A little while ago, news came along that Human Head Studios and Atari were working on a shooter game called Minimum for the PC. The instant you take a look at it, you notice what sets it apart – the flat shaded polygon style of graphics.
Being an ‘old fogey’ (I won’t use full quotes since I doubt kids would use that phrase anymore) of games, these kinds of graphics are not a foreign concept to me. But they aren’t out of place really, my 8 year old son looked at it and immediately thought of Minecraft due to the blocks. So thanks to that game, current usage of the flat-shaded look lands on the side of art.
For a long time that was the best graphics processors could do. Much like the progression of 2D from single colors blocks and lines to digitized or hand-drawn HD animation, 3D started off in the same manner – wireframes which were sharp lines and dots. BattleZone is a good example there. The next step up was the flat-shaded polygon look, first introduced to the gaming public with Atari’s I,Robot and followed up by Atari again a few years later with Hard Drivin’. Through the 80s and early 90s, this is what was expected from 3D. The most time I invested into a game with 3D flat-shaded stuff was right after Christmas ’93. My parents gave me a PC game on a 3.5″ floppy disk by the name of Cybercon III. It is completely forgotten about now but it was quite the game – 500 rooms to explore, many of them were enormous and rendered in large single colored polygons; AI that reacted to your presence and progress, no text or voice overs to hold your hand as to what to do; it even had a code wheel you had to use to enter in shape codes to progress in the game (one of the many early forms of attempted piracy protection). The difficulty was brutal by today’s standards. It took me about 4 years (playing on and off, usually with a few months in between) to figure it all out and complete the game. That time spent planted the seeds of nostalgia; it didn’t matter to me that the graphics were not photorealistic. My imagination filled in the blanks, which was plenty of fun to do as a kid.
(Apparently no one has bothered to upload the PC-DOS version)
So with Minimum, it plays on that nostalgia, although they are able to achieve greater detail and framerates than we typically enjoyed. I don’t know if it is technically flat-shading given the quality of lighting/shadows that are deployed, which give it a softer look that what we saw in the 80s although you can lower your settings to create that look. There are textures for a few surfaces like crystals and special effects but overall it feels like you are playing in a TRON universe(queue extra nostalgia. The soundtrack is a subdued one that sounds like it would have fit in perfectly with certain scenes of Tron Legacy. Although I think it could work with some high tempo stuff just as well. Before leaving the nostalgia part, in case you are wondering what the current Atari has to do with this, they are the publisher. As mentioned in a previous post, not much they have been involved with in recent years has piqued my interest – just the Atari Flashback 2, Ghostbusters and now this.
No one should make a final judgement on the game yet as it is still in beta form so imperfections that exist will be taken care of; changes implemented which can change how it feels or functions. Many modes/features are not yet available; at the time I write this, only Titan mode is available and there are only three maps to play on. Titan mode pits two teams of up to 5 players each against each other and each team will get a “Titan” – a giant robot – that appears every so often to attack the enemy base. Both Titans appear at the same time and will duke it out when they meet in the center. You can help out by shooting the enemy Titan and there are items that allow you to deal more damage to them if you wish. In between Titan battles there are tiny enemies that spawn and if your team is smart, they will spend more time farming the crystals from killing those as opposed to just killing people on the other team. The entire point of these is to power-up your Titan and if you do more than the other team, you will have the advantage. Once a Titan breaches both opposing base walls and reaches the end of the opposite base, the round is over. Otherwise the only way for it to end is to run the timer out. The game shows two other modes are coming soon, called Team Deathmatch and Dungeon Crawl, which will certainly add a little variety to the game.
There is a crafting element to the game, where you collect different types of shapes which fallen enemies drop; there are blueprints and you can build new weapons using this method. It looks like in the future you will be able to upgrade existing weapons and armor but at the moment that is disabled; you can still upgrade in game however by grabbing power-ups (blue blocks) from fallen enemies. I like where they have different armor types with different effects, often there is a positive and a negative to going with a specific armor set (like you deal more damage but have less health). When you spawn, you can pick from 1-6 loadouts, which you can customize to your liking on the weapons side of things.
If I was to have an issue with the game in its present state it would be the team balancing. Often it pits really powerful players against really weak ones. This is something that is probably one of the big challenges for the developers to handle since there are more factors to consider than simply the level. But I hope it is addressed as development progresses, sometimes even minor balance changes can make big differences. This will also be affected by who is playing as well, where you will start seeing an influx of new blood once the game is finished. There also is a small bug where when you click on the option to synthesize new armor it will play the reload action instead of crafting but that’s not a game breaker and will probably be addressed soon as people were already bringing it up. I can’t say I found anything else, aside from once on my older PC where it crashed when I attempted to Alt+Tab but I haven’t had it happen again.
I have played the game on two different PC configurations, one with an nVidia 9800GT, the other with a 550Ti. While it plays smoother on the latter, there were moments where I couldn’t tell if there was a connection latency problem or my PC choking as when there are close battles it jumps around a little bit.I tinkered with the settings to turn off blur and shadows which gave me better performance but my latter card should be able to handle all of that without any trouble (the game automatically puts the settings to what your system should be able to handle; on the 9800 it was all basic settings while the 550 was almost max). I then remembered that I have not updated my drivers in ages and when I checked – both cards were waaaay behind. So let that be a reminder to you kids, always update the drivers when it is a PC you are dealing with – and before you complain about the performance. After that I started handling matches a little better than before.
Overall I give it a thumbs up. According to Steam I have already played it for 7 hours, so for a game that currently has only one mode and three maps, I wouldn’t call that shabby. It has the potential there which I look forward to seeing unlocked in the near future, especially if they add any other game modes that are unique and they continue balancing the items as well. I also wouldn’t mind seeing a Titan design that uses something like those old school flat-shaded 3D faces 😛
I will update once those changes roll out!