||Review: Blast Corps|
12.25.02 / 06:12AM / Boris
Blow up and crush stuff for fun and profit!
Blast Corps is really about one thing - driving vehicles through cities and suburbs, and laying waste to them. Obstensibly, it all has a purpose, but forget all that for right now. You drive vehicles into buildings until they fall over, then do it some more. The entire game is about that. Big explosions? Check. Sound effects of things crunching? Check. If you're a guy, and I know I am, this should appeal to the lizard part of your brain. You know, the part that likes jokes about testicles and laughs whenever you see a cat falling off of something on America's Funniest Home Videos? It's been scientifically determined, and by that, I mean I just made this up, that the lizard part of your brain hails back to our puniest brained ancestors, who, when they first started walking on land, liked exploding stuff. Today, modern man must struggle to suppress these urges and build up a utopian society, all the while wondering exactly how cool it'd be if all the stuff in the world blew up with lots of fire. This is probably the reason that we don't have peace in our time, and it's probably the reason Blast Corps got made.
The plot: A transporter truck carrying a bunch of nukes goes haywire, and just starts driving around randomly. Apparently, these things aren't manned, so if you see a truck carrying nukes passing down your street, just jump right into the driver's seat and direct it wherever you want it to go. Failing that, you should get a bulldozer and crush everything around it, just to make sure that the truck, with its precious cargo, doesn't bump into a trailer park and detonate. This, apparently, is such a high profile duty that a freelance organization of professional drivers-into-things was hired to crush everything in the nuke truck's path. You do that. A lot.
Silly? Yes. Glaring holes in the plot? No doubt. And yet, there it is, the plot of Blast Corps. Your mission is to get into different vehicles, of increasing difficulty to use, and crush crap before the nuke truck hits them. If the truck hits anything at all, it goes kaboom. If you hit the truck, it goes kaboom. If, in the later stages, you don't make sure the truck has a track to drive on, it goes kaboom. Think of it like tetris. If too much stuff gets in the way, you lose. Except that you get to gratuitously crush the blocks, not just dump other wimpy blocks nearby it until they all blink into nonexistence.
Along the way, you acquire new vehicles, unlock tracks, and find 6 scientists stashed in the levels. Once you beat all the levels AND find all the scientists, the truck can safely be lured to an unpopulated area and be blown up. Of course, fat lot of good that does, considering all the cities you had to level just to let the truck drive to the middle of some desolate salt flats and go kaboom. You should have just let it kill everybody around the first farm it got to and call it an acceptable loss. You literally do trillions of dollars worth of damage (there's even a $ total of stuff broken) in your noble quest to let a small nuclear payload kill less people. And you know what? I couldn't be more happy with that.
The gameplay: Do you need another reminder? You drive vehicles. Into buildings. Thereby crushing them. Sheesh, people, what do you want? The game plays exactly like that. Let you think that would get boring, each level (there are several) varies both in the toughness of the buildings, the vehicles you are allowed to use, and the speed of the nuke truck. The main levels supply all the vehicles you get access to; the first levels let you use the bulldozer, which is the most straightforward (read: effective) vehicle in the game. Later, you get a dump truck, a gigantic flying mech, a small acrobatic mech, a mech with a giant metal fist, a tricycle that shoots missiles, a transport truck with extendable side panels, a dune buggy with a turbo boost, and lots of normal cars to do the race tracks with. With the exception of the flying mech, the other vehicles range from "tough to control" to "dear God, why can't they just me use the damn bulldozer" - which is the whole part of the fun.
The game is one of strategy and skill; you need to crush the buildings in the most effective way possible, but each vehicle takes a lot of skill (read: steep learning curve) to use efficiently. The dump truck, which is the plague of your later missions, only crushes buildings when you skid turn your truck into it. Basically, you have to skid yourself so that the sides of your vehicle hit the building; if you hit it with the front, you'll do very minimal damage. The acrobat mech only damages buildings when you execute a somersault into them; if you hit a building before you start flipping and tumbling, you'll be knocked out of your flip and have to do it again from futher away. The tricycle shoots more accurately if you hold perfectly still, but the tracks its required on are often the most time-sensitive, meaning you'll never have the time to sit around and line up your shots. And the dune buggy only damages things if it lands on them, meaning you have to leap off of cliffs and ruts to get airborne.
To make the game even more difficult, there are very often puzzles that go with the wrecking of stuff. In some tracks, you need to park your vehicle on a crane, get out, go to the crane controls, move the vehicle over something, get out of the crane, walk your guy over a footpath, get into your vehicle, and go crush stuff before the truck hits them. The timing of the truck is very tight; if you dally too long figuring out what it is you need to do, you'll often never be able to make up for lost time. Fortunately, replaying missions is both satisfying and simple to do, even if the solution is not simple at all.
Once you've played the mission successfully, the truck is gone, but you can go back and level the rest of the town. You know, for good measure, in case the truck decides to come back. This is both the most satisfying part of the game, and the most pointless. You get a gold medal for completing the mission, hoorah, hoorah. You also get a second medal for completely wiping out an area. Essentially, this is the first hint of things to come from Rare; you need to do EVERYTHING on a level to get that second gold medal. Crushing the buildings is fun, and apart from a few of 'em in hiding, you get that done relatively quickly and with a lot of enjoyment. Rescuing the civvies is easily done; if you batter down part of a building, and it has people in it, they scamper out and yell, "Help help!" until a chopper comes by and picks them up. Of course, when you do this AFTER the nuclear truck problem has already been solved, then perhaps they're running from the rampage that YOU are creating. Given that the civvies tend to run and yell "Help help!" whenever you approach them, I'm thinking that you're a bigger menace than the stupid truck.
