Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Constant C review

Now that the new generation of consoles has launched, there seem to be less and less titles being released on the Xbox 360's Live Arcade. The service launched some of the best titles of the last generation, and to see it petering out is a little bit heartbreaking. But it's not over just yet, and the latest release is Constant C. It's a physics based puzzle/platformer, in which you control the Emergency Rescue Robot, sent to a spaceship involved in a science experiment gone wrong. It sounds pretty basic, until you start playing, at which point it reveals some rather unique gameplay mechanics. Does it do enough to warrant a revisit the previous generation though? Read our full review to find out...

Meet the Emergency Rescue Robot

You control the aforementioned rescue robot, which has been sent out to a large space station which is having some major, world-changing problems. At the start of the game, it's strictly a 2D platformer. You run to the right and jump over obstacles, we've seen it all before. Pretty soon though, you learn more about what was happening on the ship, and why it is currently out of action. After rebooting the onboard AI, you discover that a science experiment known as the Superluminal-Project went terribly wrong, and the ship is actually frozen in time. This is where the game gets really cool.

Your robot has a 4-Dimensional Stabilizer Field, which looks like a ball of light surrounding your character, but it's far more than a light source. Within this field, time flows at a constant rate. So whilst the ship is stuck in a single moment, you are not, and anything in your immediate vicinity will share that property. Jump next to a crate, hovering motionless in the air, and it will fall with you. Need an elevator to lift you up? Hop on it and movement will be returned to it, and you can progress. It goes even further than this though, as life is also given to environmental and background items and machinery. Lights flash, fans spin and faulty wires spark as you pass them (the sparks even freeze exactly where they were once they're out of range). It shows a great level of detail that many developers may have overlooked. 

The puzzles are initially simple, but soon become insanely challenging

After a few basic puzzles which get you accustomed to the Stabilizer Field, a new gameplay mechanic is introduced: gravity switching. It starts out with the gravity only being shifted by levers dotted around the levels, but soon enough you have full control. You can turn walls and ceilings into the floor, as many times as you want, with a recharge time of maybe a second. Gravity switching is by no means new to gaming, but it's never really been used like this, and when combined with the Stabilizer Field, there are some very interesting puzzles. Some levels require you to turn the room on it's side and drop alongside a box which blocks laser beams. Sounds easy enough, but make sure you've thought of a way out, as a straight drop will end in certain death. Luckily dying is no big deal, and you instantly respawn at the start of the same room. There are some fiendishly difficult levels, sporadically thrown into each stage, and they seem a little out of place. That's one of the few problems with Constant C; the difficulty is so inconsistent. You can take half an hour to complete a puzzle and the next one will only take one try. It seems like the level order should have been a little different, but it's not a massive problem at all. 

As well as solving puzzles, you are tasked with collecting data storage packs, which not only power the AI and unlock new levels, but gradually unlock the back-story to this whole disaster. After you've managed to recover a certain amount of data packs, you'll be given access to a short cut-scene. There are thirteen to unlock overall, and when pieced together they tell a well written story with twists and turns, and quite a few shocks. Characters aren't who they initially seem to be, and those who seem trustworthy might be the exact opposite. The game also has a really cool sense of humour; characters pull pranks, the AI at the hub of the game is constantly wise-cracking. The art style  is very simple, but incredibly charming at the same time. They're cute little characters in a complex, scientific world with difficult puzzles and a fairly dark story, and the juxtaposition is awesome. There are also some fantastic light and shadow effects, and as you would expect from a game in this genre, some great physics. Your robot and other objects keep momentum through gravity switches, which makes for some maddeningly difficult situations, but a lot of fun. 

The back-story is told through a series of charming cut-scenes

Everything about Constant C is impressive, from the gameplay, to the story, to the visuals. It's just a shame that many people will overlook it due to the new generation of consoles. Lots of potential fans of this game have already moved on to the Xbox One and Playstation 4, and it really is unfortunate that it didn't come out just a few months earlier. The game is also available on PC, so it will definitely reach a wide audience, perhaps just not as wide as it could have been. If you're a fan of physics-based puzzle/platformers, you should absolutely download Constant C. It's one of the most enjoyable downloadable titles to hit XBLA in a long time, and it's absolutely worth the low asking price of £7.99.


by Louis Gardner

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