by Sergio Brinkhuis
previewed on PC
No mushrooms in sight
“Oh hey, a beach ball! Let me try and bump that into the hoop further up the road”.
Anyone thinking that the above was said during a presentation of the latest NBA Street would be dead wrong and instantly forgiven. The words, spoken by Invoker Studio’ co-founder Richard Masa, do not apply to a basketball game but to a platformer. And when I say platformer, I use that term in the widest possible sense of the word.
We’re not talking silly fat Italian dudes jumping up and down on mushrooms here. No. Wait. Are you sitting down? Good. What we’re talking about is...
I imagine I turned a few heads at Invoker Studio’s improv booth with the amount of times I said “This is crazy” in a vain attempt to describe what I saw on the screen. Crazy really is the only word that seems to fit the bill but I’ll try and be a little more descriptive. In Ironkraft, the last remnants of civilization have withdrawn into small, isolated colonies that are struggling to survive against the onslaught of the Nazi machine. Outside of the colonies, the Nazi’s reign supreme and going from one town to another is such a hazardous undertaking that only Roadtraders dare to transport goods between them.
You are one of these ballsy Roadtraders carrying all sorts of goods around Europe and sometimes beyond, but your old VW Beetle starts out being a little underpowered for the job. Trading between colonies, you earn money to upgrade the cute but beaten up vehicle into a beast of a car that is equipped with all kinds of weapons as well as additional storage for merchandise.
Upgrading your car is a necessity to do some of the more dangerous runs but you can’t just strap on the heaviest weapons and biggest cargo pod and think everything is peachy. Being physics based, your car’s weight changes how it handles. Heavy cars are slower, have more difficulty in jumps and may take more time to put upright when they have taken a tumble. More importantly, some areas of a map may become unreachable. In one of the maps, a Zeppelin provides a bridge to a difficult to reach area. A light car can make the jump to the bridge while a heavy one will most likely take a dive. Even the on-board thrusters won’t help you then.
Because of the physics and car customizations, no two runs will ever play out exactly the same. Adding to the randomness is a truckload of weirdness thrown onto a wide variety of maps. You’ll pass through forests, towns, farmlands, underground caverns, bombarded cities and a Bioshock-esque underwater level that connects Europe’s mainland to Britain. All the while, you are being hunted by Nazi’s and aliens alike, or… is it just the Nazi’s? Masa didn’t want to give too much away but it is clear that the aliens aren’t necessarily in league with the Nazi’s.
Either way, you’re bound to see (there’s that word again) some pretty crazy shit. Nazi UFO’s, one-wheel alien road vehicles that can potentially boost your car high into the air, torpedo-eating sharks with sea mines strapped to their backs, and suspiciously mushroomy beach balls are just a few of the odd things you’ll encounter.
The background visuals belie Ironkraft’s Indie roots. The game sports some absolutely gorgeous 3D environments that come alive through some impressive use of the camera. Speed up and the camera will not only zoom out but also pan to the right so that you can look ahead much further than you otherwise would. At times, the 3D effect goes so deep that you would almost forget you are playing a sidescrolling platformer.
Ironkraft left me baffled. It is a game that needs to be seen to be believed, that defies logic and that has the potential to both entertain and challenge. Its craziness can end up being either a selling point or a deterrent and I honestly do not know which way it will swing. What I do know is this: in a landscape littered with me-too franchises, Ironkraft stands unique in every possible way.