The demo for Radio the Universe at Steam Next Fest is a really exciting project. I played it, and while I was playing it, I was somewhere else entirely. Somewhat shimmery and twitchy, inspired by Giger’s liquid metal insectoid surfaces, sure, but also by VHS tapes, dial-up modems, Zelda and the New York subway. It’s a surprisingly generous demo, and for much of it I feared I was lost. I never doubted, though, that I was well taken care of. This game will be very special.
I played a hooded figure, short and surprisingly heavy, and at first I was just exploring sepia-tinted corridors, heading from one screen to the next, looking at the elaborate, gruesome architecture and enjoying the feeling of solitude. A swarm of static introduced me to the run button – without running I would have drifted – and a few rooms later came into play, a light and heavy melee, then a dodge, then some kind of shotgun blast that took time to recharge. Enemies themselves, well… Beetles? Ferrero Rocher; Nasty things that burst as they came and went and then stopped for me to attack.
Combat has a lot of mobs here, meaning you can beat enemies but still mess things up pretty badly. This is because enemies will only grant XP when they die if you hit them with whatever life they had in them – if you reduce them to a tidy 0XP, there’s no overkill. It adds a layer of what I would call resource panic or opportunity cost panic to the simple business of sustaining life. I want to kill you, but I also want to reap the reward. This is especially true of the demo’s bosses, one of which, with chains, was one of the most creative things I’ve encountered in a game in a while. I wanted to get rid of it before it got rid of me, but I also wanted to get paid for it, you say.
The platforming is one of the last pieces here, I think, with a neat system that shows you where you’ll land if you jump off a ledge. It allows for the proper application of platform puzzles where you have to think your way through a complex room filled with spikes and obstacles. These rooms will throw in battle rooms, atmospheric areas, bosses, and bits of a recognizable urban world, like the good old green exit sign or a payphone where you can… well, maybe you’d better find out for yourself.
Actually, that’s how Radio the Universe works anyway – a series of little discoveries that show you how things work and how clever the developers have been at reworking very simple video game ideas and making them either more memorable, heavier or more stressful . I had no idea what I wanted when I started this game, other than I thought I really liked the title. Now I can’t wait for the finished thing.