Developer: Squid In A Box
Waves is gorgeous. There's no other word for it. As your luminous sphere ripples across the surface of a sumptuous digital lake, neon brain candy caressing and pummelling your retinas like an expensive masseuse, it's difficult not to fall in love with Squid In A Box's dual-stick shooter at first sight. Looks aren't everything however, and I'm delighted to report that this inexpensive package contains an impressive amount of quality and value. More remarkable, though, is the fact that it's essentially a happy accident.
See, Waves could have been a very different game. When I caught up with developer Rob Hale at this year's Eurogamer Expo, he explained that the project was originally intended to be a physics-based platform puzzler, with the premise of merrily-rolling balls and the Unreal engine providing the perfect framework. On paper, at least, because Hale realised that he simply wasn't having any fun either playing or developing it. So he did what any reasonable game designer would do in this situation. He added a gun.
Speaking as a gamer, we're so very glad he did. Guns are awesome. And so is Waves.
As a 'twin-stick' shooter, the basics will be instantly accessible to anyone with even the slightest shred of gaming experience. You'll roll your sphere around some large arenas using the traditional WASD setup, while the mouse aims and fires a stream of concentrated electric murder at a fearsome selection of spawning wireframe beasties. Holding down the right mouse button slows the action to a crawl thanks to the continually-charging slow motion ability, allowing you to deftly manoeuvre your way through oncoming hazards, and a powerful smart bomb occasionally appears after accruing enough points. It's a simple setup, but feels fresh and exciting in the execution.
The mechanics are incredibly tight and responsive, featuring just the right amount of satisfying weight and intertia to connect you to your brave little ball. However, Waves truly shines when it comes to the enemies and the acquisition of points. The enormous variety of different foes all attack in unique and interesting ways, with some enemies weaving through your fire, others charging full pelt and bosses hanging back at range. Points are doled out per kill, but to attain the biggest scores, you'll need to intelligently chain kills together for multipliers and engage adversaries at point blank range. Waves thrives on the razor-edged balance between risk and reward, leading to a hectic, stressful and satisfying shooting experience that delights in pushing you beyond your limits. Limited slow motion power and randomised incoming waves (ooh, now I get it) will raise your blood pressure to dangerous levels... and give you a surge of raw adrenaline in the process.
Waves provides five gametypes, all of which present a markedly different challenge. Crunch Time and Survival are both takes on the classic infinite arena format, as the former limits your time while the latter gives you a limited number of lives that can be increased by battling through the increasingly tricky levels. Rush throws the ability to increase your time limit by destroying menacing boss cubes while defending yourself against furious assault. Challenge is a timed leaderboard mode that encourages you to race through 20 preset levels as quickly and skillfully as possible. And last but certainly not least, Bombing Run casts you as Terence the bomb disposal ball who has to quickly transfer explosives between distant pads while under fire. There's a lot to like here, and a mode to suit your mood.
We need to mention those visuals again. Waves is thoroughly beautiful, and sets itself apart from the Geometry Wars crowd with the slippery fluid floor of each arena and the three-dimensional perspective. Interestingly, its stunning good looks are entirely down to the advanced shaders that the Unreal Engine has to offer rather than any complex modelling; Waves is all about balls, boxes and simple geometric shapes of various descriptions, but they're colourful, vibrant and wondrous to behold. Waves provides a number of resolutions and performance options (ambient occlusion and VSync, for example) to suit all towers and laptops, and I'm confident that you'll be able to run it on anything save the most antiquated rigs.
The lack of multiplayer may put a few potential buyers off, and I concede that it would have probably worked rather well. But Waves is all about self-improvement, multiple randomised playthroughs and the thrill of finally nailing leaderboard-worthy scores after numerous embarrassing failures. You won't miss it.
Finally, Waves seals the deal with a quirky and quintessentially British sense of humour. You'll frequently laugh out loud at gametype descriptions and end-game summations, which helps to create a sense of real personality in what could have been a dry and sterile experience.
- Hectic, stressful, mechanically perfect arcade action
- Good value
- No multiplayer
- It's a dual-stick stick shooter. There are lots of those.
- And this one is better than most
The Short Version: Waves is a competent and gorgeous shooter that more than deserves its inexpensive RRP. Prepare for hectic unforgiving splendour and retinal titilation of the highest order.