Few games on my iPod Touch are capable of making me play them as more than just time killers. That’s what most of the games I have are – time killers that I only open when I’m bored and looking for a way to pass a short amount of time. There is nothing wrong with a game having that quality, as it encourages players to keep coming back when they need to: Angry Birds is a perfect example. However, FarOut is one of those few games that demands your attention as more than a time killer. It manages to fill both that criteria and has me coming back for more because I genuinely want to. I smashed my way through this game, and when I hit the end, I played it again.
Released by indie developer OZ Coder on March 14th, 2013, FarOut a short, fun, and creative run-and-gun arcade game: everything you want in a touch-screen game. It pulls all its resources to deliver a strong title with a surprisingly unique story, fun gameplay, clever level design, and even a very well implemented difficulty curve.
Mission 1, Stage 1. Objective: destroy all enemies and cactus’
Set in an unknown time in the future, the story follows Kurt and Jane (the player can pick one or the other to play as), former elite agents of the Confederate Regime of Alliance Party – known as CRoAP – as they strive to thwart an attack on Earth by an alien race, known as the Greamlites. The Greamlites are trying to build a weapon called Doomsday device to destroy Earth, and start by stealing the Doomsday formula from one Dr Kruznik. Their missions take them on a race against time, spanning across four planets and a moon, building the framework for the game’s five missions (six stages in the first two, and five stages in the rest) and allowing for a variety of setting changes throughout the game. Creators Kenny Hong and Arash Jalalian stated in a press release that films such as Die Hard and Indiana Jones inspired FarOut, and it definitely shows in the level design and the mechanics of the game. While FarOut does not have much exploration of character in the story (not necessarily a negative point, seeing as it’s focusing more on the events), it does have a nice touch upon starting up the first stage, where information such as height, personality, and ‘favorite quote’ are listed next to a picture of Kurt and Jane. While this doesn’t involve seeing the characters in much depth, it is a start at making them easier to relate with or care about. Then again, being a downloaded iPod Touch game, I didn’t really have my expectations unfairly high.
A block of text before each stage informs players of the coming events, essentially in a briefing, and while I wouldn’t have expected a form of straight-up text to work in that context, it really did. The developers also leave out needless exposition, making for a more streamlined story that spends more time saying and showing what is happening, rather than explaining all the facts behind what is happening, which I really like.
Being a touch-screen game, available on iOS platforms and the Android phone, FarOut’s gameplay revolves around using the touch-screen. In a very simple use of ‘controls’, the player presses on the right hand side of the screen where they want to shoot, and presses a button on the left to jump. The only other button on the screen is the player’s balance of in-game coins, collected by destroying enemies and obstacles – if they press this button it will deduct 100 coins to activate a ‘Wipeout’, where all the enemies and obstacles on the screen are ‘wiped out’ immediately, providing a backup for tight situations and large groups of enemies. The character is always moving from left to right, and as such takes on the form of an arcade shooter/platformer. As the player runs from left to right they will encounter power-ups ranging from better ammunition to Coin Magnets to Weapon Nullifiers (this particularly handy power-up stops enemy combatants from shooting for a period).
Escaping from Parablex 9 is harder than it looks. And it looks hard
The ‘shooter’ aspect of the gameplay is wound tight, with the player given access to three types of increasingly powerful ammunition for their weapon. The ‘platformer’ element is also designed well, with as many three different paths available sometimes. Often, one of these paths will be safer than the other(s), and as such the game involves a lot of trial and error. I welcome trial and error – it just means that, by cleverly using spawn locations of varying levels and spacing out the power-ups found in the stages, the game successfully challenges players to think and choose their paths wisely and quickly. Separately these elements makes for an average experience, but they combine to deliver a strong backbone on which to base the groundwork of the game’s design.
At the end of each mission, the last stage essentially becomes a ‘boss’ stage, lending to the earlier comparison between this game and arcade titles. These boss stages are always mission-specific, signifying the culmination of each stage’s difficulty curve. They are also really well designed, varying from setting to the enemies. The developers even change the style in which the player must complete the mission – one sees the player battling a giant scorpion while hooked up to a jetpack, and another has the player shooting at pop-up cards in first person. This variety in missions, especially towards the end, is a refreshing take on the concept of difficulty and boss fights on a touch-screen in general.
To counter the difficulty curve, FarOut features a leveling system. This system is accessible from the menu screen, requiring players to spend in-game coins to level in up four different categories: longer lasting Coin Magnet, longer lasting Weapon Nullifier, increased shooting rate, and improved armour. I found these upgrades essential to varying degrees, especially when the difficulty started to ramp up and every path I chose in a level was the wrong one. Due to clever balancing in price,a player can’t simply max one or all of them out during the first playthrough, so as not to make the game too easy. Without this leveling system the game would have suffered from having to tone down the difficulty, and replay value would have taken a hit when the only point of collecting coins would be to activate a ‘Wipeout’, so it definitely adds value to the overall product.
Behind those desks are several terrified pictures of terrorists, purple fish and cactus’, all too scared to pop out
Unfortunately not all of my feedback is positive, as the game suffered from a couple of tiny issues. The story could be out a little more, even though it stands very well where it’s at now; the game suffered from slowdown and lag a couple of times (which, coincidentally, helped me beat a stage because I was able to have a quicker reaction time); and during the last stage of the game a few things on my screen were completely mismatched, and no matter how many times I restarted the iPod they wouldn’t re-size to properly fit what was going in the level. I still managed to beat that final level, however, and the glitch made it even more rewarding.
These small complaints don’t carry too much weight when sizing up the overall product, because I had a lot of fun with FarOut. It’s surprisingly well-balanced, has a multitude of enemies, locations, and styles of play, and even has an upgrade system that compliments the game, rather than overshadows it. The developers at OZ Coders really knew what they wanted in this game, and it definitely shows. The touch-screen integration also works very well, and I had no problems with it sensing where I pressed or what I was trying to do. I recommend FarOut, regardless of whether you need to kill time or want to play a fun and involving game – it’s easy to get into, and easy to enjoy. With a $0.99 price tag, you definitely can’t go wrong.
- Well thought-out story
- Strong gameplay
- Good upgrade/leveling system
- Very fun
- Story felt a little rushed
- Some slowdown, image displacement, other small glitches
Suitability: All ages, cartoony graphics detract from conceptions of violence (like Star Wars: The Clone Wars TV series)
Platforms: iPhone, iPod Touch, Android phone
Replay Value: High
Special thanks to Kenny Hong and Arash Jalalian for giving us the opportunity to review their game, and for providing us with a press release to follow