Inside Pulse 12

Review: Insecticide (Nintendo DS)

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Insecticide
Publisher: Gamecock
Developer: Crackpot Games
Genre: Adventure/Action Platformer
Release Date: March 11, 2008

Insecticide is a post-apocalyptic film noir that combines point and click adventure gameplay with action platforming.

If the above statement doesn’t make your mouth water just a little, then you probably shouldn’t be playing games. It is perhaps the single most appealing description of a game that I’ve ever come across. Really, when I heard about Insecticide, I knew I HAD to play it.

Of course, with such an ambitious premise come certain expectations. Combining genres is often a hit or miss juncture usually leaves much to be desired. sure there are games like Puzzle Quest that stand out as shining exceptions to this rule, but the majority of these games are huge disappointments.

Will Insecticide rise to become greater than the sum of its parts, or will it be just another failed experiment?

Story

In the future, mankind has finally managed to totally screw the world up. By genetically altering crops to contain pesticides, they’ve kick started a super fast evolution of the worlds insects. These new bugs quickly become the dominant species on Earth, while the humans devolve into shadows of their former selves called hominids, as the crops they created also happen to be poisonous to them.
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Insecticide takes place in the city of Troi, where the insects are supreme, and the hominids eek out a meager living in the sewers. You play as rookie detective Chrys Liszt, the newest member of the Insecticide division. She’s the stereotypical hot shot rookie with the mysterious past and a penchant for danger. Once you’ve met her, a whole slew of stereotypes come your way. You get a cigar smoking, geriatric partner named Roachy Caruthers, a boss who never stops yelling, a shady arms dealer, an elderly matriarch of a major corporation, and even a screwball scientist being forced to perform dangerous research against his will. Despite the clichés, the characters end up being endearing due to great writing and solid voice acting.

The story starts off with a murder at the Nectarola Corporation headquarters. You and Roachy are sent to investigate, and the first trip will set you after lead after lead as you try to chase down the culprit. Talking to witnesses and chasing down suspects will reveal a crazed plot of world domination (of course) as well as reveal a lot about Chrys’s past and Troi’s dirty little secret.

There are more clichés and bad insect puns that you could imagine, but trust me when I say it works for the game. The only problem comes once the film noir aspect starts to dissipate in favor of an action movie plot. I mean, once you’ve discovered the secret underground hominid city and plans to blow up the insect population using explosive cherry soda, it gets kinda nuts. It could have all been too much, but it manages to stay smart and funny throughout.

Graphics

There are some exceptional visual moments in the game. For instance, the cut scenes are all animated wonderfully, despite some hazy motion because the DS doesn’t like running anything too powerful. Also, several of the character models, Roachy and Chrys in particular, look fantastic and really add to the world the game creates.

Everything else is boring.
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The levels are filled to the brim with bland looking 3d shapes painted dull colors of grey and brown. The rare sections that are colored suffer from poor lighting and a lack of any sort of interaction. There’s a bit where you jump on some leaves to get up, and they don’t even seem to notice the human sized bug on them. They’re still as can be. Most of the enemies are mere color swaps of others. (You’ll fight a LOT of robobugs) and everything looks kind of washed out. It’s nothing horrible, but there isn’t really anything good to say about it.

When you zoom in to look at things during the detective stages, you get an almost freeze frame of the scene. Everything stops moving, even if you can see it moving on the top screen. (These freeze frames show up on the touch screen, whereas the action is always on the top.) I guess this is supposed to be so you can investigate without fear, but it gets annoying.

Characters never move. They stay in same spot, unless some prescripted event forces them to stand still in a different location. These are supposed to be insects! Shouldn’t there be at least a little buzzing or something?

Audio

Let’s start off with the good stuff, shall we? The voice acting is pretty damn good. Roachy’s voice in particular fits his character to a tee. Even though the scenes with spoken dialogue are rare, they are a highlight to be sure. The music is also fitting with some great film noir-like tunes to keep you into the game.

However, the implementation of the audio is horrible. Just horrible. When you go up to talk to a witness, you’ll be greeted with ugly buzzing sound. Not only that, but they’ll cut off in the weirdest places, often before the text of their speech finishes. If the character says anything else, there won’t be any more sound. The “speech” only kicks in at the beginning of a dialogue tree and then strangely disappears.

The music suffers the same fate. Much like in Prince of Persia: Warrior Within, the music will occasionally skip and/or stop for no reason. You’ll also have to deal with what I’ll call the “DVD menu effect” where the music will pause for several seconds while it reloads the track.

