Many gamers have been so focused on finding the next big thing it’s often easy to ignore the brilliant little time killers that you can pick up for just a few quid on the PSN or XBL stores. This month’s little gem of genius is the suitably named Awesomenauts, a side-on game with only one objective: destroy the enemy’s base.
Simple? In principle, yes. In practice, it’s a very different story. Two teams of three battle it out using a range of characters with varying skills and methods of attack, with the purpose of destroying the opponents’ solar core at the far end of the map. Between your spawn point and the base is a series of turrets which will shred your team within seconds unless you find suitable protection while you’re trying to blow it up. This makes for some brilliant choke points where every player comes together in a mini Braveheart style clash, and despite huge amounts going on and special powers firing off in every direction, the action keeps plugging away at top speed. You’ll have the choice of just six characters to play with, although the devs are planning a few DLC updates with extra characters, which is good. Not all of the characters are available from minute 1, so you’ll need to play a bit, earn a few XP and unlock the others little by little. It’s a nice incentive to keep playing, as they’re very different to each other. They’re also the earlier set up rewards, so you don’t need to go nuts before getting access to a few new faces.
Your character probably won’t start off as the most speedy of individuals, but by killing other players as well as a few random bugs and robots scattered around you’ll earn coins which can be spent on temporary upgrades for your choice of fighter. Lasting only for the current game, this lets you choose your priorities for the next few minutes, giving you extra speed, more powerful weapons or a selection of extras such as grenades or the ever-splendid special attacks. These are brilliantly varied and feature such delights as a holographic rhino which charges at the enemy sending them sprawling backwards and taking a chunk of their health.
This variety is welcome, when the game modes are pretty much limited to a choice of one. If you don’t fancy taking out the turrets on your way to destroying the base, then you’re pretty much done for. As such the game replies on you hooking up with a few friends to make the most of it. This in itself might not be a problem, especially as this is currently free for Playstation Plus subscribers, and like the similar-looking-but-very-different Crash Commandos this is definitely a game better played with others that you’ll enjoy chatting to and laughing with as you play. It’s far from boring on your own, but making it a social game does add an element of enjoyment. Not only that, being 3 on 3 it’s important to work as a team, especially if you don’t want to repeatedly run up to a turret alone, get killed alone, run back alone, get killed alone again, and so on. Teams that work together and have some sort of strategy in their playing will generally stand a good chance of winning, something which certainly makes the game stand away from the basic run-shoot-die arcade games.
Visually everything ticks along very nicely, with little in the way of slowdown or glitching when things get a bit crazy at one of the many choke points on the map. The early-morning-cartoon stylings kick off from the moment you fire up the game and barely stop until you turn it off again, and gives Awesomenauts a fairly unique feeling while you’re not in the game. The music is great too, pushing you back to the action cartoons you used to watch as a kid. Unless you are a kid. In which case it’ll remind you of what you’re watching on a Saturday morning while your parents have a bit of nookie.
One thing that really impressed me was getting into a game. There’s no waiting for numbers to fill up, if there are only 3 people waiting for a game then it’ll get padded out with bots until more real people arrive. If someone drops out or loses their connection, a bot takes their place, making sure the teams are always full up. It’s a great system, one that other large-budget games could learn from, and certainly allows you to make a bit of online progress even when everyone else in the world is somehow asleep all at the same time.
So short of a lack of variety, Awesomenauts is a really fun game. Pick it up for a lovely price of nothing at all and you’ll get one of the best freebies you’ll find on Playstation Plus this year. But even if you decide to shell out a few quid it’s a good fun game that you’ll enjoy playing with a couple of mates. The only issue would be playing it alone; you won’t see the best of the game and it probably won’t hold your interest for quite as long. But as a game it hits its objectives, and as such it’s hard to fault.
Reviewed on PS3