Sunday, October 09, 2011

The bundle keeps on giving: SpaceChem

My excursion into the world of "pay what you want" is turning out to be far more rewarding that I expected. The lynchpin game of the bundle is the very popular Frozen Synapse and although I was keen to see it for myself I didn't expect it to hold my attention for long. It's too early for me to give a definitive verdict but after playing a few levels of the single player campaign it hasn't grabbed me yet. I do see the quality of the game and I suspect that if I was more into multi-player I would get more out of it.

What I didn't expect was how much entertainment I would get out of the "extras". I really enjoyed Shadowgrounds and its sequel Shadowgrounds Survivor, two old school top down shooters. I should warn you that the original Shadowgrounds has extremely long levels (up to two hours) with no checkpoints. A respawn system gives you some relief if you die half way through a level but if you quit it is back to the start of the level so forget about playing this game in small increments. The sequel "Survivor" has mercifully shorter levels and better game-play balance but the story and overall game design are less ambitious. Both games are highly recommended.

Just when I was about to conclude that I had gotten my money's worth from the Shadowgrounds games  I got an email telling me that the bundle had been expanded to include "SpaceChem" and now I can play that too. SpaceChem is a complicated looking puzzle game so I didn't expect much from it but since downloading it last night it has grabbed my attention. It is complicated and it is challenging but arranging the assorted building blocks in order to produce the right combination of outputs is extremely addictive. After each level the game shows your score against a histogram of other players and I find myself compelled to go back in and tweak my designs to try and shave off a few extra cycles or a few extra components. This is a game about building complicated machines to solve puzzles and about being proud of what you built. SpaceChem opts for the "Throw you in the deep end" method of tutorial leaving players to figure most stuff out by trial and error as they work through the challenging levels. In a world where many games go for extreme hand holding this is actually refreshing and there is a great sense of ownership and pride when you do figure stuff out. There is an ever present worry though that I will eventually hit a puzzle I just can't figure out by myself.

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