Meltdown Preview

March 11, 2014 by

We take an Early Access look at Meltdown, a tactical arcade shooter ported from Android and iOS.

DeveloperPhenomenon Games
PublisherBulkyPix
Review Platform: PC/Mac (Steam)
Review Copy Provided ByBulkyPix
Release Date: TBD

I have to preface my review with three admissions. One: I love arcade games. They have a tried-and-true format that balances skill and strategy with repetitious missions, making for consistent, graduated improvement in performance that lends itself well to my already compulsive nature. Two: my review is heavily influenced by the fact that I had a dumb question for the developers hours into my review, about the soundtrack of all things, and Phenomenon Games responded within 24 hours to my relatively dumb question with a thorough and very human answer.

That question, just in case anyone else cares

That question, just in case anyone else cares

Me: “Hi! Playing Meltdown on early access now, and I had a burning question:

In your soundtrack, you have one track in particular that I could swear samples “White Kids Love Hip Hop” by nerdcore artist MC Chris. Am I crazy, or is it just a beautiful, geeky coincidence?…”

Creative Director Dan Bojan:
“Hi Mariah,

I think it’s just a coincidence :P I think you are referring to the track playing during the tutorial right? They have similar tempos.

We have a total of 13 tracks in the game, for some of them we have full publishing rights for others we only have rights to use them inside “Meltdown”, we have to see if we can get the rights to publish them outside the game.”

And Three: Meltdown, being an Android/iOS port, was available on Steam’s Early Access on my Mac as well as my PC–epic! It’s the little things, like being able to toggle between devices and systems, that make a big difference to me.

Zed.
Zed.

Meltdown received rave reviews prior to its Steam debut. Set against a captivating sci-fi backdrop, the action game invites players to follow its main character, Zed, as he tries to shoot his way out of the remote space station that he has been trapped on as a result of a system malfunction. A fun, tactical arcade shooter, Meltdown offers 30 single player campaign levels and 3 big boss battles with plentiful weapon and character upgrades. You have two weapon slots and a melee weapon, and your character–a Lego-looking, Chuck Norris-Rambo dude–kills a variety of enemy bots and killer drones in a sci-fi battle zone. The environment, when highly rendered, offers impressive explosions and a pronounced starscape to complement relatively sleek graphics.

Your skill, weapons and character tree offer dozens of buildable skills to complement graduated gameplay.
Your skill, weapons and character tree offer dozens of buildable skills to complement graduated gameplay.

Weapons are available to upgrade according to unique skill trees for each, and your character also has different attributes you can choose to focus your upgrades towards (for example, medic, soldier and specialist). For every AI warrior and battle bot slain, Zed (Rambo-Norris’ given name) earns coins and XP that go towards level-ups and weapon or character upgrades. The level of customization was impressive for such a simple game, and it kept me playing long past my bedtime.

Upon mission completion, stats are present to let you see how you stacked up in acquisitions and damage dealt (or taken). It’s a comprehensive list, and gave me an idea of where to focus my improvements as I progressed through the single-player campaign. There’s a prestige mode that I have not yet reached, but players who have logged more hours than I report that prestige works like COD. You get a badge, everything zeroes out and you start from scratch on your skill tree. You level up further and you acquire extra health and shield. I’ve seen players get as many as 3x Prestige.

Levels all have a similar look:  set against a sci-fi backdrop, players follow Zed as he tries to shoot his way out of a space station.
Levels all have a similar look. Set against a sci-fi backdrop, players follow Zed as he tries to shoot his way out of a space station.

Quick Play starts a level “based on your skills.” After a few tries, I think I can report that “skills” means weapons unlocked and achievement checkpoints, not necessarily aptitude. Meaning that I got wasted quickly round after round, failing to apply strategy or patience to my efforts. In my experience–from a strategic standpoint–I’d have to say that when multiple bots and battle droids come out, brace yourself for doom. In early levels, if you get caught up in a bot explosion you have a chance of being pummeled by other bots in the area. Prior to unlocking weapons upgrades, the enemy can kind of bully you around the map. Which would have been frustrating were I not having a blast.

Group play offers exponential experience and completion rewards, and was definitely more fun for me to play than campaign mode. Like Diablo, loot is invisible to other players, so there’s no added frustration of that one guy whose strategy is to let you get pummeled so he can scoop up coins or other goodies.

Earn exponential XP and have exponential fun in mutliplayer mode.
Earn exponential XP and have exponential fun in mutliplayer mode.

In multiplayer mode, whenever a player levels up, the screen does a slow-mo, Matrix-style-360-degree action pan, which is disorienting (and graphically sluggish, at least in its early access phase of release). Is it the biggest deal? No. But it’s not really a high-point, either. It’s sort of cool if you and two or three players are all, say, back to back, blasting enemies as one unified battalion, and that pan zooms in on all of you kicking ass. This happens, however, about as often as you can imagine–not very. And if everyone levels up around the same time, it cues up a comically repetitive, albeit enthusiastic, female vocalist chanting “Level up!” two to four times in succession.

Once you reach level 30, you can play Wave attack. It was cool–more exponential XP and definitely a strategic challenge. No mater how far you come in Meltdown, it seems like the game keeps you coming back to advance your skills and character. Love that.

The menu screen. Looks a little like a screen shot from an iPhone, but it's for the PC version.
The menu screen. Looks a little like a screen shot from an iPhone, but it’s for the PC version.

Musically, this game is one you can just AFK in the main menu and leave running. The soundtrack, as Phenomenon’s Bojan explained to me, is 13 tracks long  of well-developed chillstep (I don’t think that’s a real term, but I’m coining it now. It was dubstep without any hard chops or screws, and was one of the best compilations I’ve heard in any game recently).

There were very few downpoints to report, but I did my best to be objective. My notes included the following:

  • I can see where, if you don’t like dubstep, the music could get repetitive. However, the simple solution to that is to turn off the music and play in silence or to a soundtrack of your choosing. Easy fix.
  • Mystery boxes, which you acquire by interacting with the environment or killing bad guys, can be empty. I managed to pull this feat off about 3 times in a row before it made the list of things that made me pout.
  • Occasionally, that slow-mo thing during level-up makes you grimace, especially if your shield is low and the slow-mo is of you getting shot in a circle by three bots and a flamethrower.
  • No in-game chat at present. That’s cool with me–I don’t want to talk to you, I want to blow you up. But I know a lot of players value that, and so I’m including that as a con (at least in early access… maybe the developers will add it in the future).
  • I’m sure this is a reflection of the game’s port origins, but the main screen looks a lot like a blown-up version of the mobile menu. Not a big drawback, but it doesn’t really speak to the game’s polished graphics, either.

Those are all hardly even worth mentioning–any cons in this game are generated from nit-pickery, and I have to reiterate that most of those things hardly even blipped on the radar for me.

Meltdown is a fun and fast-paced arcade shooter, great to play by yourself and more fun in a group. Smooth controls and easy handling, along with a dynamic soundtrack and a lot of replay value made this a great buy at the $3.99 Early Access price (hurry, there’s still time!) and at just $5.99 after release, you can’t go wrong. Join games in progress, host your own, or play solo for hours–either way Meltdown is exactly as advertised and a win in my book.

About Mariah Beckman

Mariah lives in Seattle, and is really 3 midgets inside a lady suit.