By: Quinn Potter
There seems to be a tinge of nostalgia sweeping through the gaming world. Highly pixelated graphics, groovy funk-themed side scrollers, games based on D & D lore – and now, a return to Space Invaders with the indie-designed shoot ‘em up Project Root.
Controls are really simple and easy to master. There are just a couple of moves (forward, backwards, and side to side), use of primary and secondary weapons (two triggers), and use of your special ability (press the right button).
Graphics are pretty clean, but not too sophisticated. It’s easy to get a sense of where your plane is and where the enemy is, but the lack detail is a bit of a drawback. None of these futuristic war machines look like much more than an accumulation of squares and rectangles. It’s a little jarring because the futuristic theme is so well conveyed in the setting.
The backdrops are different for each level. Sometimes you’ll be in broad daylight, with a green and lively landscape filled with trees and random futuristic military installations. On other levels, the landscape will be covered with snow.
Sometimes you’ll be flying around and just drop off the edge of a cliff, which is a bit weird. There’s just an endless gigantic pit filled with fog that you fly past to get to the generators (or whatever your target is). There’s no explanation for who / what this is or additional details. Combine the weird background snippets with the occasional glitch enemy ship that forgets to implode when hitting a solid object (said cliff) and you might get the feeling that Project Root was released before it was fully tested.
When things explode (which happens a lot), the graphics are super-detailed and mesh well with the sound effects. Small pieces of enemy vehicles fly through the air across a backdrop of fiery bursts. Explosions are definitely a key highlight for both graphics and sound. Other than explosions, there’s not much else to say about the sound. A repetitive five-note theme from a keyboard provides music for the rest of the game.
Project Root is great for gamers who like to shoot, blow up stuff, shoot some more, blow up more stuff… and, yeah, you get the picture.
As Pilot Lance Rockport, you’ll start with a closed-environment tutorial. The graphics for the tutorial are heavily reminiscent of Tron – black with blue lights outlining objects. You’re here for the express purpose of learning how to fly and use your weapons. Since there are few controls to master, the tutorial goes quickly. From here, you’ll feel pretty confident that you’re ready to face down the Prometheus Corporation.
Any early optimism from the tutorial, however, is sadly misplaced as you’re going to be woefully unprepared for the steep learning curve ahead. Why? Because even though you can fly and fire weapons, you haven’t learned how to outmaneuver enemy attacks or avoid their projectiles. Unfortunately, this is the real drawback of the game. By making the levels so incredibly difficult to get through, it feels like the tutorial was a waste of time.
In addition to the steep increase in difficulty (truly, novices may turn back in the first level), the full-on commitment to retro means that Project Root is lacking in standard devices that today’s gamers enjoy. First, you have a bird’s eye view of your plane.
This diminishes the total immersion that other games bring. Instead of being inside the plane and feeling the heat, the roar, the energy of a potentially fatal one-on-one combat, you watch your plane from above as you fly across vaguely futuristic landscapes.
Second, there’s no narrative to drive the story forward. Lance doesn’t really have a back story, and there’s no clear reason why the Prometheus Corporation is so evil. As a pilot, you have an ongoing list of objectives that pop up in the upper right-hand corner of the screen. Again, it’s hard to feel really committed when you don’t know where you’re going or why, exactly, you’d want to complete each action.
Third, there are no online friends to come to your aid in the super-demanding boss fights that come at the end of each level. Even when you do succeed at a boss fight, the reward (like the music), gets a bit repetitive. After five minutes of constant shooting, you will achieve success and move on to the next level – which will bring more of the same.
Blam, blam, blam! If you like to shoot at enemy forces and blow stuff up, Project Root is your game. Younger gamers won’t have to get drawn into a narrative, join forces with online friends, master overly-detailed controls, or deal with overly bloody or realistic graphics. They can just point and shoot.