The weakness from this are the RDUs - Radiation Dispersal Units. Essentially, they're little beacons that light up and go "Whom" when you drive close enough to them. There's a hundred in every level, and in almost every level, the hardest part is finding which one you missed in a field of ones you've already hit, and driving over it. There's no real reason why you should bother except that you don't get the second gold medal unless you hit all the RDUs, too, and you'll need that to get to the harder difficulty of the game. The RDUs are the main glaring weakness of the entire game.
As a side thing to do, there are little sub areas off of the main levels; you get these for bumping into a satellite beacon. Most of the sub areas are races, where you get to use your vehicles, typically (but not always) the civilian vehicles you "confiscate" during your raids. You get a General Lee, although it's one of the worst vehicles, a police cruiser with a working siren, a purple van, and a few others. Generally speaking, the races are more or less driving practice, although there's a few that require you to "cheat" - to get the best time and its gold medal, you have to drive off the track and find a hidden shortcut. Clever, really; it makes the races more a test of skill rather than simply speed, although none of the races are particularly fun.
As I hinted at, you'll need the gold medals to advance the difficulty - once you get a gold in everything, all the levels reset (i.e., your friend the truck comes back) and you have to repeat both the main tracks and the special events to get another gold medal, this time for a quicker time than the previous gold. If you've already qualified for that time, you don't need to repeat the stage, which was a nice consideration on Rare's part. Do that again, and you get to do the space missions, which are mostly a fun excuse to blow crap up on a place with much less gravity, so you behave awfully oddly up there. Complete those, and you can go for platinum medals, but those are so damn hard to get that I never bothered. I'm not sure that anybody has ever gotten all the platinum medals to see what it earns you. Probably just a black screen with "Congratulations!" printed on it in white block letters. At least I'd like to think that.
The aesthetics: For its time, and even to some degree still, Blast Corps was a gorgeous game. The main purpose, that of wrecking everything, requires fairly realistic graphics to be convincing, and Blast Corps delivers on that, so much so that there's even a hint of slowdown when a really big building explodes. The chrome on the two mechs, particularly the flying mech, are very well done, and it makes the robots look really cool - the fact that they aren't dull yellow bulldozers doesn't hurt either. The chrome effect is a little over used on the mysterious chrome orbs that you often have to hunt down and destroy in some of the levels, but its obvious the designers liked the effect.
Still, the game is mostly about crushing crap, not looking at it, and the explosions are gratifying. They sound a little tinny, but the crunching is satisfying nonetheless, and you feel generally good for doing it. The nuke truck is unnerving, it makes a threatening reactor hum whenever you're near it, and particularly when you're running around as the little bejumpsuited guy next to it, you really have to worry about whether or not you need a dental smock to protect your precious organs.
The sound quality really takes a hit from the goofy ass level music. There's no real way to avoid this: The music is often times incredibly dorky. The first level even has a Jew's Harp twanging away in the background. This is NOT the soundtrack you want to hear while leveling a farm so that a nuclear truck doesn't irradiate the food supply of an entire nation! Screaming death metal would be appropriate. Goofy Jew's Harp and fiddle solos are not. The level music goes away entirely when the truck is too close to an obstacle, you get a fairly urgent "WARNING" booming alert, and the music becomes somewhat of a warning siren. It's actually quite stressful, and because it is so very different from the level music, it becomes distracting. I quite like the warning-tune; too bad there's no real way to have it play more often then leaving a lot of debris in the way of the truck, and doing that too much will get you killed.
A nice aesthetic touch comes from your team mates, who, as far as I can tell, have nothing better to do than offer unhelpful advice. There's supposed to be more of them, according to the manual, but all you ever see is a rather attractive female sprite, and a paunchy, bearded construction worker in a little pop up window at the bottom right of the screen. Neither of them are anywhere near as bad as Navi, but they're not real strong in the advice department, either. The number of times you hear, "Try something else" or "Is this really working?!?" is frustrating, particularly when you're desperately trying to get whatever cantankerous vehicle it is you're stuck with to push over that last pebble of building before the truck hits either it or you. It's a nice effect, but in practice, it's bothersome.
Final thoughts: Once you get the hang of it, Blast Corps is fairly simple, but that just makes it a very enjoyable game, as opposed to a struggle against time. It's worth dusting off a copy of it for an afternoon of guilty, mass destruction of public property, pleasure. Until you figure out the trick of each level, you'll often find yourself doomed to repeat the level, and even now, when I mess up on a level, I make sure it's me who augers myself into the side of the truck, and not some punk ass building, "I'll see you hell, nuclear truck!" Also, the vehicles are purposefully hard to control; when you get them figured out, they drive just fine, but it's the initial learning curve that makes them very frustrating to use at first. Stick with it; even as a renter, it's a lot of fun, and by now, you should be able to get it for very cheap.
12.25.02 / 06:12AM / Boris