Developer: BatCat Games
The Xbox Live Indie marketplace continues to prove its worth as an incubator and testing ground for PC games talent. After releasing breezy twinstick shooter P-3 on the service at the start of the year, Irish studio BatCat Games joined the growing number of developers who've enhanced and retooled their wares for PC, adding both content and graphics options. P-3 Biotic is the result: a shiny, bloom-filled SHMUP available on IndieCity and IndieVania.
You should know the drill by now. Players pilot a small ship in a claustrophobic two dimensional arena (in this case, the interior of a biological cell), moving with the left thumbstick while independently directing a stream of neon death with the right. Of course, as a PC game, WASD and mouse controls are also available depending on your tastes. Waves of increasingly numerous and exponentially dangerous enemies continually spawn into the tight confines, pushing your reflexes, manoeuvrability and survival instinct to the limit. BatCat have gone to town on neon-edged visual impact and pizazz, promising vastly improved graphics and particle effects - and delivering - but at a basic level it's very much business as usual.
P-3 Biotic does feature one massive wrinkle, however, in the form of a pulsating vulnerable nucleus. It's both a gift and a curse, your deadliest weapon and your most crippling vulnerability.
The all-important nucleus sits immobile in the centre of the arena, an attractive and defenceless target for the ravening enemy hordes. If it's destroyed, you can kiss your game goodbye, therefore prompting you out of your comfort zone and forcing you to set up a tight perimeter around your fragile charge. In contrast to many twinstick shooters, you'll frequently have to leap into harm's way rather than hanging back and evading. Defeated enemies yield healing pickups that recharge the nucleus back to full strength, creating an exciting balance between desperate defence and all-out attack.
Experimentation yields greater depth, in the form of a selection of powerful ship abilities. You can trigger a smart bomb, drop mines, temporarily increase firepower or transform your vessel into a battering ram, but doing so draws life force out of the nucleus itself. Continually balancing wanton destruction with your nucleus' ever-dwindling HP bar is a refreshing and stressful twist on the genre, and makes P-3 Biotic stand out from the glutted twinstick crowd. As with the best SHMUPS, you'll soon descend into a zen state of pure reflex and muscle memory, but your brain will still be required to ensure that the nucleus is always fighting fit.
P-3 Biotic succeeds from both a mechanical and visual standpoint. The controls are incredibly responsive whether played on a gamepad or mouse/keyboard, and the difficulty curve is smooth and fast throughout the twelve waves. Better yet, this really is a deeply pretty game that revels in an enormous amount of visual feedback (you can thank the beefy particle effects for that) and an attractive colour palette that combines deep calming blues with vibrant whites, greens and reds. Eyepopping neon pervades, and we love it. A small range of resolutions and rendering options are available if you plan on playing P-3 Biotic on a laptop or portable, though you'll likely have few problems running it.
Despite the welcome addition of the nucleus, it's worth noting that P-3 Biotic is still functionally similar to any number of twin-stick shooters already on the market. I can't help feeling that BatCat Games could have potentially eked even more out of their main conceit, the biological setting and defence mechanics. This level of 'sameyness' also sadly extends to the enemy design, which features much the same abstract geometric shapes and spheres we've come to expect from the genre. That said, Biotic is still a breath of fresh air, and we'd be excited to see a meatier sequel.
Content may also be a concern for some players. Achievements and high score tables are on hand for more competitive or completionist gamers to grind away at, but in many ways, P-3 Biotic's 12 waves feel more like a game mode than a fully-fledged title. Especially after sampling the feature-packed delights of Rob Hale's Waves last year.
At the end of the day, though, P-3 Biotic will set you back £2.50. It's less than the price of a bus ticket, and what you'll receive is attractive, polished, fun and eminently replayable.
- Nucleus defence adds a hectic and cerebral twist to traditional SHMUP action
- Impressive visuals, rampant particle effects and attractive colour palette
- Solid, capable controls and mechanics
- Only one mode available, no multiplayer (oh well)
- Unimaginative enemy designs
- Could have done more with the premise. Sequel?
The Short Version: P-3 Biotic brings desperate defence and sacrifice to a genre in dire need of new ideas. It's a thoughtful iteration rather than a true reinvention of the humble twin-stick shooter, but unquestionably warrants the negligible price tag through hectic gameplay, attractive visuals and more gratuitous particles than strictly necessary. Highly recommended.
BatCat Games hope to bring P-3 Biotic to Steam in the near future.