Velocity 2X Review
A unique combination of genres with tight controls and vibrant visuals
The PlayStation Plus program has been off to a good start on the PS4 for the past year, offering a variety of games that appeal to many different audiences. The latest to join the freebie program is Velocity 2X (free for PS+ members in September, $19.99 otherwise), a shoot 'em up game developed by FuturLab. Once again exclusive to Sony's platforms, this quick action title follows in the steps of its predecessor Velocity, originally a PSP title that was later ported to PS Vita and PS3. Velocity 2X offers a unique blend of space combat and platforming sections, as you make your way through traps, enemies, and teleportation puzzles. This action mix is the game's strongest selling point, as the overall experience is greater than the sum of its parts.
The plot follows Kai Tana, a human woman warrior who has somehow ended up in unfamiliar space and is captured by the Vokh Empire. Following your escape, the rest of the game is spent learning more about where you are, how to combat increasingly difficult enemies, and ultimately how to find a way home. Along the way you're assisted by an alien named HjunRalan III. And that’s pretty much all there is to the story – there are short bits of written dialog before every level, but they serve as little more than a way to string all of the game’s levels together. The static 2D cutscenes have a good art direction, but they are brief and don’t add much to the experience.
Velocity 2X’s gameplay is split into two major types. On the one hand, you’ll be piloting a spaceship through a level that is constantly moving upwards, thus giving you a limited amount of time to fly sideways before you’re crushed by the bottom of the screen. You’ve got a boost if you wish to get decent ratings on the level’s time score. As you pilot the ship, you’ll be shooting and throwing bombs at obstacles and enemies that stand in your way, thus making Velocity 2X instantly familiar to any fans of similar games in the space combat genre or the original title.
What makes this franchise unique is the ability to teleport. At any time, players can use the square button to dash in a desired direction. You’re only limited by the sometimes awkward directional controls, and thus it can be a uniquely exhilarating experience to teleport your way through walls and enemies on the way to the end, as you boost through. It can be a challenging game no doubt, but the nice learning curve will have players teleporting and quickly maneuvering through environments after a few levels of play.
During the early stages, your primary concerns are defeating static or floating foes, and rescuing survivor pods by simply hovering over them. Soon, the mechanic of gates is introduced, where players must shoot numbered gates of the same color in a certain order to progress. The game will always helpfully point out what gates can be activated so there’s no memory work required. Finally, all of the elements are combined in late levels with the further addition of teleportation pods. These can be dropped in the level and then returned to at any time, thus finally allowing you to return to previous locations in the ever-moving game world. These late levels present a fantastic mix of puzzle and exploration, as you must defeat enemies, unlock gates, and teleport between various pods you’ve placed in the level as more gates become available to unlock.
While players will spend most of their time in the ship, Velocity 2X offers a wholly different experience that uses familiar mechanics. Throughout the game, there will be docks where you must disembark, and the game becomes a platformer – the second major type of gameplay. Taking control of Kai Tana directly, you’ll navigate indoor locations while also possessing the ability to short-range teleport in any direction. During these on-foot levels, you’ll be collecting crystals (as opposed to survivor pods, though neither have any effect on the gameplay). Similarly to teleportation pods from the space section, you’ll get a throwable teleport for Kai Tana to use for areas where it’s impossible to proceed via normal means. High ledges, or sections simply impassable otherwise will require the use of this device. Also, just as the space levels need pods to return to earlier visited areas, the platforming sections use this mechanic to return the players to locations that become inaccessible after passing through them once, or to simply save a ton of backtracking time. It should be pointed out that the game will also tell players when to use the teleportation pods in both platforming and space levels, thus making things fairly straightforward.
Running through a level, as you jump and teleport-dash through walls is a fun experience, though it is much more clearly geared for replay value. That’s because unlike the flying gameplay, the platforming is impossible to execute perfectly on the first try since the levels are laden with obstacles. Kai Tana will die instantly from Vokh Guards, as well as heated walls and floors, and it can be frustrating trying to get a decent score on your first run just to die during a platforming section you could not possibly react to without seeing what’s on the other side of the jump. But at least, the controls feel very fine-tuned and the level of challenge presented is fair on subsequent attempts.
Players will be faced with 50 levels, and the goal is to achieve the highest score possible. There are three types of levels – Critical Urgency, Search and Rescue, and Hostile Forces. You can probably deduct from the names that they focus on completing the level with speed, collecting all items, and battling enemies, respectively. Overall though, there’s not a huge variance between what you’ll be doing in each level, though the time allotments and amounts of foes will obviously differ. Your scores are most often based on time, amount of survivors rescued, crystals collected, and enemies defeated. With such a setup, the goal is obviously replay value, and that’s fine for a game that lasts about 2-3 hours on your initial playthrough, plus there are bonus levels to unlock by finding hidden gems.
Where the campaign falters however, is in its progression. Each level is graded, as mentioned before, based on time and item collection, as well as not dying. Depending on how well you do at any given task, you’re awarded arbitrary experience points. Earn enough, and the next level is unlocked. This is meant to be a progression gate to keep players from jumping ahead, and is often implemented in other platforming games. It’s all smooth sailing until the early 40s level, where I was suddenly short of experience and unable to progress. This put a halt into the nicely paced campaign. Now, your only choice was to go back and grind levels to get as near-perfect as possible, and get more overall XP points.
Problem is, I already did very well and collected, at the very least, 75% of all XP available in previous levels. To be sure that this isn’t a problem with my own incompetence, I ventured online to find many others faced with the same arbitrary halt in the early 40s levels. I’ve since gone back to play through and perfected a few of the early levels, but it was not an enjoyable experience, and whatever fun I was having with the campaign had vanished by then. After finally unlocking the last few levels, there seemed to be no point in restricting them – having to be frustratingly perfect and grind for XP in the earlier parts of the game was far more challenging. It’s safe to say that average or even above average players will probably not finish the campaign due to this gated design, which is a shame.
The game has online leaderboards, so friends can compare their cumulative scores. However, infrequently the scores refused to show up and comparing against others didn’t work. Plus, annoyingly, the game will fill your PS4’s ‘What’s New’ stream with multiple panels of scores and records you’ve accomplished.
Offering a bright and colorful visual style, almost like a Saturday Morning cartoon, the title looks good on the PlayStation 4. Framerate is solid, and animations are smooth. The soundtrack is a highlight as well, offering plenty of catchy and well composed tunes mostly in the techno realm. There is no voice acting, but the static cutscenes between levels are well drawn.
Velocity 2X shines as you progress through increasingly complex and challenging levels, most of which are well designed and require exploration and backtracking through the use of teleport pods. Combining the sequential gate unlocks with the threat of always moving screen make for a uniquely enjoyable experience. The music is great, if a bit repetitive, and the visual style is pleasing to the eye. Story is not worth noting, and the arbitrary experience gate will hit most players hard, possibly to the point of discouraging them from ever finishing the game. And that’s too bad, because with all the mechanics on display, Velocity 2X can be quite fun when you get accustomed to the fine-tuned controls.