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October 2021

The Otterman Empire

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, Xbox One
Genre: Online Multiplayer
Developer: Tri-Heart Interactive
Release Date: July 2, 2020


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PC Review - 'The Otterman Empire'

by Cody Medellin on Aug. 12, 2020 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

The Otterman Empire is a fast-fire party shooter with jetpack-propelled, airborne action in an otter-this-world blend of collaboration and competition.

There's a charm to the Splatoon games that other cute shooters on the PC have been missing. Trianga's Project: Battle Splash 2.0 has a fine premise as a class-based water shooter, but progress on it has been slow since there is only one person developing the title. Senran Kagura Peach Beach Splash has some solid mechanics, but the braindead AI is a poor substitute for the nonexistent community. The Otterman Empire, from first-time developer Tri-Heart Interactive, tries to be the game that captures Splatoon's magic, but a number of questionable design decisions and other issues prevent the game from attaining that status.

In a galaxy very, very far away, otters and other creatures have colonized various planets and live in peace. Unfortunately, the mad scientist Tiko has declared war and is set on taking over those colonized planets with his army of machines. You play the role of Astrid, a member of a peace-keeping force that initially failed to stop Tiko. Now you're out to try again, this time with some help from friends that you pick up along the way.

The gameplay influences from Splatoon are apparent from the get-go. The Otterman Empire is a third-person shooter with an over-the-shoulder viewpoint, as opposed to having the camera directly on the character's back. Almost all of your weapons are powered by water, and refilling the ammo means you have to dive into rivers for a brief moment. All of the levels take place in small arenas, with a total of eight locales.

There are a number of differences. Every level has wildly different goals from the typical King of the Hill, such as activating laser beacons and assembling bombs. Weapons are tied to characters, so equipping yourself with sonic gloves instead of dual pistols, for example, means you're switching out an otter for an alligator. A change in character also means a change in your special ability, so while one character may have a floating turret, another has a savage melee attack. The biggest differentiator is the jetpack, which lets you go sky high and conceivably leap from one side of the arena to another at the expense of your water supply, which powers your ammo. Thus, you find yourself adopting a cadence of trying to complete objectives or going on the offensive for a short while before finding a river to replenish ammo and then doing it all over again.

For the most part, the idea is fine. Most of the missions are more multiplayer-oriented than focused on the single-player, and the variety keeps the campaign fresh. However, the game has some issues. For starters, there are too many pop-ups and menus. Starting a level is an exercise in button-mashing, since you need to verify every cosmetic choice for your character every time you start a new level. The game doesn't bother saving your previous cosmetic selections, so if you love a certain look, you have to manually scroll through each piece every time you play a level. Exit a level, and you'll need to confirm twice that you want to exit, and you'll also need to look at your scoreboard and star total twice. Speaking of which, having stars signify your rank for each level isn't bad, but it would be nice if the game informed you about needing so many to unlock a new stage; you'll only figure this out if you do poorly in a set of levels and are wondering why you can't proceed.

Get into a level, and you'll discover that the game seems to make each playthrough an ordeal. Objective markers are either too small or placed in a way that makes it difficult to see. In some cases, they don't appear at all, adding to the frustration when you enter a level and don't immediately know what you should be doing. Your health is just like your ammo in that it always feels like it's in short supply, but you often don't know that you've been hit, since there's no indicator. Without controller vibration, a flash of red, or arrows indicating the attack direction, you'll die far too often. To add to the confusion, not all attacks cause damage, so you have no idea when you should aim for the objective or fight the constantly respawning enemies.

The biggest source of frustration is in the controls. Even when you aren't being attacked by drones, your movement in the field doesn't feel fast. Trying to initiate things like your corkscrew jump feels like a crapshoot, since the technique is similar to the double-jump; you'll notice this in the tutorial, and you'll come to lament it in later stages, where the objective is to corkscrew jump through hoops to destroy them. The double-jump is where most of the frustrations lie, since you jump way too high and can't control your jump height. Your initial jump is too low, so double-jumping is the only viable means of leaping, but those jumps are so high that you'll often be an open target for your enemies. If you think you can counteract that with turrets, be warned that their aim is terrible, often missing enemies or being content shooting at walls.

As far as multiplayer goes, what you have here is both robust and limiting. The campaign can be completely played with a total of four people, and progress is universal, so switching from co-op to solo play and vice versa doesn't mean you have to restart the whole thing. It works well until you reach the boss fights, where everyone has their own life counter but the game ends once one person in the party dies. That just adds to the frustration about the campaign mode. Versus mode lets you play split-screen in any of the game modes, which is a big plus considering how few titles offer local split-screen play on the PC. The game features no online multiplayer, which is a missed opportunity since the game is already designed for multiplayer.

As for the presentation, the game is colorful and makes good use of the Unreal Engine. Thanks to the small size of the arenas, there's no sign of pop-up for textures or objects; it's a good sign since you only have eight different arenas. Character designs are fine, but you'll wish they had more to their idle and win animations. The sound is where the presentation feels lacking. The music is a fine mix of high-energy sci-fi, but the lack of voices render the brief cut scenes toothless and robs the characters of any character. Combined with the aforementioned lack of sound effects for some important things, and There's no difference between playing The Otterman Empire with full sound and playing it with the audio muted.

Despite having cute otters, The Otterman Empire doesn't work out. The speed at which you deplete your ammo makes shooting more of a chore than fun, while your low health pool and inability to tell where enemies are shooting from means that you'll be going through the respawn sequence far too often. The squirrelly controls don't help matters, and while the local multiplayer is appreciated, the lack of online play hurts the game's potential longevity. For the time being, pass on this one.

Score: 5.5/10

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