Hands-On Preview: Wasteland Angel (PC)

Wasteland Angel (PC)
Genre: Arcade Shooter
Developer: Octane Games
Publisher: Meridan4
Release Date: Summer 2011

I have always been fond of top down shooters. I didn’t know anything about Wasteland Angel itself or Octane Games going in, but with recent games like Assault Heroes, I figured that it would be something to give a try.

The story mode is very simple. You are in control of Angel and her car, Gypsy in a post apocalypse wasteland. Your objective is to defend towns from oncoming renegades & mutants. Yes, probably sounds familiar because all games and movies have played out like this in one way or another since Mad Max 2. You defend the towns from waves, with the enemies’ objective being to capture civilians from each town (and kill you, of course). Each wave gets progressively tougher and etc, all things we have come to expect from wave attack games by now.

Each town is broken up into four different chapters. You play through two chapters against regular enemies, this is usually one chapter set during the day and the other being set at night. The third chapter is a boss battle, after fighting off a few waves or so of regular enemies to get the pick-ups required to beat said boss. The final chapter is a bonus round. There are a variety of bonus rounds; in one you see how many enemies you can kill before you deplete your health bar, in another you see how many check points you can hit before the timer depletes.

At the beginning of each new area you unlock, you get to see a motion comic strip of Angel with an overdub of her voice explaining what is taking place. I like the addition of the comic strip, but it doesn’t really add very much to the story itself. In between each chapter, the story progresses through our hero (Angel) and the town representative conversing through radio. It added little to the story for me, as I was more interested in destroying enemy vehicles or setting up traps for the incoming waves.

As with most games that are set in post apocalypse nowadays, there are a lot of grays and browns in the landscape. The graphics are decent, you can make out what things are suppose to be and the towns have a good amount of detail for being as small as they are in the top down view. The real problem with the graphics in this game is when you play the bonus levels. For whatever reason, the developer decided that you would play the bonus levels from a first person view. While I like the idea, it definitely seems like a novel idea at best. The graphics during these levels are the type of graphics you would have saw on during the early days of the Playstation 2. The vehicles basically look like box cutouts and the machine gun you use to kill the enemies look like lines drawn from the Paint Program on your computer. I thought it was a cool idea, but it clearly wasn’t something that wasn’t fully developed.

In terms of sound effects, the game gets it right with the machine guns, rockets and explosions. The voice acting by the main character is solid enough. The rest of the voice acting is mostly forgettable. The main theme music during game play sounds like the type of music you would listen to when playing poker, albeit with a little bit more rock overtones. I make this comparison due to the Texas Hold’em game on the XBox Live Marketplace which has similar music. About half way through the game, I muted the music through the options menu.

The controls of the game felt a little bit sluggish to me when I was using the keyboard/mouse. When I switched to a gamepad, it worked out better. The controls were pretty simple, I really only used the steering, accelerate & machine gun controls throughout the entire game. The special weapons were helpful at times (they are needed against the bosses), but most of the time I found the machinegun to be the most useful of weapons. The simplistic nature of the controls is actually a good thing, because the version of the game that I played did not allow me to re-map the controls. I imagine that is something that may be in the retail version of the game, but it was something that bothered me a little bit.

I also experienced a couple of bugs while playing this game. A few times my car got stuck on a railing and I was unable to move, basically just left there to die. Then when I would respawn, I would respawn in the same position. It would force me to quit out and restart.

Another problem I experienced was when I tried to launch this game on my dual monitor setup. I primarily launch games on my right screen (and if they are in a window format, I move them to the left), but Wasteland Angel would always launch on my left screen. The problem with this was that it would only allow me to move the mouse about halfway across the screen on the left. This was a big problem for me during the early towns of the game because the interface wouldn’t let me click on them. If I closed and re-launched the game a few times, it fixed itself. But even that fix came with a price, if I closed and re-launched enough times, the game would re-arrange the shortcuts on my desktop. This didn’t affect the actual gameplay for me, but it made me wonder what it was going to do next whenever I opened the game up.

For myself, the game offered very little incentive to go back and play more after I beat the game. I didn’t care to beat it on harder difficulties and I am not a scoreboard watcher. If you are someone that cares about those things, then it will offer a degree of replay appeal.

The balance in this game is good. I played the game on medium difficulty through the story, though I did play the three other difficulties for a few levels to get the feel of them. On medium difficulty it progressed accordingly, the early stages were seemingly too easy so the player could get their feel for the game and become more and more challenging as it went on. By the time I reached the last town, the enemies were setting up sentry guns and taking much more damage than they were early on.
The different difficulty levels were also fair while I played them. It just geared to how good of a PC gamer you are, which is probably why I fell into that medium difficulty level.

Not much originality for this game. The setting has been played out, especially recently. The wave of enemies aspect has been played to death recently as well. Though at least for this game there is an end and it is incorporated into the main part of the game instead of just some add-on. It does give you that nostalgic feel of arcade shooters, but doesn’t expand much on the formula that has been put in place before it.

The game for me was overwhelmingly addicting for the first hour or so because I thought that each new chapter there would be a new board to play and vastly different enemies. Sadly that was not the case and by the time I reached the second town, I had basically seen what the game was going to offer the rest of the way.

It was not a burden for me to finish the rest of the game, as the gameplay was still good enough to keep me going, but the level of excitement I had went way down. It just furthers my thought the game as a whole was a missed opportunity.

It’s nice to see top down arcade shooters come back in recent years. I have had fun with quite a few of them (namely the Assault Heroes games), and little to no fun with others (Red Faction Battlegrounds). This game feels more into the first group for me than it did the second group. It is easy to see that there is definitely a market for these games. I have no idea how much Meridan4 or Octane is going to charge for this game, but it does feel like it should fit somewhere in the $5 – $10 range.

Though even if it falls somewhere in that range, I don’t think it will wow you in the terms of bang for your buck. I don’t think anyone will be upset they spent that kind of money on this game, as it should provide a handful of hours in entertainment, but I don’t think it will be a game you will remember a year or so down the line.

Wasteland Angel contains no frills, it is your basic arcade shooter that you likely played back in the day. The sub-weapons are there, but they add little to the game in my opinion. The style of the game is something that has been done before, which doesn’t necessarily make it a bad thing, it’s just not unique in the least.

Overall, Wasteland Angel is a fun game, but it gets old quick. The story is lacking and the replay ability is close to nil (unless you care about scoreboards). The controls were a bit sluggish at times, and the game play worked better with a gamepad than a mouse and keyboard. I appreciate what Octane games tried to do with this game. Octane games didn’t really deviate from the formula that has been established for top-down shooters / wave attack games. Some of the ideas they tried to incorporate (namely the FPS bonus levels), were just lacking in almost all areas. In the end, the game is just entirely too short and repetitive.

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