“Chaotic action is preferable to orderly inaction.”
I’ve never been one to mince words when it comes to releasing games in Early Access. Allowing the community to test your product for you while you sort out the bugs and further develop the game is a great tool, but if you’re going to charge people to be your guinea pigs, you better damn well have your ducks in a row. Egregious in nature are developers who chuck out half-baked projects riddled with stock Unity models, promising feedback-based development only to sit on their hands and collect player’s cash. It’s a shady practice that preys on a gamer’s good nature, and those developers should be taken out behind the shed. With that being said, Critical Annihilation, an isometric voxel shooter in the fledgling throes of its Early Access debut, is a beautifully crafted, chaotic experience well worth its weight in gold.
Critical Annihilation’s plot can be summarized in eight words: Aliens invade Earth and need to be killed. I understand that most arena/horde games lack a certain medium for storytelling, but my faith was immediately tested when I realized the plot was about as complex as my nephew’s crayon drawings. I’m a man who loves storytime, and throwing such an important facet of any game to the wind like that should be a devastatingly blow to the rest of the experience, right?
Plot? What’s a plot? I’m way too busy hustling my little block solider across the map, avoiding a hundred-strong horde of mutant scorpions and killer aliens, to give a second’s thought to any deeper narrative. Herein lies Critical Annihilation‘s selling point: chaos. The small maps and truckloads of enemies in every round keep players ultimately focused on run-n-gunning, and the sheer thrill of strafing a crowd of monsters with a minigun while simultaneously deploying a mechanized turret held my attention far stronger than any applicable storyline.
Each of the 15 levels take place across a myriad assortment of environments, from the dusty training grounds in Nevada to the even dustier plains of Mars (with Siberia, the Yukon, and Rotterdam in between), and each round consists of killing what seems like an endless horde of aliens. Player characters, either soldier, mechanic, or scout, have a simple leveling mechanic, and players can unlock a large number of useful perks to aid them in the coming slaughter. Experience points carry across levels regardless of whether you win or lose, and sometimes it becomes necessary to farm the same level multiple times in order to finally move on. Each player comes equipped with a primary and secondary attack, as well as a defensive and offensive ability, such as a mech turret or plasma shield.
While there are several different types of enemies of varying strength, the inherent issue with horde games is that you’ll see every single type at least a dozen times per level, and the at first clever design blends together to form nothing more than a trudging mass of indistinguishable bodies that need to be shot. This isn’t Critical Annihilation’s fault, because of course I’m going to tire of looking at the same cyber scorpion after I’ve killed hundreds of its identical twins. One issue that does fall under the developer’s jurisdiction, however, is enemy behavior. Most of the aliens all move at the same speed, which is nearly a couple points below that of the player, and all are set to follow your direct axis location. This results in a crowding of baddies that players can simply run circles around. Where are the berserkers, the snipers, and the infiltrators? Give me something other than “lethargic mob”.
Critical Annihilation’s voxel-based engine lends a hand to its simplistically appeasing aesthetic. In other words, the blocks make the game pretty. The landscapes are colorful and full of detailed obstacles, and the cubic bloodbath that ensues after every wave of enemies is oddly appealing. Buildings and barriers can all be destroyed and climbed on, and the physics engine keeps up with all the crumbling blocks. That being said, the soundtrack to this game can be labeled as nothing but obnoxious. Each level sports a new (I think? They all just blended together in the end) techno/EDM/dubstep track that reeks of bad acid and gaudy rave attire. Having to farm some of these levels became an actual chore because of the music, and I soon resorted to popping on Netflix and turning the volume down for the last 4 levels. It’s possible this is a personal issue related to personal taste, or it just may be that the soundtrack is nothing but synth caterwauling.
Critical Annihilation promises to be an incredibly entertaining game. The hectic action and diverse weapons and powerups keep the monotony of the enemy AI and soundtrack at bay, and each map has a decent level of replayability. Devoga swears the game will only be in the Early Access stage for 3-4 months, and promises to release level and character editors (and possibly multiplayer, which would just be the bee’s knees for a game like this). All in all, the investment is well worth the time and I heartily suggest giving Critical Annihilation a try.