Game Review – Volatile (Matthew Bowden)

Volatile is a real time strategy game developed by Matthew Bowden in a 48 hour period for the recent Ludum Dare 19.  It’s effectively a four way tower defence and attack game which builds on the concept explored in Matthew’s earlier Globules but pits you against 3 opponents all of whom start in corners of a hexagonal gridded square playing board.

There are four main construction types. Each player has, and can build more, headquarters buildings. To win the game you need to destroy all the headquarters belonging to your opponents (you don’t necessarily have to defeat every structure they build). Then come mines, these collect the resources needed to power your empire. Finally there is a single attack and a single defence tower which fire missiles at, and intercept missiles from, your enemies.

You also have at your disposal a Commander unit who can move to any square on the board and ‘discover’ cells enabling you to construct towers there. Discovering cells with your lone Commander unit seemed ineffective since when you build a structure you unlock the ability to build in neighbouring squares anyway – though according to the Ludum Dare entry page “unlocking cells acts as a resource production multiplier”. An “explored” counter tracks your progress as you unlock squares though mysteriously it didn’t seem to go up everytime I ‘discovered’ a new cell. The computer players do not seem to have Commander units.

This isn’t a quick game to play. It’s quite easy to get stuck in tit for tat battles as you focus on building up different areas at the extremities of your base and often I felt I had been concentrating far too much on an area yet nothing had changed (insert your best ‘volatile’ pun here…). So long as you build up some mines and don’t neglect to build offensive and defensive towers you are pretty much guaranteed to win, but it takes time.

There are some signs that the game is not complete.

The buttons you click to select the type of tower you wish to build are located very close together.  Sometimes clicking on them didn’t seem to work – either I miss clicked, perhaps clicks on transparent parts of the images aren’t being counted or something else went wrong.  It was a repeated issue and very frustrating when you want to build a defensive tower in a hurry or take advantage of a recently vacated cell to continue your attack.  On a couple of occasions I mistakenly selected to build a new base when I was intending to build an attack tower. Whatever the reasons behind these, keyboard hotkeys to build each of the basic items would be a much appreciated addition which would stop these mistakes.

The game window too is tiny – pretty much the entire game is just a bit too small.  It can be hard to keep track of different battles as the visible window only allows a small proportion of the game board to be displayed at any time.  A refreshingly easy to use starting menu and perfectly detailed in-game graphics are only let down by an ugly generic Game Maker show_message alert when you win.  I presume the reason the game was designed with such a small screen was so higher resolution graphics did not have to be made in the short game development period.

Although it puts up a good fight and and keeps the game going for a while the AI seems to always to leave you with a two hexagon wide free route straight to their headquarters at the edges of the board! (see image above)

There are no in game instructions, but a bundled readme file contains playing instructions although there do appear to be a few omissions.  All structures can be upgraded twice though the documentation does not describe if there are any additional benefits other than an increase in hit points the tower gains.

This is a good game, excluding the fact it was all built within a 48 hour period. With a little more polishing I believe it would be worthy of a feature on

Volatile website

What do you think?

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  1. @someDanSomewhere:

    Yeah, that’s ‘definately’ rare. I don’t tend to have problems with that because:
    a) I can spell – the root of definitely is finite, not ‘finate’
    b) Firefox has a spellcheck

    I found that Volatile didn’t really give me enough information about how to play. I liked the game once I got the hang of it though, but it could have been improved if the creator had had more than 48hrs to work on it.

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