Another day, another twin stick shooter from a small UK studio.
The Summer Spotlight continues with full force through August, with some bigger titles coming into play this week. The Long Dark and Tacoma are titles that will be covered later in the week but before that, we have the equivalent of shovelware. Race Arcade and Oh Sir.. The Insult Simulator, for example. But before all of that, lets get a taste in what makes the world goes ’round with Vostok Inc.
Badland Indie have brought us another shooter from a small studio, the studio in question being NoseBleed Interactive, a team based in Newcastle who are responsible for this and The Hungry Horde, which looks like Thirty Flights of Loving meets Command & Conquer, judging from screenshots. A strong lineup, I imagine. So, has Badland brought us another stylish slab of solid slickness like 8DAYS and Dex? Or is this another subject 4 generations behind, like Demon’s Crystals or Castles? Lets break the bank.
You are a businessman, ready to make the world hand over their cash and valuables through commercialization. Together with your annoying associate, you take over the planets and systems beyond the stars, looking to make Moolah, the universal currency. But, there are others who don’t want to see you succeed, as federations, aliens and adorable animals want your profits and begin to patronize and antagonize you in the hopes you’ll disappear. So, it’s you against the universe here.
And here you are, In the middle of the solar system, with a tiny ship and a small gun attached to the end. Your primary source at first will be blasting asteroids into pieces, as they drop cash and you collect your winnings, which you use on the planets in order to build labour-producing resources there. Mines, farms, shopping malls and schools all provide you with more Moolah per second, meanwhile the enemy is also looking to take your hard earned dollars and will do so with lethal precision.
The Moolah-collecting aspect reminds me of the “games” Make It Rain: The Love of Money, and the 2014 browser title Clicker Heroes. It also reminded me of how unbelievably cynical and pathetic the gameplay in that was, an experience akin to counting sand particles. Ironically, there’s more to Vostok than the moolah, and there’s no micro-transactions to get in the way of this space odyssey.
Speaking of odysseys, your ship controls like it’s on a perpetual sheet of ice. You can’t exactly snake around asteroids and you’ll usually end up head-butting them trying to get to the next area. That kind of makes sense though, it’s a rocket ship flying through space, not a motorbike on a slightly winding road, so I can forgive that. What I can’t forgive though, is the endless onslaught that Nosebleed produced here.
The developers want you to suffer. No matter what, they will send endless fleets upon you in order to thwart your money-making schemes, and it never ends. You can’t go five seconds without something spawning from the cosmos to wreck your day, and there’s not really a whole lot of enemy variety. As you progress further through different galaxies, you’ll come across reskins of the same enemy. The bruiser that runs into your ship, the 4 shot spread ship, the giant worm, be prepared to face these enemies countless times, albeit slightly stronger each time.
You might be thinking of taking a pacifist route! Yeah, I ain’t no fighter, I’ll just make money and mind my own business, Elite: Dangerous style! Well, no sir, because scouts will always come out of the woodwork and unless you can dispose of them fast enough, the screen will lock and you’ll face a gauntlet of the buggers until the world is satisfied with your actions.
Or you could just face the music and tread on them. With a single upgrade, your shields recharge faster than the enemies can come at you so yeah, you can tank every single hit in most firefights and walk away, scot-free. A game-breaking tactic, for sure, but the game likes to break rules it set in stone as well, like the enemies being able to fly through asteroids as well as their projectiles, so fight fire with fire, I say.
Nosebleed and BadLand sold this game as “The Wolf of Wall Street.. But with lasers”, and I very much believe that, as the equivalent of Jonah Hill in this game is so unbelievably annoying. It’s like he dyed his hair ginger for his next role in War Dogs 2 or 23 Jump Street or Superbadder.. Or something. Anyway, this man, I think his name’s Jimmy, when he starts talking, he’ll never stop. On and on, he’ll keep spouting the same awful stock market puns, and I hope you like the “Medical stocks are flat lining..” joke because you’ll hear it 786 thousand times throughout your play through.
You will never get a break from this human, his voice is a high pitched babble that seems to emulate the Saturday morning cartoon phone conversations. He’ll even keep tutorializing trivial gameplay elements for you 10 hours into the game, and I already know what you’re thinking. “But Sam, you surprisingly sleazy slapdash man, why didn’t you turn him off in the options?” Grand idea, voice in my head and or the person reading this, but you can’t. This high pitched warble is going to be in your head for the entire game, and it’s so annoying.
Really, annoying seems to be the word of the day for Vostok Inc. It’s so hyperactive in nature, it cannot seem to stick to one mechanic and fine tune that one for it to be the core experience. You’ve got world management, ship management, finding people to recruit in the depths of space, mixing up your guns for efficiency, making sure your executives are satisfied with being attacked by the galaxy while they’re eating posh food, just. Oh god, it’s such a clusterfu- I mean, truck with no real focus on anything.
I believe that beneath all of the muddy design choices, the intolerable sidekick and the lack of calm, there is a game here with charm and personality. But there are so many contradicting elements and mishaps throughout, from the enemies and their projectiles being able to go through obstacles you can’t, the unbearable Jimmy spewing nonsense non-stop, becoming one of the most annoying characters I’ve ever met in any video game, and the choice of quantity over quality leaves Vostok bloated and disoriented.
I might have been a bit too negative on Vostok Inc. here, but there a few glimmers of well-made moments here. The guns have a punch to them, and feel like they can cut through anything, some of the groan-inducing puns do incite a chuckle before they’re repeated 8 trillion times, and the bosses are a good test to your skills. But the negatives outweigh the positives and they make the game a frustrating, bewildering mess without a firm grip on any one handle.
So, that’s Vostok Inc. A lesson in capitalism and a reminder of who really rules the roost around the world. Money talks and the losers walk. And for $12, your money will walk into the brick wall of low-income valley.
A competent twin stick shooter held back by it's failure to focus on any one mechanic.