Q-Games has made it big with the purity of their PixelJunk brand. They produce simple, straightforward games unencumbered by lumbering narratives or busy convoluted mechanics. PixelJunk Shooter 2 follows through with this design theory almost to a fault. A direct sequel, picking up moments after the conclusion of the first Shooter, the game puts the player into the belly of the beast. Anyone who has taken health class knows what we find inside bellies. Acid. And lava. And water. And machine gun turrets mounted to our capillaries (you know, to fight off infections).
As awkward as the first level may be, the newest liquid acid mechanic makes its debut to great effect. The acid will not instantly kill your ship, but rather coats it and slowly burn your ship to death unless you wash it off with water. This intimate relationship with water will have you fixed on the nearest water source whenever there is acid around. In the presence of lava, the acid can turn into bubbles that cause your ship to skid in one direction. The lack of control can send your ship pinballing around the levels so you must use your grapple to latch onto nearby spinners to alter your trajectory.
While the acid mechanic broadens the scope of the liquids and how they interact, the second major mechanic leaves a lot to be desired. I suspect that Q-Games didn’t want to simply introduce yet another liquid, so instead, they turn the lights out.
Darkness is the place where all those magic missiles go when they die. Unfortunately, it proves very frustrating as the more time you spend in the darkness, the more time the spirit eyeballs have to eat your soul/ship. This turns nearly all of the darkness based levels into mad dashes between patches of light. Further complicating matters, enemies like to spawn as you dash into dark corridors bumping your way around. If you accidentally bump into an enemy, it’s game over and you’re doing the level over again.
Another minor gameplay addition is a creeping green hive that constantly expands to fill an area. Your weapon and water are the primary mode of curtailing the creeping ooze, but overall it only serves to rush the player through an area to pick up survivors before they are overcome. Two new suits also debut, the Hungry Suit, which allows the player to chew through certain walls, and the underwhelming Light Suit, which straps a headlight to your face. The suit should be a boon in the darkness, but the beam is pathetically small and does little to curtail the fumbling because you still cannot see more than a few feet.
Perhaps the strangest difference between Shooter 2 and its predecessor is that it feels more aggressive. I find myself rushing into an open area and spraying the room with rockets much more often than not. One new enemy requires the player to grapple its bulbous center and pull it out of its case before it will take damage. These orbs spray a constant stream of bullets when not grappled, and the most effective method of dealing with them seems to be the tried and true bull-rush before they fill the room with bouncing bullets. Other than those, the difficulty rarely comes from the enemies. The unforgiving environmental hazards, though, bring the pain.
Inconsistencies begin to show as the levels get longer towards the end of the game. Repetition is the name of the game as you restart over and over, with a few levels feeling like trial and error is the only way forward. Cheap deaths (many due to darkness) abound, and the final boss is a controller-snapping hell as he goes through seven stages, several of which will punk your little ship with one errant glob of lava or magnetic fluid.
The multiplayer components represent the bulk of the game as the single player is inline with the first game in terms of length, and though both modes feel complete and robust, the multiplayer offers more variety. Small stages see two players facing off as they play two round games of rescue the survivors. Each player plays two rounds of offense and defense. Offense wants to save as many flailing people as possible and defense wants to stop them. Most matches are quick and fluid, though stalemates are common when a defensive player sets up camp inside your goal zone.
Shooter 2 rounds out the multiplayer by offering ship customization, a feature that would have done well to show up in the single-player. The ship may carry up to three armaments all of which feel inspired by Worms: Armageddon. Players may rewind time, swap-places with opponents, change water to magma and even invert an opponent’s controls. There are a total of 20 items split between weapons, power ups, disruptors and hazards. The game’s currency, awkwardly named "Q$" (or as I like to think: Q-Bucks), are earned after each match. Money buys more weapons and points advance you through the leagues, so expect to spend quite a few hours with the multiplayer to experience everything. One odd observation I noted is that there does not appear to be any matchmaking based on skill or ranking, and if there is it is inconsistent. Several matches had me facing veteran players with advanced items, resulting in a severe trouncing.
This sequel to arguably the most successful PixelJunk iteration leverages every bit of its predecessor and adds a few bits of its own. While the game overall feels a bit more aggressive and a lot more frustrating than the original PixelJunk Shooter, it is still a worthy addition to the PixelJunk lineage.
PixelJunk Shooter 2 was released on March 1st, 2011 for PS3.