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This summer has been a pretty decent one for my insatiable need for videogames. I have found a virtual treasure trove of stuff to play that has left me, and my hands exhausted from the nonstop gaming action. Jamestown is a big contributing factor to that statement. And while I could have written this review a long long time ago, the honest to god truth is that I’ve just been too busy playing to really care.
It all takes place in a futuristic version of the 17th century where man is struggling to colonize Mars. You take the role of a man who is hoping that Mars holds the keys to his redemption. This quest for salvation will lead you across bullet laden levels made of some of the most gorgeous retro graphics I have ever seen in my life. Each ship, enemy, boss, bullet, and piece of the environment is dripping with so much detail that your jaw may drop a few times. And the graphical beauty is matched in volume quite literally by the amazing sound, and game’s score.
But what makes Jamestown so perfect, is the surprisingly comprehensive gameplay that exists within it. Instead of simply relying on the typical bullet hell formula that has only slightly evolved over the years. And that being a formula that mainly consists of a couple parts plenty o’ bullets, with a dash of upgrade juice. These tropes serve their purpose and we’re accepting, but only to a point. Now something better has come along. While you can select different ships that have different weapons, you will never find yourself in a tech tree, or an upgrade screen on Jamestown. Instead the focus here is in the game’s deeply developed coop that rewards you for gathering your friends and each playing a role. It gets better.
For each kill you score, you are rewarded with gold gears. This gold powers a meter that when filled unleashes a special shield and attack called “vaunt”. When you vaunt you will be given a burst shield that lasts for a few seconds, and your attacks become much stronger. While the shield wears off, your powered attacks last longer and can be extended so long as you keep killing enemies and grabbing more gold. So the idea is that you keep up the destruction to extend your vaunt as long as possible, both for points, and for the bonuses in damage. It’s terribly addicting, and takes quite a bit of skill to become tremendously good at.
Another thing that I don’t think I’ve ever said about a bullet hell game ever, is that the pacing of the difficulty is pitch perfect. For once, it’s not a bullet hell game that starts out at “in your face impossible” as the default difficulty setting. Instead the game gives you a pretty fair chance to learn the ropes, and play the first few levels on it’s base settings. In fact it’s required. The way it works is that you will only have access to the first 3 levels on normal, if you want the next level, you must play every level again on the next highest difficulty, and so on. It does this all the way to the end, to the point that in a scant few hours you’ll be wondering how you were ever intimidated by the game on normal.
But what defines this game more than anything else is it’s co-op encouraged gameplay. You know, the co-op I mentioned earlier? Maybe Final Form Games are one of the few developers that realize that in the age of HDTVs, and Xbox 360 Controllers for Windows, that it is completely possible to have the same couch gaming experience on a PC as you could on a console counterpart. In any case, Final Form made it so you and 3 of your friends can play the same PC game in the same room, on the same screen. And just to be certain you play it that way, an online option doesn’t even exist, and it’s ten times harder solo. But with each ship carrying a different ability, it isn’t a situation where you are getting the short end of the deal by being shoehorned into co-op. Instead the forced mechanic genuinely helps you… as your friends end up developing their piloting stratagem based on what ship they’re flying. You find that you end up with an oddly cohesive almost role playing experience tucked into a shmup. Compelling stuff.
I know I seem to love indie games to an unhealthy amount, but it’s for good reason. Where everyone else is content to make the same games the same way over and over and over… Indie devs like Final Form are proof that even the simplest ideas within the construct of gaming have room for improvement, and terrific innovation. Beyond that you will never spend ten dollars on anything so irrefutably good in your life. But, honestly, you should have stopped reading and bought this game when I told you it was set in 17th century Mars.
Jamestown is available now for PC.
It was developed and published by Final Form Games.
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