Wasteland Angel tries to evoke the feeling of classic arcade shoot'em ups while also trying to be a tower defense game and a car combat game all at once. Wasteland Angel doesn't really give off any of the aforementioned feelings, instead it feels like some interesting ideas spread too thinly across its bleak setting.
Released by Meridian 4 as an independent game on Steam early this September, Wasteland Angel promised epic boss battles, different enemy types, and 24 levels with varying terrain. It's not that these elements aren't in the game, there sure are 24 levels, it's that these elements are bland and repetitive. Each section of the game feels like a repeat of the last with a quick palette swap happening each time you move on to a new area.
The game plays as an isometric car combat came with mild elements of tower defense thrown in. For standard levels you are given an obvious zone that is the town you must protect. A timer counts down and wave after wave of enemies come in and try to either kill Angel or steal citizens from the town and ship them off to become slaves. It's your job to drive around the level and take out each wave of enemies while completing the occasional side mission, such as operating a turret or collection supply crates.
The controls in Wasteland Angel feel decent at first when the levels are simpler but when hills are more common and enemies become more sticky the problems arise. Toward the later levels the terrain becomes more mountainous and the enemies who used to shoot at you now just try to run into Gypsy and tip her over. The combination of the two leads to countless times where the car is flipped over on its top and left motionless while enemies fire away until the game decides to flip you back. Enemies too will randomly drive around the level and begin flipping, getting stuck off screen, or partake in other odd behaviors.
Enemies in Angel are basic as there are only 3 classes regardless of which faction you are up against. While there are Wastelanders, Renegades, and Mutants each faction has the same 3 classes of cars to battle with and the only real difference is what they look like. There are killers, named so because they try to immediately attack Angel no matter what, slavers who try to steal civilians, and duals who can try to kill Angel or steal civilians. The only real difference from faction to faction was that the Mutants' killer class is a plow that rams into Angel as opposed to the other classes that shoot her.
To get rid of these baddies Gypsy comes equipped with some seriously ridiculous weaponry. The game does a nice job of letting you know what the super weapons do at first but there comes a time when it just throws in new weapons and no tutorial is given as to how it works. Besides the dual machine guns on Gypsy, fired with the A button, that can upgrade to rockets and incendiary ammo there are a smattering of other tools. There are things like spike traps and mines that can be laid out behind Gypsy to stop incoming enemies. EMP grenades freeze pretty much every enemy on screen for a few seconds, and nukes blow everything in a given radius up. That's right, the world ended in a nuclear war and these ballsy bastards are using nukes to fight gang wars.
The combat feels somewhat easy on the games medium difficulty. There are two more above medium that increase the damage done to your car but the AI seems to remain the same. All that really has to be done is protect a few spots where slavers show up and gun down the rest and you have yourself a saved town.
There are boss fights and bonus stages to break up the action as well, and they are hardly as fun or challenging as the game tries to show them off as. For the most part the strategy for bosses is drive around in circles getting the required super weapon from baddies who run into your machine gun fire, plant said super weapon, and wait for the boss to drive over the super weapon.
The bonus stages are first person racing/killing modes where you attempt to stay alive and keep the timer from ticking down to 0 all the while racking up more and more kills. The best way to achieve success in the bonus' seems to be driving in circles and holding the fire button. It's moments like these that bring down the fun in Wasteland Angel tremendously. The game has a weird feel to it all like Angel doesn't care about what's going on she just wants to have fun, problem is there is little fun to be had.
Perhaps the most fun in the game is the score counter that constantly goes on throughout each successive level. Having a multiplier of 99 and taking out dozens of enemies at once with a well placed nuke to see your score jump is pretty cool. Also the fact that the scores are tracked and rated on a scoreboard that can be viewed after each level is a nice touch. Though I did realize my placement on the board shot up from the 200s to the 20s in the later levels, making me think people may have stopped playing this after a few levels because my performance wasn't that astounding.
Wasteland Angel has no problem making sure players know that the narrative doesn't mean much. There are constantly strange quips from Angel basically blowing off the interesting parts of the hastily thrown together story because she wants to kill freaks. Right off the bat the protagonist, named Angel, talks about how the world is pretty much destroyed due to nuclear warfare. With the world in disarray and radiation polluting the surviving population different factions have risen to try and have some fun in the anarchic world. That's about all you get from the game's narrative.
The small bit of characterization you get for Angel is when she will talk about her car, Gypsy, that she uses to viscously murder wrong doers and traverse the wastes. There is also this strange, almost Book of Eli, background story about Angel's friend Ekx and some strange book that never gets explained at any point whatsoever.
Sound design in Wasteland Angel feels a bit uninspired as well. The music has the same few clips that repeat in every level and the enemies spit out a few random lines at the start of certain levels. Other than that it's mostly Angel calling people freaks or scum as she blows them up. Oh, there are also the towns who talk to Angel through an intercom and for some strange reason they all sound like horrible stereotypes of your worst hillbilly nightmare.
It took about two and a half hours to get through every level in Wasteland Angel. That includes going back to a few levels to try and increase a score here or get a higher ranking there. After the story is concluded, horribly I might add, that's it. You may want to go back and try to increase your score on the leader boards but there isn't any other incentive to go back into the world whatsoever.
With gameplay that gets repetitive and frustrating quickly, a story that the protagonist doesn't even care about, and weird bugs and flaws at nearly every turn it's a hard game to recommend. Wasteland Angel certainly has some fun bits to it, like the comic book cutscenes and the scoreboards, but the game that encompasses the main experience is too short and too lackluster to be worth a buy to anyone. That is unless you desperately can not wait for a better car combat game to be released in the coming months.
(Pictures courtesy of Giantbomb.com and Meridian4.com)
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