Thursday, 28 February 2013

REVIEW - Shatter (PS3 / PC)

Bat and ball games have been around since the very start of video games. Atari's Pong is the game everyone will probably think of when asked to name the first computer game (they would be wrong of course – but it's a good guess) as its simplistic gameplay is an iconic image of early gaming. Breakout came soon after, way back in 1976, and added bricks to destroy with the ball, giving the game more of a single player focus. Taito came out with their own take on the format a decade later with the excellent Arkanoid. Taito added power-ups that granted treats such as multiballs, a laser for destroying the bricks, and one that would increase the size of your paddle. Enemies were also added and would move around the screen, getting in the way of your brick busting efforts. After that the genre didn't really expand much. New games such as Breakout 2000 on the Atari Jaguar and Breakout on Sony's PlayStation added a 3d perspective to the mix, but only made the experience slightly more confusing on the eye. There were also sequels to both Arkanoid and the original Breakout, but that was about it. After all, how can you really expand on such a simple formula? Well now we have the answer with Sidhe Interactive's Shatter. Released on PS3 first back in 2009, and on PC a year later, Shatter is a modern take on the most aged of video game staples. And it is bloody brilliant.

Blue fragments can be 'inhaled' to increase your power bar

Assuming the role of a paddle again, this time one that has escaped from a huge matrix-like computer system, you are again tasked with relieving the screen of all its bricks in order to progress to the next stage, or wave in this case. Shatter shakes things up by flipping the screen 90 degrees to the right, resulting in a horizontal affair that looks wonderful on modern widescreens. Some stages go back to the old formula of vertical brick breakin', and some take place on the circumference of a circle, but for the most part this is a horizontal affair.

Hitting the bricks with the radioactive symbol causes a large explosion

Graphically the game is superb. From the intro sequences showing your escape and the hypnotic and fast paced links between waves, to the actual in-game graphics themselves, Shatter looks wonderful. It has an extremely crisp, colourful, and futuristic look, a cross between a visualisation plug-in for a music player and a horizontal shoot-em-up. Everything is very stylish indeed, from your robotic paddle that rotates and spins as he deflects the balls, to the many different blocks and enemies that you face along the way.

Special mention must go the soundtrack which is simply sublime. It is, honestly, one of the best video game soundtracks I have ever heard, and my favourite since Cold Storage's amazing Wipeout soundtrack blew me away back in 1995 (and still listen to to this day). It is a fantastic blend of techno, breakbeat, and electronica, often featuring exceptionally catchy guitar riffs or 80's synth melodies. It is actually worth playing the game to listen to the tunes, and it is no wonder the soundtrack is available to buy separately, something I urge you to do.

The visual effects are stunning, and the amazing soundtrack
 compliments the on-screen action perfectly

So, we have cool visuals, and an awesome soundtrack. How is the gameplay? Well I am pleased to report that the game is exceptionally good fun. It sticks close to the Breakout and Arkanoid mould - destroy all the bricks to advance to the next stage, miss the ball and you lose a life. As well as the standard immobile bricks expected in a Breakout clone, Shatter throws in some brand new items to destroy. Some bricks will ignite like a firework and fire off into others, causing a big explosion, some blow out air of their own, changing the direction of the ball, and some even spawn red blobs until destroyed. Some bricks are attached to others which, when destroyed, make them float around – much like an astronaut in space whose lifeline to the station has detached. If any of the bricks should hit your paddle you are momentarily stunned, possibly causing you to miss the ball. The floating bricks can also sail past you and disappear off screen, causing your score multiplier to decrease, so it is in your best interest to destroy everything before this can happen.

Many stages flip the perspective to the old school vertical 
style as seen in the original Breakout and Arkanoid

The newest gimmick, and Shatter's main selling point, is the ability to blow and suck air using the triggers on your controller to manipulate the trajectory of the ball, as well as some of the less stable bricks. Using this airflow is vital to directing the ball and keeping bricks at bay as well as sucking much needed fragments and power-ups towards you when you need them the most. Power-ups add power to your ball, allowing you to destroy the more stubborn bricks with less hits, score multipliers and a more manoeuvrable ball. The fragments are unleashed upon destroying a brick and when inhaled are added to your power bar, which is used up each time you use your shield. Fill the bar up and you can activate your special move, which slows down time before unleashing a barrage of gun fire to take out multiple bricks or administer a load of damage to the bosses. Yes, bosses. Shatter features a massive robotic guardian at the end of each world. These monstrous machines include an octopus, an evil doppelgänger called Bad Bat, and an evil clock with a regenerating protective shield. These bosses will require some extreme accuracy as well as nifty airflow manipulation to defeat, often requiring inventive means to reveal their weak points. Defeating the boss, and thus completing the world, takes you to a bonus stage which tasks you with simply deflecting the 3 balls that bounce around the screen at ludicrous speed. This is more akin to Pong than Breakout but is a fun diversion and will put your reflexes to the test. 

The first of many large mechanical bosses you will face 
over the course of the game

Variety is the spice of life of course, and luckily Shatter doesn't get too repetitive thanks to the new mechanics, boss encounters, and the switching perspective over the course of the waves. It is a tough, but fair game that never feels overwhelming, though sometimes the bullet-hell style visuals (especially when there are hundreds of collectable fragments on-screen) can make the ball hard to see, but this doesn't happen often and certainly doesn't spoil the enjoyment. Shatter is addictive, fun and blessed with great presentation and an amazing soundtrack. It won't take you that long to finish, and there is no multiplayer, which is a huge shame, but you can always come back to beat your scores and rank up on the online scoreboards.

Shatter comes highly recommended and is an inventive and brilliant new take on one of the oldest game genres around.

The Good

  • Excellent presentation
  • The best soundtrack I have heard for a long time
  • Enjoyable and addictive arcade style gameplay
  • Online scoreboards

The Bad

  • No Multiplayer
  • More modes would have been nice

Developer : SidHe Interactive
Availability : PS3, PC and Mac
Price : £6.49