by William Thompson
previewed on PC
I got my first glance at Particulars in action back at PAX Aus last year. Even back then, the gameplay element was interesting, even if it was still quite raw. The game has come a long way since, and still has some way to go to being completed, but from what I've seen so far, Particulars could well be one of those games that builds by word of mouth.
Particulars is an interesting blend of arcade action and puzzler. You take the role of a Quark, an atomic particle moving around the sub-atomic world, completing tasks set for each level. The tasks vary from one level to the next, and as you progress through the game, new elements are added into the mix.
The tasks range from guiding a proton to a particular area of the screen, moving the quark through a maze, collecting atomic data, combining various particles, and even preventing the quark from being destroyed due to coming into contact with dangerous particles. Written down, it doesn't sound all that interesting (unless you're an atomic scientist), but the tasks are enjoyable. Many of the levels are simple, but there are those that can be fiendishly difficult.
Controlling the quark is fairly simple with the use of the WASD keys and a couple of other keys for functions. But having said that, the particle itself can be difficult to contain at times. Particulars uses a physics based system, and momentum can often make it difficult to guide your quark around the screen.
Particulars is a fast-paced game and it is partially due to the speed that my only issue surfaces. In some of the levels, there are objects flying around the screen at great pace and often it becomes difficult to discern the quark in which you are in control from those of the other particles - despite your quark having a green circle. On more than one occasion, my quark was destroyed because I lost sight of it. Those levels are reminiscent of the balls under the cup betting game of old, with the cups being moved about in such a way that you aren't sure which cup the ball is under. But these levels are few and it is only a minor gripe. I guess if the quark was a brighter colour, it might make spotting it somewhat easier.
Speaking of brighter colours, Particulars is often quite dreary. The background is mostly a shade of grey, and the particles flying about are either white or black. There are flashes of colour from time to time, but, for the most part, the game has a dreary look. The visuals are fairly plain as your quark is simply a plain circle (albeit, with the green dot) as are most of the other particles. I do like the cut-scene visuals that are set like a comic book with a series of images making up Alison's story. The story is told between levels and at the end of each stage. Alison - complementing the gameplay mechanics - is a young scientist who seems to have had some trouble at school prior to deciding on her scientific path. As she gets older and more mature, she seems to take solace in her work. The story is well written and fits in wonderfully with the subject matter of the game.
The script is wonderfully performed by the voice actors, giving a human element to the game. The orchestral score during gameplay also fits the game brilliantly. The digital synthesizer tunes keep time with the events, slowing down and even pausing at times when important information is displayed on screen.
Although Particulars is still in Early Access on Steam, the gameplay itself is surprisingly complete, with the bulk of the work being done on the story and the cutscene visuals. Particulars is amazingly addictive and the range of tasks to complete means that the game never gets old. Even when you get stuck on a specific level for a little while, it is never frustrating. There is a free demo available on Steam now, but for less than $10 I would recommend picking up Particulars and getting in on the Early Access fun. With more than 50 levels to play (and more to come), it is well worth it!