Overall Score 81%
Data Jammers: FastForward
If you take a look at the back of the hypothetical box, Digital Eel describe their latest retro styled arcade/action game as; “a continuously moving three dimensional driving and destruction game set within a retro wireframe world of impossible race tracks”. Oddly, it felt immediately and strangely familiar to me as a simulator of just trying to get to work in Sydney traffic – well, except perhaps the bit about “continuously moving” anyway. The story is completely incomprehensible to me (by design perhaps?). A vague ramble about the player as some kind of data jammer, screaming around the information superhighway, dodging malicious packets and attempting to uncover vast caches of data. Wait, aren't we supposed to be data jammers? What are we doing collecting the stuff? Whatever. The game is from the same knuckleheads that brought us “Brainpipe: A Plunge to Unhumanity” [sic]. Perhaps the less time spent analysing what the hell is going on down there in the Digital Eel R&D basement the better. I'm almost 100% sure it's illegal in most parts of the world.
Toss the manual and chuck away the keyboard overlay. You'll need but 5 keys to play this baby. It's almost the definition of pick up and play gaming. Using the arrow keys, steer your “data jammer” around … Okay, this is silly. What the hell is a data jammer? I'm going to call the thing that you control a car. Disregard the fact that it's shaped like a creepy voodoo doll, and just think of it as a car driving crazily on a freeway. Arrow keys allow you to switch lanes, accelerate and brake. The space bar allows you to let off steam and blast obstacles out of the way with a kind of smart bomb. In simple terms, that's about all there is to it.
Levels start out very casually, but before long lots of enemies will be harassing and haranguing the player on their breakneck runs down the twisting and turning digital freeways. Each level showcases a new and unique enemy type. Some are content to block and ram, others shoot projectiles, hover above the road while bombarding or even flip the players car like a pancake off the tracks and into the void. It would seem that there's a lot of randomisation so that it's difficult to know exactly what's coming in any given playthrough. The freeways themselves branch off and then rejoin each other, winding around and generally playing havoc with the player's spacial awareness. Score is accrued by driving over markers on the track that really just serve as bait to draw the player into making some rash decisions and to keep things unpredictable. Powerups allow for smart bomb recharges and health regeneration as well as a couple of others that have less obvious and undocumented benefits. These are also scattered over the tracks in randomised locations.
The player needs to overcome an initial instinct to want to burn up the limited supply of smart bombs in a road-rage induced frenzy. I'm sure it will take players a couple of runs through the first chapter before they start to rack up some decent scores, and begin to play with the subtleties of the game rather than against them. The smart bombs have been designed as last ditch weapons to be used in a pinch, and as satisfying as it is to blow 3 or 4 enemies to smithereens after being cornered, it can be far more fulfilling to analyse their patterns and learn to outmanoeuvre and outwit the robotic foes. Neutral traffic can be used as shields and enemies can be lured into ramming each other or pushed off the player's path and into the void. The gameplay is intense, immediate and chaotic... or is it? Data Jammers is definitely one of those games where you can suddenly just “feel in the zone”. Don't be put off by what initially might seem to be an insurmountable difficulty level. Once you get a feel for things, the whole game can be polished off in half an hour or so. There's a little replay value as well thanks to the randomisation. The latter levels are more fun to play than the earlier simple ones. The game deceptively presents itself as a lot more difficult than it is. It's nowhere near as frustrating as something like Super Meat Boy for example, that drove me insane for a few hours before I uninstalled it after a ragequit of massive proportion.
The game's presentation is almost flawless. Audio is superb, as we've come to expect from this developer. It's a kind of eclectic mishmash of electronica and ambient noise that is, although not quite as good as the brilliant soundtrack of Brainpipe, still light-years ahead of most of its peers. The colourful, vibrant wireframes, and hypnotic collage of abstract 3-D models screaming past at a million miles per hour is very satisfying on an aesthetic level. If ever there were calls for examples of videogames to be considered as legitimate art, Digital Eel's creations would be amongst the first I'd proffer.
As a pure gameplay experience, though, Data Jammers is a real one night stand. It's over before it really gets started and isn't the kind of game that you can play for extended periods of time. From memory there are about 13 or 14 levels in the game, and it can be played on a normal or hardcore difficulty level. It has no pretensions about what it is, however, and both the immediacy of the gameplay and the low price point complement the game for what it is. I like it. True, it won't have universal appeal. Many will dismiss it (somewhat fairly) for the lack of depth, but if you approach Data Jammers like you would a quick game of solitaire then you're on the right track as to what to expect from it.
Keywords: data jammers: fastforward review, digital eel reviews, digital eel games, data jammers: fastforward scores, pc game reviews, indie game reviews, independent gaming.