What is there to say about Close Order that hasn’t already been said?
Well, everything actually, being that this little space nugget flew into early access under the radar less than a week ago. The strapping young crew, sparkle still in their eyes, has set forth to create a unique blend of the genre, churning out the illicit love child of a three way involving Castle Wolfenstein, Galaga, and Batteries Not Included (if you don’t know what this is, ask Dr. Google).
Did they succeed? Well…perhaps not yet.
However, such is the beauty of early access and a motivated developer. They’re in it for the long haul and they’re keeping an open mind to outside feedback along the way. If you’re looking for whether or not this is worth parting with your precious monies, the answer is a resounding “sure, why not!” That is if you want to contribute to the aspirations of a budding developer turning out a game that MAY pave the future inspiration for the bullet-hell genre.
I was giddy when I saw the trailer.
Yes, the voice actor was a little on the side of the sham-wow guy on valium. Yet the core concept, the ability to create a custom fleet of ships and assign them to a specific formations while flying around in 3/4 overhead perspective fighting enemies in full 360 degree space, was nothing short of genius! Finally instead of being bullied by an endless mass of peons, I COULD BE THE BULLY! Its like having your own gang… minus the carefully coordinated colors, super secret hand shakes, and switchblade hair care.
The story is pretty cut and dry. Fast forward to the future, the world fell apart, and humanity got the hell out of dodge (i.e. earth) heading out in every conceivable direction into the dark recesses of the universe. A generation later, our trio of heroes, a captain, scientist, and weapons expert set out to discover the ruins of our former civilization. Escaping their colony by the seat of their pants, they navigate the treacherous depths of space using their skill, wisdom, and convenient on-ship mobile manufacturing facility capable of manufacturing endless instantaneous waves of drones at your whim using nothing more than common space debris, brought to you by Acme engineering TM, “Acme, the name you can trust”.
I began my adventure evading a drone sent out to destroy my vessel as I attempted to leave the colony. I could never figure out why anyone would want to punish someone for leaving an already over burdened settlement. If anything, I’d think they would incentivize the decision. “Get the Fuck out, get a free cookie!” But no, that’s seldom (never) the case. After our nimble evasion and a fair amount of lackluster dialog, I finally get into the manufacturing and configuration of the drones.
This is the part I was waiting for! There’s a drone for everything:
One that shoots straight.
One that shoots really fast.
One that can’t aim for shit.
One that aims to the sides.
One that Heals nearby ships.
One that provides shields.
...and my personal favorite…
One that head-butts the F out of anything you run into!
Buy! Build! Fly my pretties! Fly! A Right Click here (buy menu) and an F key there (Formation Menu)… wait…. or was that an F key then the Right Click….Shit, I just deleted Bruce (drones are named automatically and right click deletes them in the formation menu)…
Let me try it again. Alright…. buy… that’s good… now F key to configure…. sweet… back to main screen, right click! FUCK, I DELETED THEM AGAIN! Being able to save and load formations as a preset is a great touch, but getting to that point is a lesson in patience.
Eventually once I managed to patch my rag tag fleet together, I was able to move onto the hub world, or as I like to call it, “the-404-mission-not-available,-try-again epicenter of the etherverse.”
This is where you can choose your next mission, get additional briefings on configuring your fleet, or jump into the wave mode. Despite its name, there’s currently not much of a hub at all. Most of the play options simply read “coming soon”, and there aren’t that many to begin with.
For me, that is where this title lost its charm and brought forth its baggage… and by golly, there’s a lot of it.
The controls perform as you would expect them to (more or less) and for the most part graphically its on par with what you would expect from a sub-$10 pc game without pesky micro-transactions. The AI, storyline, current missions, and balance however are desperately lacking (at the time of this article being written). To their credit, Raconteur acknowledge these issues and are patching the hell out of the game almost daily. So much in fact that when I exited to check my email, there was a patch waiting for me moments later when I relaunched the game! Kudos!
I’m certain it will be sometime until they’re able to finish off the full single player campaign (with only three rather repetitive missions currently available). In the meantime you can grind through endless waves in the “Custom Chaos” Mode. This I can live with. Again, to refrain, it is an inexpensive title released on early access. One can only expect so much.
What I can’t live with is the regular interruptions pausing the action to allow dialog play out between characters. It really ruins the vibe, especially considering they happen often. Seriously. Its like watching a Tarantino movie. You go for the action, you get stuck with the talking heads. Also, little issues like the inability to purchase units while in the formation editor, nor being able to load a preset configuration because a single unit is in the place of another, is rather irritating.
Many of these issues can be resolved easily. The ability to overwrite one preset formation with another would be greatly appreciated. A simple erase all button in the formation editor would even do the trick. Toning down the amount of dialog would really streamline the experience. Also, killing the improv jazz track during the Mardi Gras mission would be a boon (a wise man once said, the difference between a rock musician and a jazz musician is that a rock musician plays 3 chords to 10,000 people while a jazz musician plays 10,000 chords to 3.) I’m not knocking the devs taste in music by any means, but imagine watching Star Wars while listening to Thelonious Monk’s greatest hits and you get the picture. Two good things don’t always work together.
Also, just for kicks, giving users the ability to custom color their ships, upgrade the primary ship (speeds, weapons, armor, etc), and assigning unique names to drones would be cool. Dropping a scenario editor on the Steam Workshop would prolong the game’s life span as well as draw heat away from the devs finishing up the primary campaign.
Overall, I feel Close Order has the chops to be a great arcade style shmup assuming Raconteur is given the proper time (and space) to address the aforementioned issues. Its a fun little title, and If they manage to pull it off, I for one will be the first one to give it another go… hopefully this time without being informed of my weapon expert’s love of theater (seriously man, the dialog needs work).
And if you’re looking for a quirky little shooter that will kill some time while at the same time supporting the dreams and ambitions of a aspiring new dev team, then buy away!