I’ll be honest: until just recently, I had never heard of Velocity. When Velocity 2X was released and started garnering positive notices, I didn’t realize it was a sequel to an acclaimed portable space shooter from developer FuturLab. For the sake of context, I dug up my PSP, dusted it off, and downloaded the game. What I found was an enjoyable experience: a shump with tight controls, a novel hook, and a real sense of exploration. I devoured it quickly and immediately downloaded Velocity Ultra to find the experience even more enjoyable with a DualShock 3 and a television. Needless to say as I booted up Velocity 2X, my hopes were rather high.
I’m pleased to report that this sequel lived up to my expectations, delivering a deeper and more varied take on the Velocity formula. If you’re not familiar with said formula, don’t feel bad, you’re in the same boat as I was. In Velocity, you control a small ship from the classic top down perspective. You navigate through maze-like stages, shooting enemy ships and turrets, and rescuing “survivors,” – which amounts to collecting pods scattered about. If that sounds basic, that’s because it is. The hook comes in the form of warping. By holding the square button, you bring up a cursor which you can then aim anywhere within a certain radius. Releasing square instantly warps the ship to that position, allowing you to pass through walls and reach areas that are physically blocked off. It’s a neat mechanic that’s fun to use and it allows for some creative level design. The screen is always scrolling up, forcing you onward, and you’ll need to use the warp often to pass obstructions and avoid getting smashed. There’s also another version of the warp, which allows you to drop a checkpoint that can be warped to from anywhere. This is necessary for returning to certain junctures to explore different paths. Most levels operate around the idea of deactivating security systems, which require nodes to be destroyed in a certain order. You’ll often travel down a path, destroying security nodes, and then have to warp back to a checkpoint in order to explore newly opened paths. The whole mechanic gives the game an uncommon pacing, and a feel unlike most other shumps. Yes there is plenty of shooting, but the experience is more about deft navigation and exploration.
Velocity 2X improves on the original in a couple ways. Of course this is a prettier game. The effects are better looking, and everything appears much sharper. The biggest visual upgrade comes from the new settings. The first Velocity used the same look for every single level and served up mostly metallic hues. This new game has a few different areas, and I really appreciated the new swath of colors they presented. There are lush green levels, and white, snow drenched areas, complete with a nice snowstorm effect dotting the action. The levels are simply much more visually interesting this time They feature nice touches like foreground objects passing close to the camera as you fly by, and waterfalls running off the edges of the walls and down into the distance.
The new coat of paint complements the familiar flight portions, which remain quite fun.The big leap though occurs when you step out of your ship and control Kai – that’s the person who’s been piloting the ship the whole time apparently – in side scrolling segments. It’s a genuinely radical addition, introducing a whole second genre into the mix. It works because the on-foot stuff features the same responsive controls as the flight sections. They also operate on the same principles. Kai can warp through walls, and deploy pods to warp to just like her ship can. You’ll send her dashing through levels, shooting at enemies and warping past lethal obstacles. The warp pods can also be thrown, and you’ll need to aim them carefully in order to get through certain areas. These levels are well designed to take advantage of Kai’s warping abilities, and there are some clever areas that require precise timing and platforming.
These new sections are fun on their own. However when meshed with the rest of the game, they offer some welcome variety, and create an experience that’s above and beyond that of the first title. Nearly every level features both kinds of gameplay. A blocked path will often force you to fly into a dock, where you’ll proceed on foot to destroy the necessary security nodes before returning to your ship. As the levels become more complex, you’ll often need to go back and forth between the different areas in order to proceed.The two styles working together make for levels that feel more fleshed out, and the variance helps keep the game fresh over the course of fifty levels.
There are some mild negatives that dampen the experience a bit. The story is very basic, presented entirely in still frames with text. There is no voice acting, and the presentation feels a bit like a comic book. One could argue it fits the style of the game, but I wished it was a bit more fleshed out. The plot itself is quite bare bones, and the writing is awfully cheesy at times. The finale is really anti-climactic too, and left me scratching my head a bit. My biggest complaint is that the game lacks any kind of “game over.” You literally can die as much as you want. Respawning immediately with no consequences cheapened the experience for me. The first game gave you three lives for each level, and early on I was perplexed as to why I had unlimited continues in this one. As I played on, I began to understand probably why FuturLab decided to give infinite respawns this time. It gets pretty easy to die later on, especially during the on foot levels. Some very delicate timing is required to avoid death, and I imagine the devs didn’t want the game to get too frustrating. This is understandable, but I still wish there was at least some kind of lives system so as to make death more consequential. Even just the option to play with a certain number of continues would have been nice, or perhaps being penalized with point deductions; just something to give death more weight.
Despite these complaints, Velocity 2X is a great game, and one of the best experiences I’ve had on a Playstation 4 so far. It took me a little over seven hours to finish with all crystals and survivors collected, meaning I replayed a decent chunk of the levels to improve my score. Each level tracks your time, crystals, and/or survivors, and your overall points. You’re given a medal accordingly and replaying levels to earn a higher score is rather satisfying, so expect more fun even after the credits roll. There are also bonus levels that have to be unlocked by finding secret crystals hidden off the beaten path in the main levels. I only managed to find a few of these on my initial playthrough, so there’s additional incentive to replay for that reason too. The bonus levels are just simple puzzles that offer a brief distraction from the main game, but it’s nice that they’re present. Altogether this is solid package and I felt I got my money’s worth at $10. If you’re a fan of either genre showcased here, and you’re searching for some fun on the PS4, look no further than Velocity 2X.