System: Microsoft Xbox
Developer: Terminal Reality
ESRB Rating: T for Teen (for Violence, Blood)
Since I started playing videogames, there has always been one genre that has remained close to my heart: the 2D scrolling action/shooter. Whether I was controlling a gun-toting military operative, or some ultra-powerful spaceship, I always had a good time playing games in that genre. In many ways, Konami\'s Contra games and their Gradius series of vertical shoot-\'em-ups (to name just a couple of franchises) represented the purest form of gaming for me. I mean, they may be shallow plot-wise and simplistic in design compared to most modern gaming endeavors, but what these games lacked in storyline and character development was more than made up for in pure, unadulterated fun and fast, frenetic action. Which brings me to Majesco\'s budget-priced, multiplatform title, BlowOut. What we have here is a basic Contra-clone, with an emphasis on shooting and exploration. The game casts you as Marshall John \'Dutch\' Cane, a cigar-chomping, no-nonsense military type who has the delightful job of clearing out an abandoned space station (called the Honour Guard) before mutated alien bugs who have infested the place can gain full control of it. That\'s about all the story that there is here, so your main concern in this game is to kill all the mutant alien scum on that space station. Sure, it doesn\'t sound unique or spectacular in any way, but if you love shooters, you should find something to like here.
Visually, this game is okay. The backgrounds are mostly dark, grey, and dilapidated, but that\'s expected; I mean, this is a deserted space station (that looks like it was ripped out of one of the \'Alien\' films), after all. There are some nice lighting effects displayed here (mostly from lasers or Cane\'s flashlight), but overall, the environments end up getting a bit repetitive. The character and enemy models, however, are well done. They are composed of 3D polygons, are smoothly animated and well textured, and look clean and crisp. In terms of design, Cane is your standard tough, brawny space marine guy, while the enemies are all mutated roaches, flies, grasshoppers, dogs, and queen bees. Not the most original enemy design, but for a budget title, it\'s solid enough. Cane also carries a large amount of futuristic weaponry in this game, ranging from the standard machine gun (it has unlimited ammo, but overheats if you continuously fire) to the shotgun, flamethrower, nailgun, grenade launcher, minigun, rocket launcher, and sonic impulse cannon. These weapons are all very powerful and effective on the destructible environments as well as the aliens themselves, and all of them cause huge explosions. The sonic impulse cannon discharges a cone-shaped, blue beam of light which pulverizes any enemy in the area, and causes a really nice graphical effect, too. It is, by far, the best-looking weapon in the game. Overall, while not the most flashy title ever developed, I think BlowOut\'s visuals are done well. They enhance the atmosphere, and, while I wish the character design was better, Cane and the enemies are rendered well enough. Oh, and everything blows up real nice. Which is the whole point, really.
IN SPACE, NO ONE CAN HEAR YOU SHOOT STUFF
As for the sound, effects for all of the weapons are good. The ultra-cool sonic impulse cannon has the nicest visual and aural effect, of course, but the \'thunk!\' of the nailgun is also well done. The alien creatures you hunt all scream and growl fiercely as you navigate the hallways of the space station. There are also some ambient sound effects, which are added to increase that tense, \'Alien\'-like atmosphere, and to creep you out a little. Other than that, there is some light voice chatter between Cane and his dropship pilot, Red, who drops hints to the player, and sometimes banters a bit with Cane. The voicework on display here is good enough, but don\'t expect to hear any Shakespearean actors. Music, on the other hand, is annoying and repetitive. Most of the soundtrack consists of electronica with a dash of guitar rock, but there is one theme that sounds directly ripped out of the \'Terminator\' films! That one gets really irritating, really fast, so I\'d advise you to turn down the music volume on the options screen.
CONTROL YOUR IMPULSES
Now, as I\'m sure you\'ve gathered by now, this game is all about two things: shooting stuff, and exploring the Honour Guard. Whether it\'s the destructible objects or environments, or the mutant alien bug things, Cane always has a lot of stuff to destroy on the ol\' space station. There are also many places he can explore by flying around with his jetpack (which takes the place of a jump button). There are some light platforming exercises on display here, but it\'s not strenuous stuff, and the jetpack can hover, so if you miss a platform, you\'re not going to fall to your death. In fact, that\'s one of my complaints with the game: it\'s pretty easy, especially when you compare it to a more hardcore shooter like Contra: Shattered Soldier for the Playstation 2. The only moderately tough parts are when you have a bunch of bees and grasshoppers simultaneously attacking Cane from both sides. Even then, a few well placed rockets or a burst from the sonic cannon, and you\'ll clear out that spot of the level easily. And no, you can\'t adjust the difficulty level on the options screen, so, if you\'re an experienced shooter fan, you should just blast through this game in a few hours. I would have really liked to turn up the difficulty on this game, because I wanted to play through it again on a harder level, but alas, it would not let me. Because of this oversight on the developers\' part, the replay value of this game is not very high. Control-wise, on Xbox this game has you move Cane with the left analog (Cane doesn\'t walk, however; he only runs), and aim with the right stick. It feels clunky at first, like a weird combination of Midway\'s arcade classic Smash TV and SNK\'s Metal Slugseries, but you get used to it. During boss battles, Cane has to shoot \'into\' the screen (with his back facing the camera), so sometimes the perspective change can mess up your aiming, but if you practice enough, you\'ll get the hang of it.
Now, since this is a shooter, it is violent, and there is blood, but it\'s mostly of the green, alien variety. Still, I don\'t know how many people would be comfortable letting a child play this game, especially since it has a creepy atmosphere to go along with the violence. I\'d say that if you\'ve seen the \'Alien\' films and aren\'t having nightmares, this game is okay for you. Parents of younger children should definitely take a look before buying this game for them, though. One more thing. There are some uses of the \'d\'-word in this game, mostly by the dropship pilot. That\'s as bad as the language gets, though, and it only happens once or twice. It\'s just something to keep in mind.
WHEN I GROW UP, I WANNA BE A SPACE MARINE!
In the end, if you grew up playing shooters like Contra or Metal Sluglike I did, you\'ll probably like this game to a degree. It\'s not an instant classic like most installments of those two franchises, but it offers some nostalgic good times. And, hey, it\'s 2D! Come on, show your support for this style of gaming! I firmly believe 2D games can survive in this modern age of free-roaming, open-ended gameplay if we keep supporting them. Oh, and it\'s cheap, too. Don\'t forget that.