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Review: Demon Truck

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Get your kicks on route 666

Demon Truck released on Steam last week, and I've been trying to work my way through it ever since. It started life as an entry in the Ludum Dare game jam, where developers try to make a game within 48 hours. It's got an interesting control scheme I'd never encountered before. I'm still not sure if I'm a fan, but I keep coming back, so there must be something there. 

The developer calls it a twitch action game, but I'd describe it more as a shmup-lite. There are only two controls, and it feels like this could have very well been intended for mobile devices. You don't have any direct control over the truck. Instead, it moves automatically, meaning all the player has control over are the weapon systems and the thrusters. It's like an endless runner, but there's more to it than just seeing how far you can get.

Demon Truck (PC [reviewed], Mac)
Developer: Triger Mountain 
Publisher: AdventurePro Games LLC
Release: September 26, 2016
MSRP: $4.99 

Depending on the control scheme you prefer, you can use the triggers on a controller, the left and right mouse buttons, or the left and right halves of the keyboard to control things. It's kind of fun mashing the keyboard with your fists, but I ended up using a controller for the review. While this is a simple game, that doesn't make it easy. You can't thrust and fire at the same time, so timing is important and doing well is more about resource management than anything else.

There are two gauges on the left and right. The right gauge shows how many bullets you have left for your auto-targeting Hellgunz. This will refill over time as long as you aren't holding the fire button down. You'll earn other weapons as you play, and pushing the fire button shoots all of them at once. If there aren't any bullets in the clip you can't shoot anything, whether your weapons seem like they should take bullets or not. If you can't wait for the bullets to replenish on their own, you're awarded ammo when you thrust through obstacles and run over enemies.

The other gauge shows how much Soul Fury you have banked. Soul Fury is what powers your thrusters, allowing you to smash through obstacles or run over anything foolish enough to get in your way. If you tap this button, you can reflect projectiles back at their source. Doing so will replenish your ammunition, so it's a good technique to master early on.

Holding the button down will dramatically increase your speed and make you invincible, but drains the gauge rapidly. You'll need to do this to crush the reddish-brown barriers that spawn randomly, and if you're not dashing when you run into one, you'll take damage. Fortunately, every enemy you kill will cause a soul orb to fly around the screen and get sucked into your vehicle, recharging this meter. Balancing dashing with firing and keeping an eye on both gauges is the core of this game, and it feels great to time both perfectly to take down a huge group of enemies. 

Your truck starts with two auto turrets and no other weapons, but at the end of every wave, you'll earn a choice between two truck upgrades. This is where the game adds its Roguelike elements. These upgrades are completely randomized, which means a run can become significantly easier or harder based on the first couple of enhancements you're offered. Adding more guns means more firepower, but also means your ammo drains faster. There are ways to augment your ammo and soul gauges and make them refill faster, but that won't do you much good if you don't have the damage output to back it up. 

There are lots of different enhancements available, many of which increase your firepower. These include adding more autoturrets, heat-seeking missiles, exploding clowns, flame jets that keep anything from sneaking past you, and the Sinbeam, a powerful sweeping laser. Each can be augmented multiple times if you choose the same bonus more than once. Other upgrades add and restore hit points, give your score a bonus multiplier, or help refill your gauges faster. 

The waves of enemies you'll face are also randomized, and I never figured out how the game decided what I'd be up against in a given level. There didn't seem to be any pattern to how many enemies I'd be facing, though the types of enemies in each stage remained consistent from playthrough to playthrough. Dashing past enemies is a valid strategy, but I'm not sure how Demon Truck determines where the level ends, either. If you manage to destroy every enemy in a level, there's a point bonus in it for you, and an online leaderboard tracks your score, but doesn't show how far you've gotten. 

Every fourth level is a boss fight. You're "Alarted" that a boss is approaching, and each one has a randomly generated name and title. Bosses are one-on-one battles that play out like a bullet hell shooter. There's a core protected by armor and guns, and you have to whittle these away, balancing your shots with boosting to avoid enemy fire. Defeating one of these bosses awards one extra hit point in addition to the upgrade you'd normally earn at the end of a level.

What drew me to Demon Truck initially was the aesthetic. It's mastered the badass, trying-slightly-too-hard early 90's sacrilege of DOOM and Mortal Kombat, and the graphics and audio perfectly counterfeit a forgotten TurboGrafx 16 cartridge. Each level begins with an overwrought phrase like "Wheels of Pain," "666 Miles of Razors," and "Satanalizer." You'll notice a blood trail behind the wheels if you run over a motorcyclist, and the options for "Ultra Violence" are: "Enabled," "Yes," "On," "Engaged," "Is Go," "True," "Of Course," and "FTW."

The soundtrack in particular is notable, though it definitely could have used a few more songs. The main theme is great, but you'll hear it constantly until you beat the first 8 levels. Since the difficulty ramps up considerably at wave 9, I didn't hear the second main theme very much at all during the time I put into this game. 

While I've got no beef with pixel art, I had some trouble with Demon Truck's visuals. Frankly, there's often too much crap onscreen at once. There are lots of particle effects to obscure the playfield; everything you kill causes something to bounce around in the level for a little while, from the heads that come off the motorcyclists to the tires that come off the dune buggies. All of the projectiles fired at you are a distinct shade of pink, but using Sinbeam can block your view of incoming projectiles since it's red with a white core. I ended up avoiding this upgrade despite its power because it caused me to take too many hits I didn't feel that I deserved.

I also had a hard time figuring out enemy behavior when scrolling them offscreen. Some enemies disappear after you boost past them, while others appear to loop back to the top. This doesn't affect what upgrades you're eligible for at the end of a level, but it can mean that an enemy you thought was safely behind you might get another shot off from the top of the screen. It doesn't affect gameplay all that much, but I did find it odd.

Ultimately, it's my opinion that the randomness hurts Demon Truck more than it helps. The crushable objects are placed randomly in every level, and your truck will attempt to avoid them when you're not dashing. When you ARE dashing, though, (which is frequently) the truck aims for them to help refill your ammo-- which is fine, until you run out of Soul Fury and hit one you couldn't avoid because you can't steer yourself out of the way. This could be solved if one of the upgrades allowed you to ignore damage from failing to boost through obstacles, but there isn't one that does that. The upgrade to the demon plow instead gives extra ammo for boosting through a crushable object. 

I can't help but wonder what Demon Truck might be like with a more traditional control scheme, one where the player controls the movement. I frequently felt like I could have done a better job of driving than the demon behind the wheel, and I don't think that's a good sign. Despite the flaws, however, I enjoyed my time with it. From Click to Truck to Truck is Over, it's a fun time waster, and there are definitely worse ways to spend five bucks. 

[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]

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Demon Truck reviewed by Kevin McClusky

6.5

ALL RIGHT

Slightly above average or simply inoffensive. Fans of the genre should enjoy it a bit, but a fair few will be left unfulfilled.
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Kevin McClusky
Kevin McCluskyContributor   gamer profile

I'm a longtime member of Destructoid, and you may have known me in a prior life as Qalamari. ... more + disclosures


 


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