Release Date: May 5, 2016
Platform: PC via Steam
Disclaimer: The following review was conducted on PC via Steam. A code was provided by the developer for review purposes.
Utoptia 9-A Volatile Vacation is a 3D, isometric shooter combined with roguelike elements. You play as a holiday maker who has arrived on “Utopia 9”, a holiday resort set in the future.
The game starts out with your character crash landing on Utopia, and straight away you are greeted with an easy to follow tutorial system etched in the ground below you. The goal is to make your way to the customer service building in Utopia, obviously to make a complaint about this holiday resort ruining your vacation!
As you traverse through the world, you’ll come up against hundreds of enemy aliens armed with different weapons, and of course–suitcases. Your character has the ability to hold two weapons at once, as well as two other weapons in your holster. Tasers and pistols are amongst the weaponry that can be combined, allowing you to create some interesting variations to store in your arsenal. This was probably one of the most interesting part, particularly as you start to explore areas of Utopia as some of the weapons are much harder to find compared to others. It was heavily rewarding as you will find things like an extra rare laser rifle for your efforts.
Throughout each stage, you will come across chests which will include loot such as new weapons, shields, and health upgrades. These soon become your aim and benchmark for reaching a certain check point throughout a level because you will rely on them like your life depends on it–because it does. There is a real art between conserving your ammo and not dying, one that takes quite a bit of mastery to really feel like you’ve got a grasp on it all.
Exploration isn’t the only way to be rewarded for your efforts. Every enemy killed will drop experience points. Once you amass enough experience points, you can then level up and spend a talent point in the game’s Mutation system. The mutations range from straight up damage increases, to faster movement or firing speed. Other more bespoke abilities include enemies being likely to drop a whiskey bottle, granting you health points when defeated. This talent point system was another aspect of the game play I found thoroughly enjoyable as it allows you to really carve out different playstyles from run-to-run, creating new challenges that stretch far more than a single playthrough will allow. This is also where the roguelike elements start to come into play.
If you die in Utopia, you will start back at the beginning of the game, and have lost all of you weapons and mutation points. The enemy which killed you will grow stronger and loot all of the gear formerly known as yours. You now have the option to go back the same route to avenge the last tourist and take on the now upgraded enemy or you can choose a completely different path and avoid it altogether. This reminded me a lot of how Dark Souls worked as you could often find your way back to your corpse to pick up your lost loot. This was something impressive as the developers scaled down those same elements to fit this isometric space shooter.
The impressive streak continues throughout your Utopia 9 experience. Aside from the gunplay and management system, Utopia 9 has one of the catchiest theme tunes I have heard in a very long time. Right from the first boot you are presented with an upbeat soundtrack which is present throughout the entire game. The production values are very high, having a flare of immersion based on quality alone. These undoubtedly match the visual presentation as the quality doesn’t dip in this department, either.
Visually, Utopia 9 is great. There is an abundance of variety in character models, and colorful environments extend through the games entirety. The art direction not only has a stylized pop to it, there are some really interesting and quirky character designs with enemies having over sized heads and limbs that gives the game a subtle level of humor, and some of the weapons you can use such as your suitecase to swing around hitting people with. The game’s UI is really nicely presented too. Clean and slick menus make everything much easier to navigate through and all of the relevant information is always on screen for your viewing such as ammo counts, health and a mini map.
While the game has an easy to stroll through interface, the game itself is no walk in the park. I’ll just say it: the game is hard. I thought it was going to be a really easy experience, stemming from past games in this genre having watered down gameplay mechanics to ease players into victory. Most of the games I’ve played have been easily beaten after a little bit of practice. That is definitely not the case for Utopia 9. It took a little over five hours before I could even get past the third stage in the game, and even now after 10-hours, I am nowhere near completing it. And, there are still other challenges I’m discovering.
The game also includes a nemesis system which we saw in 2014’s hit, Shadow of Mordor. For those unfamiliar, this allows to take revenge on enemies that may have killed you on previous attempts. The nemesis system adds an extra level of challenge, but also rewards players for taking the challenge as killing upgraded enemies will result in more experience and a bigger quantity of rewards. While many would stop there in producing new challenges for players, there is yet another addition to create a deep sense of replayability that can be felt here.
All of the levels in this game are procedurally generated, meaning you won’t experience the same map more than once. This adds a layer of difficulty as you will now enter a given level completely running blind. Enemies will spawn in random locations, and will sometimes even spawn right where you start your adventure–so you best be quick off the mark.
THE BOTTOM LINE
With the procedurally generated levels, and the challenging gameplay, Utopia 9 has a huge amount of replayability and length to it in general. As stated above, I am nowhere near close to finishing the game after over 10-hours of playing it, dying, and restarting into the madness. Like many other roguelike games, this can easily be a twenty hour plus title.
Utopia 9 seemed to be a bug and glitch free release. I didn’t have any technical problems throughout. I was able to play at a steady 60-fps even at a 4k resolution. The game was technically sound in both visuals and audio, and a perfectly optimized feast for both the eyes and ears.
Overall, even with the deaths, I really enjoyed the hours sunk into Utopia 9. The gameplay is satisfying and fun, which is probably the most important factor here, but there is so much more to this title. A really awesome soundtrack, to an endless amount of content to offer. The development team is constantly adding new content as well, with more items planned to be added in the future, including improved AI.
It’s rare that a game is able to hook me straight away and keeping me wanting to boot it up every time I sat down at my computer. The ease of being able to jump into a play through really works in the game’s favor. Utopia 9 is a solid release that would be well worth your time checking out.