Platform: PC (£3.99, Steam)
Developer: Rail Slave Games
Publisher: Kiss Ltd
//N.P.P.D. RUSH// feels like a game you'd usually find on an unmarked floppy disc freshly unearthed from the attic, and that's no bad thing.
Hailing from Welsh bedroom coder Dylan Barry, this retro-themed shooter is as brash and experimental as its title suggests. We assume the role of a drug-addled junkie grafted onto a cybernetic police bike, tasked with collecting fellow female Nox addicts for their body parts in a three-level cyberpunk city ruled by the evil villain Ultra Violet. During which time we'll sell our internal organs for pocket change, indulge in bullet hell shooting, spend several minutes clicking on a low-resolution picture of a woman's face and rock out to some crunchy riffs. All while having our retinas brutally assaulted by the mad visual lovechild of a ZX Spectrum and good old Teletext.
As such, //N.P.P.D. RUSH// -- which we'll refer to without those awkward slashes from now on -- merrily does its own thing and doesn't particularly care whether you like it or not.
I've actually fallen in love with it, perhaps in spite of my better instincts.
The top-down WASD and free-aim gameplay will be instantly familiar if you've played a classic shooter before, and everything broadly makes sense once your eyes adjust to the barrage. Throughout three maze-like interlinked levels, you'll blast though plenty of enemies, dodge past projectiles and gradually memorise the city layout in an effort to save all thirty junkies. Should you manage to find them all, a race back to the start rewards you with a titanic bullet-hell boss showdown against Ultra Violet herself. It's mechanically solid, while the sprawling city of Noxious Pines is neatly designed if somewhat limited in scale.
However, a fierce time limit will keep you honest, since your bike's system clock is continually counting down to self-destruction. The only way to increase your lifespan (the titular "Rush") is to fork over vast sums of money to a corrupt engineer, who'll flog you an extra minute of pain. However, money can also be spent on a powerful weapon upgrade, effortlessly obtaining extra junkies or restoring additional health. Just to make things even more interesting, lucre can only be gleaned from killing enemies, thus taking up more of your time, unless you sell your organs to a depraved black market surgeon... that causes your health to steadily degrade over time.
This leads to a tense and tightly-balanced interplay between Rush, health and money that's ruthlessly engaging over multiple playthroughs. Do you blast through as quickly as possible, saving your money to buy any junkies you missed at the end, or favour a more methodical approach? Whatever you choose, expect pulse-pounding panic to set in as the cruel clock ticks down to its final seconds. Simple, yet devastatingly effective.
You'll probably have noticed that N.P.P.D. Rush favours a unique visual style by now, which is the polite way of saying that you might well be suffering from a cluster headache. Going beyond the usual retro sprite art that tends to dominate the scene, Barry used the ZX Spectrum's bold and limited colour palette for inspiration alongside other ancient computers, while enlisting a professional teletext artist to add some appropriately garish 80s flair. The resulting "glitchpunk" monster is ugly, gritty, raw, cohesive and absolutely bloody gorgeous. Everything just works, everything clicks into a gritty cyberpunk game world that feels completely coherent, nostalgic and surprisingly beautiful in motion. I've never seen anything remotely like it, and the screenshots don't do it justice.
A superb soundtrack sets things off perfectly, whether crunchy guitars or an utterly exceptional boss track that makes you eke out the final fight for as long as possible!
Rush has an interesting cyberpunk story to tell, but struggles to tell it effectively. Beyond a single introductory text screen, the rest of it is backloaded into the end-game epilogue. This would have been perfectly acceptable given the tight time limits, had Barry not decided to force some heavy-handed symbolism into the game itself, resulting in a tedious and unskippable minigame that plays out every time you ascend or descend a level. For a game that's predicated on repetition, forcing us to spend several minutes staring at staircases and clicking on a crude depiction of a woman's face for what feels like an eternity is a sure-fire way to annoy even the most patient player. Symbolism be damned: it's awful.
It's also just the tip of a nitpick iceberg big enough to build a small cold town on. Don't get me wrong, though I love what N.P.P.D. Rush does, much of my affection absolutely can't find its way into the scoreline. Honestly, I'm half-tempted to set out a spreadsheet of snowballing issues and call it day.
Here's a sampler. Iteration time is much longer than it ought to be courtesy of lengthy loading screens between deaths and restarts. The mouse cursor is always clearly visible over the targeting reticle. Speling erorrs abound despite text being at an absolute premium. You'll only encounter four regular enemies in the entire game, one of which is basically just a car. Beating the game rewards you with a code for a competition that ended months ago. There's no fullscreen mode, making it all too easy to drag the screen around or move the cursor out of bounds, locking your movement. Perhaps worst of all, a 100% repeatable bug can break the game by rewarding you with an near-infinite amount of Rush, and is almost impossible to not stumble into by accident.
No, sorry, not worst of all. I forgot about those damned staircases.
Kiss Ltd should probably take a more active role in enforcing quality standards for their Steam releases, but for £2.99, these lapses in polish can be broadly forgiven so long as you relish the more unique aspects of its gameplay and presentation. Otherwise, Steam's full of shooters that will let you have more fun for much less work, and discretion will probably the better part of value for most.
- Balanced, tough and hectic SHMUP exploration gameplay
- Makes a powerful visual statement with cohesive and unique art direction
- Outstanding soundtrack
- Profoundly unpolished
- Awful flow-breaking staircase minigame
- Those visuals certainly aren't for everyone
- Experimental and divisive; 'niche appeal' is an understatement
The Short Version: Mad as an organ-harvesting Teletext-powered cybernetic junkie police bike, this raw and experimental indie shooter is certainly not for everyone. Perhaps even anyone. But //N.P.P.D. Rush// has got real soul, and can you put a price on that?
Considering the offensive staircase minigame and near-total lack of polish, £2.99 is probably about right.