Platform: PC/iOS Coming Soon
Developer: Andy Wallace
Release Date: 19th September 2014 (Steam)
With faux-retro vertices and a synth-cool “Drive”-esque soundtrack, Particle Mace is possibly the epitome of style. Monolithic decagons lazily drift through the inky blackness, neon driftwood caught in an interminable current. Crimson interlopers pulse rhythmically, painting a fading trail of fumes in their wake. There’s a calming serenity yet every game needs a balance. The knife appears to teeter so far to the side of order that it would take a heavy dose of chaos to reestablish the equilibrium; in Particle Mace, that source of discord is you. Space debris is tethered to your ship like fibre optics, oscillating maniacally with your own movements. Anything caught in its wild thrash is instantly obliterated, though your own fragility should always be considered as it is your only defence; an unpredictable apparatus that must be reined in before it can be mastered.
That seemingly whimsical offence is possibly the greatest videogame element to have been programmed. Meticulously refined, the number of ways you can utilise its destructive properties are astonishing. It mirrors your early thrusts before developing a course of its own, inertia driving it to frantic orbits of your craft. Early on it feels unpredictable, a clumsy tool for accidental demolitions at best but soon it grows to an extension of player movement. Eventually you master the eponymous Mace effect, hurling it with sheer brute force into clusters of enemies and asteroids. This will suffice for the first few sessions before necessity fosters invention and you master self-made techniques such as Fencing whereby you lightly lance outwards using the trail as a foil or Shielding that draws the particles round you in a bubble, protecting you from all angles.
Mastery of this minutiae is a game of itself, but there’s much more to Particle Mace than a unique play style. The traditional Arcade mode is best compared to Tilt to Live meets Asteroids in a physics playground; using the aforementioned weapon you must survive an endless torrent of vicious polygons whilst deftly avoiding the meteorites. Smashing through the asteroids awards a paltry sum of points yet defeating one of the invaders homing in on your position provides a temporary multiplier that increases with each quick kill. Distilled to perfection, that’s the meat of the gameplay succinctly summed up but you’re wildly underestimating the game if you believe it to be simple.
Mission mode offers by far the greatest longevity in Particle Mace, with 150 different challenges offered up to you three at a time. Many of them require simple adjustments to your scoring methods, such as reaching a multiplier of 3 or destroying a certain number of enemies without damaging an asteroid. Occasionally though, an objective will change the entire balance of the game and due to the nature of tackling three of them at once, you can find yourself in very challenging circumstances. It will differ for every player but finding myself restricted to a much smaller play area whilst being assaulted by a relentless invincible opponent was both terrifying and exhilarating at once. There will be some you never want to experience again but they’re nothing if not memorable.
The Steam store page lists the game as being in Early Access, but refreshingly you wouldn’t know it to play it. With special achievements awarding multiple craft with radically different properties, you’ll have plenty of incentive to exhaust all the options provided. With Mission and Arcade covered, you also have Co-op Arcade and Deathmatch. Both offer local multiplayer experiences with people gathering round the screen, controller in hand and jostling for first place. There’s certainly hope that further development will introduce online elements but Particle Mace offers more gameplay on the first day of Early Access than most others in the genre ever provide upon full release.
All interaction within the game is handled purely through one movement input, there are no buttons to contend with outside of the menu. Whether you’re using the mouse, controller or even a laptop’s touchpad, you are given complete and perfect manipulation of your avatar. The upcoming iOS version is hugely promising given the accuracy touch controls can provide. It even feels reminiscent of the very best radiangames have provided on the platform; those with access to an iOS device would be wise to keep an eye on its progress.
Upon startup, one of the messages that can be displayed randomly is “I just know you’ll enjoy this game”. A little cocksure perhaps, but I can’t deny the truth in the statement.