Sometimes, you can tell that you’re going to like a game just by looking at a single screen. There is just a quality to the screenshot that gives you an idea of how it will animate and how it will play, and that instantly intrigues you. For me, BEEP was like that. Let’s take a look at this physics platformer from Big Fat Alien and see if the first impression was a lasting one.
The graphics in this game are incredibly clean. They have a smooth, vector look to them, like it could be a high quality flash game. I am a huge fan of this visual style. Animation, in a frame-by-frame sense, is virtually nonexistent, but in its place is what you might call transformational animation. Wheels rotate, arms rotate, eyes follow targets. The result is butter-smooth animations and sky high frame rates. In order to facilitate this style of artwork and animation, the game’s protagonists and antagonists are robots. Of course they would have discrete portions of their bodies that rotate, they aren’t made of meat!
Just because the cast is robotic, though, doesn’t mean that they are bland. The design is fairly varied. Your character, for instance, is a BEEP robot, a couple of boxes on wheels and a set of eyes. While you jump the eyes look apprehensive, when you fight they look angry. As you take a beating you start to see more charred or burnt patches and the screen starts to was out. Your enemies, meanwhile, are all over the map. The cycloptic, cute, and HORRIBLY DESTRUCTIVE claw of doom is balanced by the black and red, one-wheeled security bots. There are submarines with faces concealed by glass helmets, bizarre glass jelly fish in the sky, and spiked ball wielding tire with a glass protected battery. Noticing a distinct theme here? That’s because glass tends to serve as a visual shorthand for “weak point,” making new enemies easy to quickly develop a strategy for.
The environments, unlike the characters, are static and thus can afford to have a degree more detail, with swamps, forests, deserts, and caves making appearances. Water distorts the visuals ever so slightly, as does the scattered bits of mysterious materials that make up some of the puzzle elements. There are even lighting effects in the underground passages, forcing you to use your built in (and thankfully constantly active) flashlight to scope out potential landing spots.
Admittedly, the visuals are on the simple, low-detail side of the graphical spectrum, but as I said, that works for me. Not only that, but the frame rate and top notch physics mean that they can throw in other little touches to fill out the visual effect, like the little pebbles kicked up by the wheels or the ghostbusters proton beam style gravity gun effect.
This is a physics platormer. You control with the usual key combo (wasd, etc) and aim with the mouse, and the fundamental controls are fairly good. The jumps feel a little floaty, but this is clearly by design, as the visual indicates that you are jumping via a burst of rocket, and holding the jump button keeps a weak trail of exhaust going. Your wheels, I would like to point out, have got spectacular traction. Every now and then I would just hold forward rather than jumping a minor obstacle, just to see the little bot hike up and grind over it, like some sort of RC Tonka truck. He can also hang from platforms by one wheel and haul himself back up, and as long as roughly the bottom half of at least one of the wheels is touching something, you can jump again. This allows for some fun things later on.
Initially, your only abilities are firing a gun and activating anti-gravity. The gun, which causes knockback, is extremely weak and has only a limited clip size. Reloading it is done by clicking on your robot, which was one of the few control choices that bugged me. There is an auto lock onto enemies, and tugging the mouse away from it to reload during a firefight was irritating to me. The fact that some robots can take you out in pretty much a single volley doesn’t help matters much, either. The gun takes a little bit of getting used to, since many enemies move far more quickly than the bullets and have small vulnerable areas, you really need to learn to lead your shots properly, but that skill develops with time.
The gravity gun was, for me, the most fun aspect of this game. It allows you to pick up virtually any moveable object, with the only limitation being inertia, rather than weight. The larger or heavier objects lag behind the cursor slightly, and the point you grab it becomes a hinge of sorts, allowing it to slowly rotate. Virtually all of the puzzles in the game are solved via creative use of the gravity gun, and thanks to the box2d physics engine, these puzzles can get pretty darn detailed. You’ll see marble mazes and domino rallies. There are points where you need to stack boxes or fit things into slots. Complicating matters are blocks that can’t be grabbed, but can be grabbed THROUGH. The gravity gun requires line of sight to work, requiring creativity and ingenuity to get at things that don’t have a clear path.
The gravity gun is also usable for combat. I’m pretty sure I relied upon this more than I was intended to, but my God, I enjoyed it. Don’t ask me why, but when a game lets me beat a robot to death by bashing it with a rock, I am a happy guy. One enemy attacks you in this way, heaving a mace at you, and once I managed to take out my first one, I picked up his dislodged mace and became “BEEP: BRINGER OF PAIN” pummeling everything on the level to death with it. A close runner up for favorite use of the gravity gun was when I realized I could grab doom claws and hold them still while I unloaded my gun into them.
Speaking of doom claws, the enemies in this game deserve a mention. Your basic foe takes about as many hits to wipe out as you do (and then you get to play with its corpse!), and he fires nearly as quickly as you in short bursts. The result is actually a fairly sturdy foe. Doom claws are little speedy devils that fly around, latch on to you, and blow half of your health away. These were the bane of my existence, and I devoted as much time as I could to finding creative ways to kill them. (Go ahead, try dunking them in water. It’s fun!) As I said, most enemies are only vulnerable on their glass components, and some don’t have any, making them invincible.
The objective of the game is to explore planets to collect antimatter. Each level has 3 big chunks and a number of little ones that combines to equal a fourth. As you collect them, you unlock more levels, and eventually more planets. The trickiness to the game mostly centers around reaching the bits of antimatter, and to help you get them, most levels add new play mechanics. These include pads that allow you to fuel up your jets for full flight, or water that you can swim through. Scattered through levels are checkpoints that allow you to refill your health and restart from that point upon death. A great aspect to the game is the fact that, since you aren’t they same robot dying and coming back, but rather an unlimited number of successive robots, the collected items STAY collected between lives. Did you run a gauntlet of enemies and hazards to get that last little bit of antimatter, but died on the way back? No problem, that piece is already stowed, no need for a repeat performance. That saves a lot of frustration.
Perhaps my favorite part of the game, though, was the fact that you had an objective and a set of skills to achieve it, rather than a puzzle with one solution. Oh, sure, there tends to be an obvious intended solution, but no one says you have to use it. For instance, while your gravity gun won’t let you lift a chunk of stuff that you are sitting on, did you know that you can smash it into the bottom of your ship during a jump and jump OFF of it? I used that little end run around the laws of physics to clear a few high walls that probably should have had more elegant solutions. Likewise, a long series of precisely navigated platforms might be the best way to get to a goal, but I’ll just drag this log over and build a bridge, thank you very much. I got a real kick out of developing a solution, rather than finding the solution. To give you an idea of how prevalent and how enjoyable the physics are, even the level select menu has you floating in space, knocking into meteoroids and the like.
You know me by now. I’m not a sound guy. The music is a robot appropriate bloopy bleepy score. The voices are cutely distorted, and most important aspects of gameplay have audio cues. It hits all of the necessary points.
In the future, mankind has dispatched flying factories that manufacture the eponymous BEEP robots. The robots are designed to explore the cosmos. Most of the ships find nothing, but your particular ship found a whole star system to explore. Now you need to collect enough fuel to get home. Not the most nuanced plot, but it justifies the action, I suppose.
I can’t guarantee that everyone will like this as much as I did, but if you are a fan of well simulated physics and fairly open ended gameplay, this one will be a lot of fun for you.
8.6 / 10: Smoothly animated, well coded, quirky, and addictive.