PlayStation has always been a great home for the top-down space shooters; games like Super Stardust and Pixeljunk Shooter easily come to mind when thinking of the genre.
Blacksea Odyssey tries to get innovative by combining elements of RPG into the mix. Developer Team Blacksea Odyssey has ported their PC title to PS4 – is it worth your time?
The story is simple: You are one of the galaxy’s best bounty hunters. Surfing on a galactic missile, armed with your trusty harpoon and spear, you cruise into a competition with some of the fiercest hunters in the galaxy to see who can bag the biggest creature and gain glory and renown as the greatest galactic hunter of all time.
As a contestant in this galactic challenge, you are given bounties for creatures of varying difficulties and rewards. You must choose your bounty and earn the highest score in the nine rounds that follow.
While it’s a good story with the game, the story of the development of Blacksea Odyssey is far more intriguing. A gameplay alpha on PC was coupled with a Kickstarter funding campaign to raise ten thousand dollars and get the game from the early conceptual phase to actual release. The Kickstarter goal was met and the game was released on Steam. Fast forward to today, and the game is releasing on PS4. Not bad for a ragtag group of gaming designers.
The primary goal of the game is hunting; the top down shooter allows you to control your character using a two-stick system. The left stick controls movement, and the right stick controls your aiming cursor. Pushing down on the left stick activates a boost which allows you to move around extremely quickly, and also blast through certain terrains on the map. Controls within the game work reasonably well, though at times the field of view may cause some difficulties aiming at an enemy during a pursuit. It should be noted that there are weapons that increase your field of view, however, you must complete challenges to unlock them.
You are equipped with two weapons, the right trigger is your spear, thrown at enemies, and until you are able to find power boosting runes, the spear will cause small amounts of damage. The left trigger controls your harpoon, a much more damaging weapon; however, it must be charged and also reeled in. Weapons and your ship can be augmented by runes, which are dropped at random by certain enemies. Completing challenges, such as killing tough enemies, or completing the game in under 60 minutes also unlock new base spears with modified improvements.
The game can be described as roguelike; a game with procedurally generated maps, old-school style graphics and a steep difficulty curve, similar to games like The Binding of Issac or Don’t Starve. This adds a lot of value to the game, however, may leave casual gamers by the wayside with its challenging nature. Death ends your progress in Blacksea Odyssey, and while challenges can permanently unlock new spear upgrades, most of the damage you’ll do is through the runes you pick up. During my playthroughs of Blacksea Odyssey, I found rune drops very hit and miss, and while death was a guarantee, rune drops weren’t. This can be, at times, frustrating, especially early on – as initial weapons seem weak to a fault (even smaller enemies required several direct hits to kill).
When you slay a boss, they will often drop runes and single use items such as health and bombs. All items, however, pose a challenge as the explanations leave a lot to be desired. The developer has noted that and there will be a day one patch to address this issue, however during the playthroughs where I managed to collect greater numbers of runes I had a hard time deciding how to customize my ship.
The gameplay itself flows fairly well. A number of unique space monsters occupy the maps, with a larger boss lurking in the shadows awaiting discovery. Movement is fluid, and while I felt my weapon was underpowered in earlier playthroughs, the harpoon mechanic worked reasonably well – you can charge the harpoon and if you’ve done enough damage you can rip off an enemy’s limb – affecting their own movement and abilities. When you’ve managed to secure some runes, you are transformed into a truly formidable hunter.
The maps, as mentioned, are randomly generated. Areas of space are honeycombed into sections with small land masses and walls as dividers. Creatures are able to pass through these land masses, as is the player while using the boost mechanism, however, sometimes the land is destroyed by this pass through and sometimes it is not. It was a little inconsistent, and I wonder if we’ll see this addressed in a future patch. It should be noted that enemy fire always passes through walls with ease, the design choice clearly puts the player at a disadvantage when fighting the bigger creatures with longer reach.
Graphics and Sound
Graphically, Blacksea Odyssey does some very nice things. The art design is excellent, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Rock and Roll Racing, Battletoads and Starfox in some of Blacksea’s character and enemy designs. There are some good particle effects, many unique enemies and a number of interesting single use weapon effects. The game runs smoothly, even when there’s a lot happening on the screen.
The old-school electronic soundtrack and sound effects will bring players back to an era of sitting in front of the old CRT monitor playing games all day long.
During my time with Blacksea Odyssey, I couldn’t help but feel this game was designed primarily for a mouse and keyboard, especially in menus. I hope the developers put some thought into how to improve the experience for the console gamer, as I felt this was the biggest drawback. The game is difficult, but hard does not mean bad – and there’s a lot to like in Blacksea Odyssey, especially for those gamers who are looking for a challenge. Blacksea Odyssey team has been a very receptive group online, and have already announced a day one patch for the game. I like to think that they’ll continue pushing the limits of their successful Kickstarted project and chisel out a place among some of the top-down greats on PlayStation.
- Fun to play, very unique top down shooter
- Excellent art design, reminiscent of days gone by.
- When you power up, you are a force to be reckoned with.
- Excellent value for your money.
- Still plays like its been designed for Keyboard and Mouse.
- Difficult to navigate the rune menu.
- Difficulty settings will scare some gamers away.