Arctica has got me sussed. Throw in 3D action with plenty of particle physics and a sci-fi theme and I'm basically putty in its hands. In this case detailing a review of the latest particle experience, SpeedFest. If you're into seat-of-the-pants action games then I think you too will love it. Read on for a wealth of screenshots and a video that will give you a great idea of the gameplay on offer.
You'll remember my review of Arctica's recent BreakFest, which I described as being 'a cross between Breakout and Doom', the latter a reference to the 3D textured surfaces and particle physics - fountains, bubbling lava, and so on. All very well, but if you're not a big Breakout fan then it's all just an excuse for eye candy.
What we have here is the same graphics engine, but translated into a driving/racing game. According to the official blurb: "Speedfest straps you on to a rocket-sled going at breakneck speeds, your mission is to evacuate stranded personnel from a deep space research outpost before a collapsing sun scorches the planet". Indeed.
The result is quite something to behold, especially when you get up to speed. The particle streams may not look much in the static screenshots, but they're a lot more impressive when animated, as you'll see in the video at the end of this review. Here's another particle-fest example, very Doom-like:
There are thirty levels in all to power your way through, with five lives available for each, and with the twists and turns in the maze ahead of you getting ever trickier. And everything's against the clock, so you'll want to pick up some 'speedups' (like this one, below) along the way, to accelerate your sled.
The catch comes when the turns become extreme - in these cases you'll also want to seek out and pass over 'slow downs', similar avatars that decelerate the sled. The physics behind SpeedFest seem very well thought out and with reduced velocity you'll find you can skid round tight corners more easily.
Overcook your speed round a corner and you'll slam into one of the walls with a sickening thud - despite the sci-fi setting, there's a surprising air of realism and even glancing blows are represented in haptic and aural feedback - you know you've hit something - a fact also represented by your sled's health number, bottom left, gradually getting depleted even as the time on the right advances inexorably.
Slam into a wall point blank, of course, and that's a life gone ("Crashed and burned"). Although the clock is always ticking, there are time gates such as the one shown below, passing over each of these gives you a two second time bonus. Although when playing SpeedFest at first your main goal will simply be to make your way through the levels, you'll eventually be good enough to want to achieve the mythical three star rating for each level, not to mention a faster-than-before time total for the game.
All of which means a lot of gameplay value. I played for a good hour and got as far as level 12 - with the levels getting harder and harder, I'd say you've got up to ten hours of racing to get through the whole game before you start to go back and try to clear levels faster and better. Having said this, SpeedFest is a tiny bit repetitive - you're not going to want to play for hours, it's a perfect casual game for ten minutes here and there (i.e. "clear a new level, achieve a better time", etc.)
There's a pumping Knight-Rider-esque soundtrack, as you'll hear in the video below, plus numerous atmospheric sound effects as needed, depending on what you hit or pass over.
Although I've linked to the £3 commercial version above, there's also an ad-sponsored, free version here. In between levels there's a simple sponsor message with a two or three second delay. All very nicely pitched and it means that you can try the game out very easily without commitment.
Arctica really has mastered the art of gaming on Symbian, in terms of game performance and implementation. Although the menu structure is custom for their titles and not standard Symbian UI, it's all very useable and I especially liked the detailed way you can customise the game sound in terms of music and SFX. Very nicely done, even if I ended up with both turned up to the max for the full audio-visual experience!
Here's a brief video demo of one of the earlier levels (4) - I'd have shown a later level, but it was hard enough steering as it was, when peering round the phone camera (Lumia 800) filming the action - you try it sometime! The video will give you an idea of the graphics and physics, at least.
Another cracking title from Arctica and one that really is adrenaline-fuelled. You'll get through the early levels and think "piece of cake" and then by the time you get to levels 7 and 8 it'll be more "oh heck, what have I got myself into, I'm going too fast, I won't make that turn", followed by a bone shattering crash, particles everywhere and a fade to black. Before the action starts again, automatically... and again.... and again....
At the very least, grab the ad-laden free version and see how far you get. If your eyesight and reactions are good enough then you'll want to pony up the £3 and get faster access to subsequent levels.
Steve Litchfield, All About Symbian, Jan 24th 2012