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Optimus Apparatus

Published by Stolpskott Studios
Price $29.95
Primary Genre Secondary Genre

Long ago, there was a game called Thrust. The concept was simple, but the game itself was not - you control a spacecraft, and by controlled bursts of thrust (hence the title) your aim was to navigate a cavern and land safely on the required pad. The ever present pull of gravity was your chief nemesis. Several variants have developed over the years, and here we have a new take on the game.

Your space station. Here you can switch modules and embark on missions. Reading the manual is recommended!

Actually, Optimus Apparatus is rather more involved than this. Here the aim is not landing (and there is no limit on fuel), but the locating and destroying of enemy ships. The caverns and gravity remain, only now one has the perils of being shot at as well as avoiding collisions with the scenery. To help you on your mission, you can fit your ship with a variety of equipment and weapons, and more can be collected from the wreckage of your enemies. "Can you assemble the Optimus Apparatus?" challenges the game manual, by which I think it means "can you assemble the most powerful ship?"

OA has been rather clever here, introducing the kind of upgrade system you'd more commonly see in Rogue-type RPGs. Components are random and plentiful, but are randomly generated. I have often picked up different versions of the same weapon, with different attributes for damage, recharge, etc - sometimes you may find a more powerful or more efficient version of an existing component and can then chuck the other one away. The range of weapons and equipment is vast - you can hold a lot of components in your inventory and swap them around between missions to try out different ones. You will need to discard some after a while or you won't be able to collect any new ones, and discarded components will disappear when you leave the mission/space station.

Combat in the first world, "Rocks".  My ship is the blue one. Up against the boss for world 2, "Pipes". Watch out for those energy barriers!

Controls are... complicated. You have the A, W and D keys to turn and thrust, the S key to collect components and the arrow keys to fire your various weapons (you can fit up to four groups of them). Components are looked at, fitted and discarded by the mouse, as is accessing the in-game manual and the volume control. There is apparently no pause button, which is somewhat distressing when your ship is constantly in danger of hitting the ground! It's worth noting as well that you will be utterly lost about how to even leave the space station without going through the basics in the manual, which managed to confuse me at first with all its talk of upgrading my weapon mounts and fitting my initial weapons. It took me a bit of experimentation to figure it all out. I am pleased to report that Stolpskott Studios have since made a few tweaks to this area to make things easier.

Graphics consist of numerous 2D ships (including your own, which is customisable when you load the game - the different designs are, however, purely cosmetic) and 2D caverns with a variety of styles to suit the many different worlds. These are apparently hand drawn and scanned in and once you get past how unusual this is they actually look pretty cool. Given that missions are randomly generated, this hand drawn design is quite impressive. The game layout suffers a little, however, with options such as the manual and volume accessible from the screen edge mid-game. They also don't pause the game - manual perusal is best done at your space station. Alien ships look fine, though alien creatures are a little weird and don't animate.

There is no music in the game. Sound effects, however, are plentiful - from the sussuration of your thrusters to the numerous weapons fire effects, you will soon get to know all the various enemies by the noises they make. Sound volume is, as mentioned, controlled in-game via a slider bar on the left hand side of the screen, which is a little strange.

While a wide reaching and adaptable game, playability does suffer somewhat. The controls take some getting used to, and while collisions with the scenery are not by themselves fatal, it doesn't take much to scrap an unprotected ship. New modules are fairly frequent, but utterly random - in one game I had two shotguns, my favourite weapon of the lot thus far, but in a second game I encountered none of these. More important is accruing upgrade points to allow you to fit these weapons, and this is a hazardous enterprise to start with. After a few upgrades, you'll start being penalised for failing missions, and that will reduce your score and, as a consequence, make later upgrades more difficult to obtain. With a few worlds conquered you can replay older ones for easier upgrades but that first world can be tough.

All this is, bizarrely, entirely without effect when it comes to the addictive nature of OA. As there is no limit on lives, missions are randomly constructed every time and the components you collect can always improve at least slightly on any you currently have, you can happily continue struggling for hours. The absence of a pause and the penalty for early withdrawal rather impact on your play - I cannot, for instance, take five minutes out from a mission to answer the door without a strong risk of being blasted to bits by a wandering enemy ship, and abandoning the mission has the same effect!

My overall impression is, however, rather positive (the fact it keeps pulling me back in is a big part of this!) and I think that, while some rough edges may need sanding down, Optimus Apparatus is largely getting things right. Fans of long-term sci-fi games such as Elite or Flatspace, in which progress is slow and steady and the development of your ship is more RPG than anything else, should find OA a good source of entertainment.

Graphics 85%
Sound 80%
Playability 85%
Longevity 90%
Overall Score 85%
Silver Star

Published on 25 Sep 2008
Reviewed by Andrew Williams

Keywords: optimus apparatus review, stolpskott studios reviews, stolpskott studios games, optimus apparatus scores, pc game reviews, indie game reviews, independent gaming.