Date: July 13, 2021
When judging a game, or any piece of media, I’ve often struggled with whether or not the way in which it was created matters. If someone shows me a regular old 3 bedroom house, I’m not going to start gushing — but if they tell me they made it by themselves, and without power tools, now I’m impressed.
So, when I learned that Radio Viscera developer Fireface was one person (Owen Deery), I was impressed. To someone like me who can barely create a header for an HTML document, the idea that someone could not only create a game’s engine, but then write the music and story to go with it? Nothing short of amazing. The question then becomes, is it fair to compare a game made by one person to games made by a team full of people?
Ultimately, if the game’s sold as a product, then I reckon it’s fair to judge it at its price point. After all, this isn’t a “how awesome is the developer” competition (although that does sound fun), it’s a game review. The question then becomes — one-man-show though it may be — is Radio Viscera worth the price of admission?
Runnin’ and Gunnin’
If running a level for the 42nd time to beat your previous high score is your thing, and you dig top-down twin-stick shooters, then the answer is probably yes. The action is fast-paced and fun, and having to take down foes by launching them into hazards is a nice change of pace from the standard see enemy, shoot enemy combat that most games have. There’s also a really cool last-chance mechanic where time slows down if you’re going to take lethal damage, giving you a chance to shoot first or dodge to safety.
Radio Viscera also has a solid combo-meter type scoring system, where as long as you keep blasting walls or enemies, you’ll continue to rack up the points for as long as you stay alive. The skill ceiling of the game seems pretty high; I frequently left a level with a few thousand points, only to discover on the score screen that the maximum possible score was in the millions.
That being said, I found the combat getting tedious after awhile, as there were quite a few minor quibbles that ended up sucking a lot of the fun out of my runs. First and foremost was the camera: the isometric view swings around seemingly at random, and I often found myself getting killed by enemies that I had blasted into a corner and then forgotten about. Add to that a variety of enemies that require you to painstakingly herd them into a specific type of hazard in order to kill them, and some rooms ended up feeling more like a battle against the controls than anything else.
Using the mouse to aim also came with issues — one of the key mechanics is blasting holes in walls to progress, and I often had to try 3 or more times to create a hole that my character could run through. This seemed to be a non-issue when using a gamepad, as your aim defaults to the perfect height to create a hole you can enter, but it was frustrating not to be able to use my preferred input method.
However you end up feeling about the way the game plays, there’s no denying that it’s pretty darn cool. Explosions and enemy deaths are satisfying, the music is well-matched to the frenetic gameplay, and the writing in the game’s brief and amusing cinematics is solid as heck. The way enemies run to pick up their dropped weapons, the hidden posters you can discover — all the little things in the game combine to create a cohesive, entertaining world.
The relaxed, outdoor environments you explore between levels are also well done, and provide a nice contrast to the non-stop action of the combat sections. That being said, the indoor areas tend to feel repetitive after awhile, as there’s only so many version of person-sized saw you can really create. But the relative blandness of the indoor environments was more than made up for by the unique setting; this is definitely the first game I’ve played that takes place in a Y2K death-cult compound.
Sadly, I wasn’t actually able to finish the game due to a graphical bug that occurred on both my desktop and laptop, so it’s hard for me to give the game as high of a score as I would otherwise like to. It seems like small development teams (1 person naturally being as small as it gets) gain a lot in terms of creativity and clarity of vision, but struggle with things a larger team wouldn’t, like ease-of-use, or even basic stuff like QA.
The game’s got a demo — further proof that Owen is a cool guy — so if you’re on the fence, go give the game a try. I did enjoy the time I was able to spend with Radio Viscera, and I’m excited to see what Fireface comes out with next!