Title: Atomic City Adventures Case of The Black Dragon
Developer: Windstorm Studios
Publisher: Windstorm Studios
Genre: Third Person Action
Release Date: August 15, 2011
Retro is the new cool. Although it could be argued that retro futuristic aesthetics have always been a part of gaming, the visual style has been cropping up more and more in the last few years. Atomic City Adventures is no exception to this, yet it does try to do things a bit differently. Instead of dark, dank and dilapidated interiors or destroyed wastelands, Atomic City Adventures shows off a well lit and colorful open world full of life. It is a welcome change to the whole retro futuristic look and one of the main draws of the game. But I am getting a little ahead of myself. The Aesthetics of ACA is one of the main draws, but there is a game underneath all that shiny retro infused goodness. It isn’t a game that should be passed up either.
Exploration and upgrades
The player is cast as a rookie agent in the Vehicular Strike Force, a organization that is out to right wrongs and stop mayhem through out the city. As Agent Rodgers the player will go through the game fighting off groups of bad guys both on foot and in the air using a blaster and a hover-bike.. Each level of the game is really an small open world environment. Although the levels don’t connect with one another, it is nice that each level has a sandbox feel to it. This means that there is no specific order to attack the bad guys. Inside each level, the player is given a list of tasks to do. Outside the main task, which consists of taking down differently themed gangs, all the other tasks are optional. However doing the optional tasks helps find new weapon caches that upgrade weapons in future levels. This helps to add a bit of an exploration element to an otherwise action oriented game. Once each level is beat, the player can return and replay the level to finish tasks list and work on a higher score. Also worth mentioning is that exploration helps with weapon upgrades. Weapon caches are scattered about each level and are a must find to really get the most out of the game.
Since the organization is focused on Vehicles, the player is given a cool retro looking hover-bike at the start. However the bike isn’t the greatest and as the game goes on, more powerful bikes are unlocked. This starts to turn the normal horizontal level design in to something a bit more vertical. The starting hover bike can’t do much outside of launching off of ramps, but later bikes can fly in the air. The ability to upgrade the vehicle in the game as well as being able to upgrade the weapons adds a nice sense of progression. The player can choose from what bike and what weapons to use at the beginning of each level – this helps when going back to a previous level to play through it again.
I can’t help but think this game is anchored n the past. Although there is an open world element to each level, it often feels akin to older first person shooters like DOOM and Duke Nukem 3D. This isn’t a criticism either. It is refreshing to find a game that has no other agenda than letting the player have fun.
The stylized look of the game adds much to this ‘fun’. Retro-futuristic stylings seem to be all the rage now but really, this game nails it. If the hover car scenes from Back to the Future 2 were created with the vehicles from the 1950s, then you’d have the visual stylings of Atomic City Adventures. The main character, however, seems to have watched a lot of anime. She looks like she takes her cues from Major Kusanagi of Ghost in the Shell fame. However everything in the world is bright and colorful and has a sense of hope to it. The visuals seem to say “There are bad people in the world but we can help get rid of them!”
The retroness of the game is also reflected in the voice acting and the music. It wouldn’t be hard to see many of the voice actors playing a role in movies from the 1940s. The soundtrack also has a jazz flavor that is pretty cool, even if the main theme in the levels does get a tad repetitive. I ended up turning the music volume off after a lengthy play session.
Downside of the upside
There are a few irritants that I’ve run across in the game. The first is that the story seems to be basically unnecessary. There seems to be some kind of back-story in the game, but there is nothing that really sets it up. If this game were shipped in the 90s, a manual would have the back-story. However it doesn’t really matter since the player doesn’t need the story to have fun. IT would’ve been nice to see more of the background of this world. There is a bit of background in the briefings before each level, but it is easy enough to bypass that to get to the action.
Loading times are horrendous as well. It often seemed like the game needed a loading screen to get to the loading screen. I understand this is probably because each level is so big and open, however time seems to drag when waiting for the level to pop up. Since the game first shows a briefing screen before actually going in to the level, the loading seems to be doubled.
I’ve also had a hard time getting the frame rate to stay constant. I’ve tried many different resolutions and settings, yet there seems to be a general FPS hit on all them all. This goes away when the game isn’t trying to render all the level at once (Like when I go between posts or inside buildings, for example) but when riding around the city? The frame rate doesn’t like me. This could be an artifact of my own rig, but I generally can get games to where the frame rate is acceptable.
I also wish, as I often do in “open world’ type games, that I could go in to more buildings and do more things in those buildings. I would love to have some type of RPG aspects to the game as well, like a leveling system. It feels like these aspects should be in the game but had to be cut. I could be wrong and it really doesn’t take away from my enjoyment of the game. Maybe this will happen in Atomic City Adventures II.
This game is fun. When I play the game I tend to get lost inside of it. I love the fact that there is exploration inside the levels as well as action elements. It takes me back to old pseudo 3D games back in the day, when secret areas were all the rage. I also love that the player isn’t forced to just stay on the hover bike. There are plenty of times when the player will want to get off the bike and go on foot. The visuals combined with the fun game-play and exploration aspects make me recommend this game.
FINAL SCORE: 85% (B)