Then there are the sound effects. What ones are there are bland and generic, but that’s only if the dev team bothered to put them in. Often you’ll find that you’ll defeat an enemy, and there won’t be any sort of sound. At one point, you rig a power line to zap a giant enemy spiderbot, but there is no sound of surging electricity, no sound of metal hitting concrete, or wires short circuiting. There’s nothing but silence….

….

Controls & Gameplay
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The problem with mixing two genres when creating a game is that you’re going to have to deal with all the major problems of both. (Like Jurassic Park having all the problems of a major theme park AND a zoo as Sam Jackson so wonderfully told us). This is why most of these games fail.

Insecticide is one of those games.

The game decides to split itself into two by having separate adventure and action sequences. The adventure bits are classic point and click affairs where you’ll find evidence and talk to witnesses, while solving fun little puzzles. Unfortunately, you’ll find the controls leave a bit to be desired.

First off, the directional pad is useless for movement. You can use the top and down buttons to go forward and back, while the left and right buttons cause you to turn. You’ll have to control the camera manually with the l and r buttons, but it’s too slow and cumbersome to be worth a damn. When you find a place of interest, you’ll be able to hit the A button to investigate, which will bring up a zoomed in picture on the touch screen. There you’ll be able to tap objects to see if they’ll be worth keeping. Of course, the hit detection is wonky, so you’ll be hitting air quite a bit, and you’ll often be asked to drag evidence over something, usually a person, and this doesn’t work half the time either. At the beginning of the game, I was required to place some memos on the evidence board. This took about two minutes to place four sheets of paper because of the picky hit detection.

Also, it often becomes blatantly obvious what you need to do, but you won’t be able to do it because you haven’t clicked on some random item or opened up some random dialogue tree. For instance, there was a bit in the game where Chrys needs to get into the caboose of a train. The door is guarded by a goon. Due to some not so subtle clues and items I’d picked up, (not to mention common sense) I realized that I needed to create a flash bomb to distract said goon with. I tried for about fifteen minutes to gather the items required to do this, but the game wouldn’t let me take them. Apparently, I had to click the door he was guarding before Chrys would realize a distraction was in order. Another section had Chrys trying to figure out which customer was at a diner the night before, as that would be her suspect. I figured out almost immediately that I would have to trick them into writing their signatures so I could compare them with the receipts, but I still had to go through half a dozen dialogue trees to get Chrys to realize it so I could get the show on the road. The game has one set way of doing EVERYTHING, and if you don’t want to follow it, then tough cookies.

The action sequences are truly horrid though. The directional pad is even more useless when you have to aim or doge enemy fire. They don’t respond, so the enemy often has a wide open shot of you. You’ll be able to lock on and strafe using the a button, but its impossible to predict who’ll you’ll lock onto. When they’re a giant robot with a shotgun pointed at you, and you lock onto some stupid little flying bee and get killed, you’ll curse the game. Oh yes you will curse this god forsaken game.

Chrys’s double jump feels like she’s floating in air, despite not having wings. She’s only able to fire one shot every couple of seconds, so the gunfights are boring, as well at lengthy. Every enemy has a god damned scatter shot gun that makes attempting to dodge completely useless. She can’t fire in the air. There are dozens of tightrope walking sections that don’t work because you can’t use the D-pad with any sort of accuracy, especially when there are giant boulders swinging at you, as well as flying enemies using your prone position to bombarder you with bullets. Most of your weapons are completely and totally useless, and you’ll end up losing all them mid game anyway, only to get new powers that are even MORE useless. The hit detection is way off, and surefire hits will miss, while you’re enemies will be able to shoot through some walls. Hell, I could go on and on, but I believe the next paragraph will give you an idea of what the entire experience is like.
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OK. So I was about a third of the way through the game when I’m told I have to fight my way through a city street in order to capture a suspect. First off, there are robobugs that pop out of sewer gats and shoot at me. Not only is there no cover for me, but I’m expected to throw mines at these guys to seal up the gates. (much like tossing a grenade into the locust tunnels in Gears of War.) Roachy tells me that only a direct hit will get the job done. Well I grab a mine and toss it dead center. It blows nothing happens. I throw one again and hit kill the robobug, but the sewer survives. Then, I toss a mine DIRECTLY into the open gate, and there isn’t even an explosion. Finally, I run right up to the thing and drop a mine, which takes half my life, kills the bug, but STILL doesn’t destroy the gate. It took me about twenty tries to destroy five of these gates, despite having an endless supply of mines. Apparently, what counted as a direct hit changed with each second, because sometimes a mine three feet away did the trick, and sometimes it had to be practically sitting on the bug’s face. But an exact replica of the previous shot wouldn’t get the job done next time. After these assholes, I was to fight a giant spiderbot. After shooting it for several minutes, Roachy tells me my guns are completely useless, and that’ll I’ll need to shock it. This requires me to tightrope walk several power lines to shoot out lights which somehow shock it. Problem is, the tightrope section is hard enough with trying to doge machine gun fire. Also, its never clear which light to shoot, and you don’t know if you should hit just one or all of them on a pole, AND if you fall, it counts as dying because the distance is apparently too high. It has never, NEVER taken me so long to beat such a short level. Between fighting the god awful controls and hit detection, I cussed more at this game than any other I had ever played. I’ve never played Bubsy 3D, but it can’t possibly be much worse than this.

