Monday, December 04, 2006

Small Arms Review

When I first saw that YouTube video that was leaked onto the intertubes months ago, I thought, ‘Wow, I gots to get me some of that!’, and from that day on I was clinging on to the hope that A) this would topple Geometry Wars as my most played Arcade game, and B) it would give me the Smash Bros. Melee style gaming I’ve been craving for ever since I got my 360 and it's arcade service way back when. I’m thrilled to say both of those came true. Read on for the full review.

Obviously comparisons are going to be drawn from Small Arms and Super Smash Bros. Melee, but throughout this review I will bring in Smash Bros. when it’s crucially important.

The first thing which will strike you when you load up Small Arms is the graphics, the opening sequence really hits you, with a highly detailed character, explosions, the works, they look fantastic. For an Arcade game too, it’s all the more impressive, add to this the fact it’s a tiny download and you’ll be pondering how they fit something this good looking into a 50mb package. Throughout both the single player missions and the multiplayer arenas, you’ll be impressed by the art style and how detailed the environments and weapon effects are.

New to Small Arms, you don’t know how it plays? I hear ya.

This is a pure combat game, no story, nothing like that; this is all about the gameplay. Amazing gameplay at that, but more on that later. The combat takes place on a 2D arena, full of different platforms, holes, trapdoors, lifts and gas chambers. Along with the mandatory weapon and health pickups, it’s feature packed and ready to go. The aim of the game is to take down your opponent before he takes you down. Simple really, however, add to all the previously mentioned hazards and multiple opponents and we see things start to get hectic.

The scoring system is simple too, you get a point for taking down an opponent, and you lose a point for suicides (either falling off the side of the level or into a pit, or accidentally hitting the wall next to you with one of those Molotov Cocktails). That’s it, you don’t lose a point for being taken down, which was a good move because it adds to the mayhem by eliciting a ‘what’ve I got to lose’ attitude while playing the game.

If I have made it sound complicated, trust me when I say it isn’t. The controls are very intuitive, they take 5 minutes to get to grips with, and about half an hour to really get good at. That’s pick up and play if you ask me. Every weapon in the game has a primary and alternate fire functions, the latter usually being more powerful and more of a drain on the weapon’s ammo. When you’ve run out of ammo for that weapon, you’d better get looking for another weapon or an ammo pickup as melee (X) is generally ineffective. The primary and alternate fire are designated to the right and left triggers respectively. Movement is with the left analogue stick and aiming with the right. You’re prepped, soldier (read: chicken with flamethrower), get to it!

There are 8 levels in Small Arms, which each varying from the next often in dramatic ways. Last time I checked a ‘Moonbase’, ‘Tornado’ and fast moving ‘Train’ were pretty different from one another. Each level offers lots of variety within them; I’ve found that there are more than a few choke points in most. I’ll give you an example of two of the more diverse levels.

‘Waterfall’ is visually a treat, the water effects are very well done in that you appreciate the background waterfall, yet it doesn’t distract you from playing. There are several different platforms on this level with a large log in the middle which partially obstructs your vision your character; this leads to some exciting blind fire conflict in the middle with many an outcry from the loser of the feud.

‘Train’ is a dynamic level, the camera is constantly tracking across the train, so you are forced to run and gun. This can be fun, but I often found it frustrating and unfair when playing against AI. You have a few seconds after the screen leaves view of your character to get back into the picture before you die. There are often pits you can fall down on the ‘Train’ which can be difficult to get out of, and when you have no view of your character, it’s nigh-on impossible to get out, yet the AI manages perfectly, every time.

There are several characters in Small Arms, 12 to be exact. Each has their own specific starting weapon. Visually, all the characters ooze personality and each are in stark contrast to one another. As for how they play, other than their starting weapon, there isn’t much to differentiate them.

The AI is fun to play against; the mission mode is fairly lengthy, considering you’ll be wanted to go through multiple times to unlock everything. The mission mode consists of battles of increasing difficulty, be it due that they are harder to take down or that there’s more of them, providing a decent challenge.

But playing against your friends is where it’s really at. I have to confess I haven’t played online all that much, I’ve preferred to play against friends who’re sitting next to me on the couch (plus there’s always bots to fill the numbers), and there has been many a final duel between me and a friend along the lines of ‘kill one more and I’ve won!’ which has provided for some great multiplayer moments I haven’t experience since Smash Bros. Melee. Gutted there’s no Pikachu in Small Arms huh? Okay then, just me.

The game is an absolute blast in multiplayer, single player is solid also, as there are unlockables to keep you coming back for more. But this is no perfect game, there are some niggling little things which annoy me, no matter which character you choose, you can pick up any of the randomly spawning weapons, and those goes for your opponents too. This nullifies the point of having all those different characters and their individual starting weapons.

On a more personal note, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every minute I’ve played Small Arms, it’s a perfect complement to any get together of friends, and I’m avidly waiting getting the full four of my buddies (wait, I have more than four buddies, that’s the player limit…oh never mind…) to see who is the king of Small Arms. In terms of characters I’ve yet to find my Pikachu, but I’m working on it! My favourite level is the ‘Sewer’ as you can trap someone in a gas chamber as they selfishly go for that luring weapon pickup. Excellent level design, fantastic and tight gameplay, and the best Multiplayer of any Xbox Live Arcade title hands down. Highly Recommended with the 'DannyOB seal of approval­'™.

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