, the soundtrack is moody and atmospheric. Similar to the track used for the title sequence for "House," the soundtrack is haunting with a prevailing sense of dread as opposed to the serenity heard in puzzle games or adrenaline-pumping nature of shooting game soundtracks. While it won't necessarily become an earworm, it will leave a positive impression.
Transcripted is a mash-up of the shooting and puzzle genres that feels right. The shooting and puzzle aspects maintain a nice balance and complement rather than contradict. The overall presentation works well, especially for a genre where presentation usually doesn't matter, and the story is captivating. The overall gameplay length is good, and while the difficulty ramps up rather quickly, it also means that there's little to no chance of boredom setting in since each level feels different from the last. Fans of either genre would do well to give Transcripted a shot, especially at the low price point of $9.99.
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