Replayability

I don’t even know why I bothered writing anything here. This game isn’t replayable at all.

First of all, the story isn’t worth the horrendous gameplay. There are no bonus modes or multiplayer or extras to unlock. There is a tab marked extras, but all it has are the cinematics. I didn’t even see an option to play on a different difficulty setting. There’s no new game plus. No secret endings.

There is NOTHING to go back for.

Balance

So when you’re not struggling with the controls, how does the game balance?

Well for starters, one thing you’ll notice is that dying isn’t all that bad. You’ll rarely go too far back, as there are invisible checkpoints everywhere. The early parts of the game are easy, whereas the later parts are much harder. Mostly it sounds pretty good right? Wrong.

For one thing, almost all of the enemies have shotguns. You won’t be able to dodge properly. You are going to get hit a LOT. Also, at one point in the game you’ll be stripped of all your weapons and be forced to play through a gauntlet of tough enemies. You’ll soon get a weak, short ranged pistol, but the enemies all have stronger, better ranged weapons. Of course, as I soon discovered, you’ll be able to simply run past these guys, and avoid dieing too much, which is something earlier levels didn’t allow.

The worst offender is a train level about halfway through the game. You’ll fight dozens of strong, shotgun wielding enemies in tight corridors. You’re always outnumbered, and they’re weapons are mostly stronger. Step into their sight for one second, and you’re toast. Too bad it’s the only way to shoot them. There are some really poor decisions here, and its going to give you so many frustrating moments.

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There’s going to be a low score here. Let me explain why.

Normally, games that mix genres are considered at least slightly original because they incorporate both genres in the core gameplay. Here, there are separate sections for adventure and action. There was never any attempt to mix them. It’s essentially two games bound under one overall storyline. Two bad ones at that.

This game offers nothing new to either the adventure or action genres. It is cookie cutter on both aspects, and it really shows. There might be an interesting new world to explore, but nothing new and spectacular.

Addictiveness

How can a game possibly be addicting when the gameplay makes you want to throw up?

Throughout playing this game, I had to put it down for half an hour at a time so I could do something else and blow off some steam. The only reason I went back was so that I could finish it and review it.

True, there was a bit at the beginning where I was playing to see where the story would go, but that died a horrible death when the story started to sag and the control issues started to piss me off.

Appeal Factor

With the success of adventure games on the DS, a fresh new franchise is always more than welcome. Rather than play the next Phoenix Wright clone, I’m sure a lot of people would have picked up this game. Despite the fact that it’s about bugs belays its serious tone, and it’s hardly a kid’s game.

Still, anyone who does the slightest bit of research on a game will see that Insecticide is broken and money would honestly be better spend on a Phoenix Wright clone. No kidding.

Miscellaneous

There’s nothing in the vein of bonuses in this game. You can rewatch the cinematics, which is cool, and they’re worth visiting again, but that’s it.

I’d also like to reiterate how thoroughly frustrating this game is to play. I know a lot of reviewers say things like “I’d rather take a bullet to the head than play this game again.” In this case, I might just take the bullet. It would be a lot faster, and a lot less messy.

    The Scores

Story: Good
Graphics: Poor
Audio: Mediocre
Gameplay: Awful
Replayability: Worthless
Balance: Very Bad
Originality: Bad
Addictiveness: Dreadful
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
Miscellaneous : Worthless

Final Score: Very Bad Game!

Short Attention Span Summary

diehardjack Somewhere, down deep deep inside of Insecticide, lies the heart of a great game. However, countless poor decisions during the development process have stripped the game out of any fun it might have had and left us with nothing but a broken and worthless title that nobody should by any means pay money for. There should be a PC version of the game coming out at some point, and with mouse controls and a chance to correct the audio/visual problems, I hope that the dev team can create the game I hoped this would be. Please, for all that is right with the world, do NOT buy this game.

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