A solid isometric shooter in need of a fresh coat of paint
Since the start of the current console generation, no developer has done as much in the shoot ‘em up genre as 10tons Ltd. has. Since 2014, the studio has released titles such as Crimsonland, Neon Chrome and Time Recoil that appeal directly to fans of the genre. Their latest effort, JYDGE, will be familiar to those who have prior experience with the studio. However, after spending so much time experimenting with these trappings, it’s beginning to seem like the studio may need to branch out in a different direction.
Taking place in the same universe as Neon Chrome, JYDGE is a glimpse into the potential dark future of law enforcement. The mega city of Edenbyrg has been beset by a crime wave of nearly unprecedented nature. With standard police operations not providing a good enough solutions, the city turns to the controversial JYDGE program to bring peace back to the city. As one of the titular beings, you’re tasked with taking down a massive criminal operation that has connections to everything from kidnapping to drug dealing.
Story-telling has never been 10tons' strong suit, and JYDGE is no different. It’s basically a C-level take on the iconic Judge Dredd, but minus any of the satire or personality of that series. It’s a straightforward tale about taking out criminal trash, which stinks because I think there is a decent story to be told about the potential over-reach of law enforcement in the future. There’s hints about this dropped over the course of the game, but never anything that is really developed or drawn out. Maybe I was just expecting too much from my over-the-top shooters, but not capitalizing on this story thread is a major mistake in my opinion.
10tons describes JYDGE as a “rogue-hate” shooter, which is nothing if not unique. While I’m not entirely sure what that means, I would wager that it means that the title is not interested in adhering to recently popular roguelike mechanics. So, while its companion shooter Neon Chrome may have embraced that genre, this is a more traditional twin-stick shooter. Instead of constantly changing things up with each new run, the game instead features 16 levels with 12 optional goals available for each one. Each level originally only offers three goals, but as you beat them and progress through the campaign, additional challenges will open up.
Although the variety of goals featured in the game may not be great, I liked the fact that there were different ways of approaching the same mission. For example, one stage may require you to rescue a group of hostages from a pack of thugs. Depending on what the level calls for, you could just barge right in and start mowing down enemies. However, in order to 100% the mission, you could potentially be tasked with saving the hostages without being seen by any enemy. With the parameters of the mission changed, you may have to modify the abilities of your character, as well as find a different weapon to use.
Besides providing that wonderful feeling of success, completing these optional side missions also grants you access to new abilities and weapons. Each successful completion gives you one gold point, and the more of these you have, the more tools you can purchase. These abilities come in four different varieties: modifiers for the JYDGE, new regular weapons, modifiers for your weapon and special weapons. You can equip up to four different modifiers at a time for your character, and making the correct load-out is crucial to mission success. If you want stealth, you’ll probably want to equip the ability that makes you invisible when stationary. However, if you need to survive a fire-fight, you’ll probably want to max out your health and armor with secondary upgrades. There are literally millions of unique combinations at your disposal, so feel free to go hog-wild with the modifiers.
There’s less variety in the amount of weapons you are given, but still a more than expected amount. Your weapon, dubbed The Gavel, can be modified with a series of different stock options. There’s the traditional shotgun and machine gun fire, as well as less traditional augments such as pulse rifle and laser beam. Again, much like the abilities your character can be imbedded with, what weapon you choose will largely depend on the mission type or your style of play. I wouldn’t have minded if there were a few more absurd weapons thrown into the mix, but there’s still a good amount of firearm variety here. You can also modify your weapon with a few different attachments, similar to how the character can be. The ability to turn your shotgun into a long distance destroyer, or your machine gun into a wall-cratering instrument of destruction is just a few tweaks away.
Special weapons pack a more powerful punch, but are limited in supply. While you can equip an upgrade that boosts your stock of these items, you still need to be frugal with how you use them. When you do use them, though, they are capable of turning the tide of battle completely. I typically stuck with the rocket launcher, which is the first one you get, but additional ones such as a slow-moving burst of energy or tiny robotic spiders were necessary for certain missions. Be warned, though, anything that does cause an explosion could potentially kill you. I learned this the hard way more than once.
Mission completion plays a role in more than just item-unlocking, for better or worse. Similar to how acquiring new abilities works, you need to get a certain amount of gold points before you can progress to the next mission. For the earlier portions of the game this is fine, as you can meet the goal by sticking to the core missions. However, once you hit the back-half of the game, you’ll need to grind out the optional challenges for most of the levels in order to progress. I get that 10tons wants you to get out of your comfort zone a little bit, but I hate the idea of locking sections of the game behind these walls.
It doesn’t help that some of the mission types in JYDGE just aren’t enjoyable to deal with. As a Judge Dredd-like law enforcement agent, I wanted nothing more than to just be allowed to walk into a building and dish out justice in over-the-top fashion. And the game does let you do that, for the most part. What I don’t like, though, is dealing with clumsy stealth sections, which really don’t work from a top-down perspective, or frustrating survival missions. Again, if the game would just let you continue to progress through the campaign without making you do some of these, I wouldn’t really mind their inclusion. That’s not the case, though, and it makes for a maddening experience.
As a spin-off of Neon Chrome, it was expected that JYDGE would feature a similar cyberpunk aesthetic. What I wasn’t really expecting, though, was the fact that the two look almost identical. It’s very clear that 10tons used a lot of the same assets from that game for this one. There are certain sections of this game that are unique to it, but it’s still disheartening to see just how much was reused. The kicker here is that that Neon Chrome didn’t look great back when it was first released, and it doesn’t look better now. The levels are bland, and often obscured by darkness, while the enemy designs are basic and unmemorable.
Maybe I’ve just been spoiled by the likes of Hotline Miami and Nex Machnia, but the soundtrack in JYDGE is borderline unbearable. It’s some of the worst, knock-off techno music that I can remember hearing in a game. It’s bad enough on its own, but it also doesn’t really fit the mood of the game. Honestly, it’s so grating and repetitive, that I would have preferred it if there was no backing tracks at all. The sound of footsteps, gunfire and screams is more preferable than whatever F-grade electronica they got for this game.
JYDGE is a perfectly competent top-down shooter that plays it safer than you would expect. It doesn’t try to bring anything new to the table, and I’m kind of alright with that. All I wanted from the game was to be able to dish out justice in the most brutal and efficient fashion and I got that. The title is far from perfect, as the mission structure got a little annoying and aesthetically it’s kind of a mess, but I still had fun with 10tons' latest effort. Not every game needs to rock the boat or reinvent the genre. Sometimes all you need is some old-school, shoot ‘em up fun, and this more than delivers in that regard.