Voxel Blast is a game with a very ambitious goal: to pay homage not only to 3D aerial dog-fighting games but also space shooters. That is a very tall order indeed, since space themed shoot ’em ups are usually 2D top view or sidescroller games. Does it succeed? Keep reading!
Created and published by Ceiba Software & Arts for Windows, Mac OS and Linux/SteamOS.
The story is a fairly straightforward one and something typical of early 80’s Atari games. Titan 4 is being overrun by an evil AI that is for the moment contained in a simulator. You, the player, are piloting a virtual ship inside that simulator to destroy the AI’s agents before it can break free in order to contain the situation and shut it down. It’s pleasantly cliched and it justifies the arcadeish looks.
Plot and graphics-wise the game is OK tending to good. Call me old fashioned, or simply old, but I really enjoyed the retro aspect here.
As I said previously, the goal was to reconcile to drastically different game sub-genres. The style made me think of Tempest, but I don’t mean to say that in a flattering way. I mean it in the way that in Tempest you are fairly confined and there is virtually no way to avoid the enemies rushing at your face.
It’s because of the quirks of the navigation: you can’t turn your ship. You can move forward with varying thrust and you can go up or down, in order to move horizontally you have to tilt your ship until the direction you wanted to move before is either up or down.
It’s dizzying and confusing, even more so when using a keyboard and mouse. The game is supposedly designed specially for keyboard and mouse to avoid the monopoly gamepads have on 3D flying simulators. If anything, I played a lot better when I plugged in my PS4 controller.
When you get used to it, it’s not so bad; even then there are problems. You can’t maneuver well enough to fend off some of the faster enemies, and the difficulty in aiming the ship means you’ll have to rely on the homing secondary fire weapons.
The level design
When you enter arcade mode, which is basically story mode, you navigate geometrical levels to arrive at checkpoints where the enemies spawn. That’s kinda cool and it tests your piloting skills. Then the level proper begins.
It’s a featureless sphere, devoid of anything resembling a landmark or personality. The radar that tells you where the enemies are is completely 2D so it’s absolutely useless and you’ll be confused and flying in circles a lot as you get the gist of the game.
The radar could be improved in a myriad ways: color coding ships based on their altitude relative to you, having a 3D graphical representation of your XYZ coordinates or even removing the radar and just using floating arrows pointing at where the enemies are!
It feels claustrophobic and frustrating, specially in the survival mode that has none of the racing elements of the arcade and thus only the giant sphere of nothingness.
The challenge mode levels are even worse, it looks like an old Windows 95 screensaver. In the challenge mode you have to race to each checkpoint before the time runs out, and there’s nothing in there other than your ship and the next checkpoint. Without even an interesting background, it feels empty even if the racing portions are well done.
Homeworld is a space game from 1999 that has a similar concept of playing in a giant sphere with barely nothing at all, but between clever positioning of enemies, resources, environmental hazards and gorgeous 3D backgrounds, it demonstrates what this game could be with proper level design.
The game has many unlockable ships that you can purchase with points earned. Each ship looks different than the others and their weapons likewise behave in unique ways. Unlocking the ships and trying them out was one of the best parts of the game for me and it shows how great it can be with more polishing.
When you get to the music it sounds pretty well, an electronic beat that goes hand in hand with the graphics and the story. But the sounds effects are awfully poor in quality, it’s shocking how different they are compared to the soundtrack.
I tried to play the game in multiplayer but I couldn’t find other players to test the deathmatch mode. Testing it solo I found it to be pretty typical: you select one of the geometrical levels and a ship and set a time limit, the player that has the highest score by the end wins. Inside the level you also may find powerups to kill your friends with.
While this game has serious flaws it’s not completely hopeless. A content update or a sequel to fix the level design and the ship’s movement may help it reach it’s full potential. As it is, it’s entertaining enough to warrant a purchase from flight sim enthusiasts and retro heads like myself.