An inexpensive action title that doesn't have enough merit to stand out
There’s no shortage of low priced indie games on Steam, and with the rise of Early Access and Greenlight (soon to be phased out), the amount of games appearing on the digital distribution service is downright staggering. It can be difficult to stand out, with all these small and often cheap releases competing for player attention. One such recent release is Wells, a side scrolling 3D shooter. Despite its ambition to offer enjoyable and steampunk inspired action, the game fails to impress in any capacity.
Players assume the role of titular Wells, a character that has seemingly been wronged, and is on his way to exact revenge on the man running an evil corporation. The only plot elements of the story players get are a few low-budget stylized cutscenes, with a man occasionally narrating with a thick accent. Beyond that, the game is largely unconcerned with the story, mostly using the brief videos as a way to transition between different level locales. With games such as this though, you don’t really expect a story, and certainly not when it’s a budget title.
Wells plays as a basic side scrolling shooter, with your only control options being to shoot, switch weapons, jump, and sometimes slide or crouch. The game handles OK with either keyboard/mouse or a controller, though it never quite feels satisfying or precise. Thankfully, the game doesn’t really demand precision either, in combat or in platforming. The levels, of which there are about 13, are linear and see players shoot through a number of bad guys while occasionally jumping up/down to ledges, or traversing on moving platforms. Wells doesn’t offer any unique experiences as a side-scroller, but at least it does have some standard genre variety – basic platforming, enemies coming from many directions, on-rails sections, and so forth.
The game can get mildly entertaining on occasion, especially during scripted sequences or boss fights. The latter are again quite stock standard and offer many genre clichés due to their attacks and weak points. Each level usually ends in a boss encounter of sorts, and in general each level takes maybe 15 minutes to complete. That is an acceptable length for a low priced title, though there’s little replay value here. There are no collectibles or upgrades to hunt for, enemies spawn and behave the same way, and the experience is very easy. You can complete the entire game without dying or breaking too much of a sweat, and killing all enemies, which gives you an S rating. But again, it seems completely superfluous; there is nothing to unlock or any leaderboards.
Shooting feels just OK. There are five weapons to work with, which unlock over the course of the game. The basic pistol does decent damage, while a ball-launcher can knock multiple enemies out; a remote-controlled grenade launcher comes in handy against a specific enemy that has a shield, and can also be used to occasionally destroy parts of the environment. Later on you unlock a submachine gun which renders your starting pistol useless, and a sort of acid-spewing gun that damages certain enemies and items before they can be destroyed by the conventional weapons. Swapping between the weapons is instant, and you have unlimited ammo for them all. The only inconvenience is the reload time (which again is automatic, and there is no way to do manually). There are a few rare enemies that must be defeated using a specific weapon, but for the most part you can blast away using the pistol/submachine gun.
The game does run into some trouble as well, beyond just being quite shallow. With no upgrades for your health or weapons, the entire game is quite easy and has almost no difficulty curve, since you’re facing largely the same foes throughout. The enemy AI is very simple, but they do shoot with perfect accuracy. Your bullets can bounce off walls, which could have been a strategic element, but it never comes to fruition and mostly serves to overwhelm the screen even more during intense firefights. One enemy type – the spiders – do no damage but simply slow you down temporarily; and for some reason they can attack through surfaces. When you must interact with levers, you must hit them two or three times – a seemingly pointless mechanic. The same melee attack also happens if you are near an enemy, overriding your ability to shoot, which can result in the one or two needless moments of panic.
In presentation, Wells is about what you’d expect from a very low budget title – animations are always the same basic ones, as are the weapon sounds, explosions, grunts, and yelps of defeated enemies. It does grate after a while, but there is at least some decent (if repetitive and simple) background music to distract. Audio design keeps it cheap by outputting in only 2 channels – you only hear the weapon fire in the direction you’re facing. The levels themselves are equally basic and won’t impress, though admittedly a few of the background scenes do look neat. As a PC port, Wells doesn’t really impress – despite lackluster visuals, the game experiences plenty of stutter if you focus on the backgrounds instead of the characters. You can’t remap the controls, and a resolution is limited to 16x9 aspect ratio. When trying out a controller, the game had trouble recognizing the D-Pad, and refused to let us crouch with the analog stick.
Wells is a game that was made with its $10 price tag in mind, and it shows. The gameplay is merely competent enough to see you through to the end, but almost every aspect of the experience comes up short in some way. It looks average, there’s not much replay value, and the mechanics are rather shallow. At the end of the day you probably do get your money’s worth purely from a content perspective, but there’s not much fun to be had here, nor does the game have any hope of breaking through the thousands of similarly priced titles in the Steam catalog.