Shred Nebula Review

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Shred Nebula Publisher: CrunchTime Games
Developer: CrunchTime Games

Platform: Xbox 360
Reviewed on Xbox 360

Humanity has sent expeditions into deep space, but no ship has ever returned. Even rescue expeditions have disappeared without a trace. That fact led to a moratorium on deep space exploration, but one scientist refuses to abide by the ban. Dr. Gage created the RIP Rocket, a small, one-man vessel capable of jumping through hyperspace, but with adaptable weapon systems. As it turns out, that's a good thing, because the galaxy is densely populated – with aliens that want to turn humanity into a sparse vapor spread through the vacuum of space.

Kyle Ackerman

Shred Nebula is the freshman effort from three recent graduates. They called themselves CrunchTime Games, created the RAK Engine (Roaming Arcade Killer Engine) and used it to build a 2D shooter with large battlefields set in the far reaches of space. While the game is solid, and will be a great foundation for the CrunchTime guys' future games, Shred Nebula lacks the polish of experience and is far better in execution than in design.

My biggest problem with Shred Nebula is that the RIP Rocket, the player's ship, has a tremendous variety of abilities and firepower, but I didn't find myself drawn to use most of it. There's solid momentum physics, so I needed the forward and reverse thrusters to move around. There are shields, turbo thrusters, a primary shot that can be upgraded and a more powerful secondary shot. There's a hyperdrive that ends the level when sufficiently charged, and a turret with four configurations, ranging from a scanner to homing missiles to a cannon designed to wear down shields. That's a lot for a simple arcade shooter, and is mostly unnecessary. I needed the thrusters, the basic cannons and the shields, but often found it easier to quickly finish a foe than to switch turret weapons to exploit the built in strengths and weaknesses of various ship/weapon combos. There were a few "boss" spaceships that required slightly more thought, but I would have preferred fewer controls and more compelling play.

The best thing about Shred Nebula is the art. I even loved the CrunchTime Games logo. The nebulae and looming planets in the background make for a colorful and spectacular spacescape. Unfortunately, they look so cluttered that it gets really distracting, and can be hard to tell where the deadly nebula gasses begin and the planetary backdrop ends. As a result, I found myself playing by staring at the mini-map, and that just reminded me that the game was fundamentally about holding down the primary fire button and maneuvering around tiny dots. Despite the tremendous art, I felt like I was playing a game with more enemies, and graphics even more primitive, than Asteroids. That was disappointing.

When I say that I wanted a more "compelling" game, I found the premise problematic. Not the bit about shooting things in space, that's always fun. My problem was with the victory condition for each level. Shred Nebula has you searching for human expeditions, so the real goal is to charge up your hyperdrive and survive long enough to find a hyperspace beacon somewhere on the level. I felt like I was being instructed to avoid enemies and encounters to survive long enough to run away. The game designers wave their arms and shout, "Don't explore all this content we created for you!" The poorly-penned plot is supposed to be the incentive to keep players exploring with the RIP Rocket, scanning hulks and the remnants of enemy battleships. But it isn't engaging, so the only reason to stick around is out of an obsessive need to bulk up a score multiplier.

The people who will find Shred Nebula compelling are the sort of folks who want an old-school arcade shooter in which you encounter progressive waves of enemies, each with different attack patterns. But even those folks are probably playing something like Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2. They are also a lot more likely to try the game's Score Attack mode than the Adventure mode, in which you rush through the game to rack up a competitive score for the leaderboards. In Adventure mode, your score doesn't add up if you lose all your ships, but you can continue the exploration as often as you want. The game supports eight-player multiplayer deathmatches, but the online pool of players is scarce, and ultimately, it's just Space War with beautiful backdrops.

The single-player Adventure mode goes on for a long time, but within a few levels I didn't care about much more than seeing the next backdrop. Finding a good multiplayer match was near-impossible, and the Score Attack mode wasn't as entertaining as several other offerings on Xbox Live Arcade. I really did spend most of the single-player game cruising backwards and holding down the fire button, playing by looking at the mini-map. And that doesn't leave me feeling like my Xbox Live Arcade time was well spent. Let alone the 800 points ($10) that the game costs.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on September 13, 2008 8:03 PM.

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