Myriad: Make The World/Break The World is the most drool-inducingly gorgeous videogame I've seen in quite some time.
Inspired more heavily by Kandinsky than Bizarre Creations, this impossibly handsome shooter resembles the mad offspring of Rez and a lava lamp at first glance. I could have stared at it all day during the Develop Expo last week, transfixed as a configuration of striking circles danced and organically evolved before my eyes. As an art installation, it's astonishing.
What's more astonishing, though, is that it's also one of the most innovative twinstick shooters out there. Games are meant to be played, after all, and Norwegian games journalist-turned-developer Erlend Grefsrud has managed to cook up one hell of a Big Idea.
Chances are that you've probably played a twinstick shooter (or twenty) before. The left stick moves. The right stick aims and shoots. Once again we find ourselves controlling an angular minimalist spaceship, blasting constantly-spawning enemies in claustrophobic arenas. Powerful cannons and recoil initially confounds, but on a basic level, Myriad feels comfortingly familiar.
The visuals, though, are like nothing you've seen before. Your ship is the only angular entity in a world of perfect circles and soft curves, angrily disrupting the equilibrium by throwing out a jagged torrent of straight lines. Seemingly furious at your unsightly intrusion, an army of rounded foes constantly attempt to chase you down, harassing you and forcing you to weave through the tight confines of an arena consisting of a haphazard array of overlapping circles. It's a visually arresting aesthetic that, once you've wrapped your brain around it, begins to hint at surprising hidden depths.
Your world may start small, but it's constantly expanding in a dynamic and surprising way. Every time a enemy falls prey to your visually noisy guns, it explodes and becomes a part of the background play field, creating a new circle that you're free to move into. Each foe you dispatch increases the limits of your world, encouraging you to carefully kite and manoeuvre them into an advantageous position to maximise your newfound breathing space. Easy to understand, fantastic fun to experiment with and utterly eyepopping in the execution.
In most games, you'd expect this to be the The Clever Bit™. You know, the mechanic that defines a videogame, boasts its own section in the review and gets constantly alluded to in future conversations. "The crazy shooter where your world gets bigger every time you kill an enemy?... oh yeah, Myriad. That's the one."
Fat chance. Here's The Clever Bit. At any time, you're free to pick up these background circles and reposition them on the fly, simply by holding the left trigger and dragging them around. You're literally capable of shaping the world on a whim, changing the level layout as you play, and it leads to all manner of exciting opportunities.
There's no such thing as a dead end. If you're backed into a corner, common logic dictates that you'll have to shoot your way out or die trying, but Myriad encourages you to grab a distant piece of foreground and move it over, creating your own escape route."If you're surrounded, just grab the ground from under your feet and fly away," Grefsrud advised me. More aggressive players can carefully set up bottlenecks and choke points, funnelling enemies into cannon range to abuse massive chain score multipliers. Again, it's such a simple and digestible mechanic, but leads to one of the most profoundly exciting and unique iterations of the twinstick genre to date.
And, of course, you're creating your own unique piece of art in the process. Your own playable masterpiece, complete with a procedural soundtrack, while having an absolute blast in the process.
"I want to be done with this by the fifteenth of October," Grefsrud told me as I desperately tried to hold an interview while playing this mesmeric masterpiece in the making. "If I'm not done by then, I will have to do something drastic!" He's targeting the PS4 as a lead platform due to the console's sharing and streaming capability, allowing players to share gameplay footage that, in essence, is a gorgeous piece of interactive artwork in its own right. "It looks ridiculously cool."
Yes. Yes, it does. Naturally we'll keep you posted on the latest from Myriad and Grefsrud as we hear it.
Many thanks to Erlend Grefsrud and Bastion PR.