Thursday, February 23, 2017

Review forma.8

Guess you have to be pretty old to remember Terrahawks. But in that Gerry Anderson puppet sci-fi show, round metal balls did battle with grizzled alien invaders to protect the Earth. I'll go with that reference point, rather than Eve from Wall-E that everyone else is using. Largely because there was a shouty English ball and a snooty French one among the troops. If there had been an Italian one, it would be forma.8; cool, suave and going on its metal exploratory way in fine style.

Forma.8 sees a bunch of spherical probe droids launched at a new planet, and our drone is cannoned into a strange alien architecture. With a mission to explore, its glow in the dark eyes soon reveal a strange ecosystem that is a joy to navigate.

Narrow caves give way to enormous landscapes with the smooth zoom leaving you as a dot on the landscape. Life teems around the underground pools of water or lava, and tech-laden metallic passages hint that not all is as it seems.

With an ambient soundtrack, impressive and eerie soundscape, dramatic lighting (which I'm sure looks fantastic in 4K on a PS4 Pro, but is just as gorgeous on an OLED Vita), you float around powered by a gas jet that leaves a neat ion trail that gets wonky as you pick up damage. Early obstacles are overcome with a little nudging and experimentation.

Later on, you can pick up some skills that might be classed as weapons, but aren't as clumsy or random as a blaster, and collecting the nuts hidden in dark corners is a must to get the extra items, like a disguise kit, that will open up all areas of the game. (UPDATE: Hints and tips guide)

The game plays rather like Exile's End or Axiom Verge, with some back and forth, and pick-up upgrades needed to get into new areas. But, with its largely pacifist stance, you can enjoy the ride more, and worry less about much of the local wildlife, bar a few major obstacles. There are glowing orbs of energy to keep the drone powered up and healthy, and plenty of little secrets to find.
Those set piece aliens are where the game does come unstuck, a bit. The first one is a large spider with a doom-laden red eye and a repulsor skill. Nearby flying bugs were dropping from a pod, so I guessed you needed to feed them to the creature to distract it. That didn't work, so I tried hiding in the grass to see if it would lose interest - no dice. Then, I tried blowing up its exposed legs, many, many times.

In the end you only needed to push your little demolition charges at the eye, but I wasted a good while working that out, and did it by accident in the end, having expected a more nuanced solution from such a beautiful game! And of course, the next monster along, I tried everything apart from the feeding it flying bugs, which was the correct solution - aaarrrggghhh!
Fortunately, most of forma.8 is a glorious travelogue through an alien landscape, trying to find the secrets it holds and gleaning any meaning you can from them. A basic map shows where to head next, but the route is often circuitous, or inaccessible without picking up a new skill, so this isn't really a game for arcade freaks.
An incredible effort from a small Italian team, their years of work has paid off, and produced a title that can proudly sit among the finest of Vita indies along with Velocity 2X, Neon Chrome and Shovel Knight.

Perhaps being a little less enigmatic, there's one page in the manual with some mystery icons on it, would make the game more accessible, but learning forma.8's mysteries is all part of the fun. And once you get to the end, you'll probably want to complete the game properly with a range of endings and some elusive secrets left to find.

Score: 9/10
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Price: £11.99 (PSN)
Size: 500MB
Dev: Mixed Bag Games
Progress: Platinum

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