Mutant Storm Empire

Man, could I have ever been more wrong about Mutant Storm:Empire if I tried? Not just in the “wrong about the game” sense but the “wrong as a human” sense too, really.

Reading through the ever excellent Tim Stone’s write up of the quirks and downsides of World Of Subways 4 earlier, noting how affectionate it is whilst still managing to prod at all the important parts where it falls down, sort of wishing that this was a skill I’d developed much sooner. But I guess that’s why I have this place now, yeah?

So Mutant Storm Empire then. There’s a game that I didn’t really appreciate when it came out. Yes, yes, that’s an understatement. For a long while, I couldn’t stand the game, called it rubbish in no uncertain terms. Years on, I was wrong, the game’s fine.

It’s not just fine. Looking back, it’s kinda bold to be what it is, especially for the time.

I’ve learned to like Mutant Storm Empire a whole lot but more than that I’ve learned to respect it a whole lot. It deserves more love than it got. Heck, it definitely deserves more love than I gave it. Let’s remedy that.

I’ve been trying to think of a quick way of summarising Mutant Storm Empire and it’s a toughy, y’know?

Here’s one.

It’s the Call Of Duty campaign that’s a twin stick shooter that gets increasingly weird as you progress, made by a handful of folks with an owl. Or something. No owl. Forget the owl. Maybe that’s what it is. All that minus an owl.

The first screen kind of fools you into thinking you’re in for a SmashTV sort of affair but it quickly becomes clear once the game starts funnelling you into tight, cramped corridors, PomPom aren’t settling for anything too, well, conventional.

There’s no throwing the player into an arena akin to the first Mutant Storm for each and every stage, there’s no Geometry Wars style spawning, no Robotron ‘save the last humans’, there’s no Alien Breed exploration or SmashTV choice of pathways. It’s a game of pushing forward, always forward, through corridors. Maybe that makes it the Call Of Duty campaign of arena shooters? I dunno, you still need to shoot everything so maybe not quite.

OK, OK, I lied. It’s not the Call Of Duty campaign of arena shooters but it does have lots of corridors, alright? And you, as a player, will be moving down those corridors shooting stuff. There is that.

It’s a weird game in the way games used to be weird, that sort of Very British Bedroom Coder-y weird.

Sure, the first world has you shooting robots and cannons and missiles, typical shooty game in space fodder all in. Hit up the second world though and the clanky metal flooring, the all too familiar this-is-a-videogame-in-space environments and enemies disappear, replaced with an altogether more alien place. Vegetation, water perhaps? A giant space fish with bulbous egg sacs, a fish dude throwing up at you, it’s very videogame but not especially 2007 videogame, I guess.

The more you move forward, the more Empire messes around, refusing to settle. Scorgasm and the hurry-up-and-come-out Son Of Scoregasm are the only arena shooters I can think of that try a similar trick but nothing else has that sense of being somewhere and that somewhere being really, really odd.

OK, OK, hear me out. Here’s another one. Mutant Storm Empire is the closest cousin to something like Fantasy Software’s “The Pyramid” that I can think of. Where every room brings a new thing, new enemies, new behaviours and you’re always pushing forward through somewhere.

That’s an approach not without issues, naturally. It’s a game so interested in throwing new stuff at you all the time, it often feels like you never really have chance to get used to anything or to develop much in the way of tactics. No sooner have you got used to one set of enemies then another load are introduced.

The simplistic combo system does little to add much in the way of scoring depth to things, shoot so many of one colour, shoot so many of another, get your bonus. It’s a weirdly mechanical system that perhaps strays a bit too far into requiring the player to memorise a lot of individual rooms and wave patterns to score really well. It’s not even that it’s bad, really. It just sort of feels curiously old fashioned design-wise by 2007 videogame standards.

Yeah, that’s a weird thing to write out too now I think on. A game that keeps throwing new things at you feels old fashioned. I dunno either.

Maybe it’s not The Pyramid then because well, The Pyramid is fairly consistent in the challenges it throws at you room to room. But it’s definitely the same sort of spirit.

You know what? Mutant Storm Empire is just Mutant Storm Empire. It’s a testament to it that I have to wrangle my head in all manner of directions to even begin to pin it down as being like something else.

Putting the obvious “it’s a twin stick shooter” stuff to one side, Mutant Storm Empire does what Mutant Storm Empire does and no other game does the same way. It’s a series of micro-challenges crammed into tight and tiny corridors, punctuated by ridiculous boss fights. Not Platinum ridiculous, ridiculous in the “whaaat?” sense of ridiculous AND it’s a very British home computer game on a modern console.

The absolute last thing you could ever accuse the game of is not trying. You hear that, 2007 me? What a stupid idiot it would take to say that.

It’s not a perfect game, it’s not the best game ever and it’s a game that sometimes feels like it’s so committed to being Mutant Storm Empire that it’s stuck with itself, flaws and all. And you know what? Maybe that’s not what 2007 me felt like he wanted but that’s the sort of thing 2015 me really wants to see more of. More things that are, unmistakably, those things and those things only. Flaws and all.

I wish more games were their own Mutant Storm Empire and these days, I’m glad Mutant Storm Empire is a thing that exists. Whilst everyone else explored the same three or four avenues of arena shooting design, Pompom chose a road less travelled, a road still pretty much deserted at that. More games poking into vaguely unexplored corners of genres, yeah?

Mutant Storm Empire is still out on the Xbox 360 and I’m still hanging in there for the PC port to see the light of day sometime. There’s only so much checking SteamDB one can do with their life, right?