While I’m not great at them, I love to play side scrolling retro shooters. It’s a genre that’s easy to learn, but near impossible to master. I’ll admit that there are some that I don’t (can’t) finish like Power-Up.
I recently got to play a pre-released copy of one by the name of Cyberpunk 3776. It’s being developed by Peter Hann in Unity. While he has worked on a few other titles, this is his first independently produced game with him as the sole developer.
While the game is in what will most likely be its final version, it has not yet been officially released so things could still change slightly in these final weeks of development. I’m glad I got to try this game because while it is similar to most retro shooters, there are key differences in the gameplay that I haven’t really seen in this genre before. It’s not the longest space shooter I’ve ever played, but it’s definitely worth a playthrough.
I have to say that at first glance I was really impressed with the in-game graphics. They’re very clean and quite detailed with several layers of art that create the appearance of depth in a way that looks almost but not quite 3D. The setting, which consist of both Earth and outer space, do not pop out at you, but they are filled with emotion and history. The game takes place mostly on a post-apocalyptic Earth that has been ravaged by pollution, war, and alien invasion. The levels with these backgrounds contain a host of both interactive and aesthetic elements including destroyed buildings, flying debris, rain, smog, and starry skies. They are both beautiful and depressing.
The later levels take place in outer space, which in many ways is much more appealing and easy to look at, but no less detailed. With stars, nebulae, asteroids, and planets over mixtures of colors, they are quite pleasing to the eye without pulling your attention away from the action.
One thing that you will notice about the levels after you’ve finished the game is that each level’s appearance ties in directly to the story and carries elements that in some cases may be distracting, but go hand in hand with the context of the writing.
The in game elements are simple in the fact that they all look unquestionably 2D. But they are also quite detailed in how they are skinned. Enemy ships, both bosses and basic enemies, have a number of colours, compartments, and details which gives them the impression of age. They look as if they have scratches and nicks as the result of many battles. I appreciated the fact that each type of in-game element has a different level of simplicity so you can tell them apart in the fast paced environment of the game. Pick-ups are very simple. Debris is a little more detailed. Mines are a bit more complicated and have proximity emitters. And ships are the most detailed of all. Weapons fire consists of lasers of different types which are all lighted very well.
The menus and HUD are small and very simple. The text appears in bright legible colours of various fonts, and all information is labelled clearly out of game. The in-game HUD is simple, containing only 3 bars with health on top, followed by shields, and then weapon output (overheating gauge).
My biggest complaint about the graphics is that overall the game is too dark for my tastes. I won’t say that it’s so dark that you can’t properly see all aspects of the game, because that is not the case. It’s just that the visual tone of the game from start to finish is so visually depressing. Truth be told, it follows the narrative tone quite well, but it still lacks the vibrancy that makes you love seeing the game.
With levels full of smog, rain, and overlapping blacks, purples, and greys, it’s just not that visually appealing. The game allows you to control the amount of light in the game and I definitely felt the need to max it out which did improve the experience for me, but only slightly. Let it never be said that the graphics of Cyberpunk 3776 are of low quality though. I am sure that you will be happy with the way the game looks even if the tone’s too dark.
The gameplay begins with a strong foundation pulled directly from space shooter tradition. You can move anywhere around the screen as the level constantly moves forward (right). Other than movement, all you can do is shoot your 1 laser weapon, activate your shield, and use a special technique called overload. The game is just as much about movement and dodging as it is about shooting.
There are basic level enemies of different types, mid-level enemies, mini bosses, and stage bosses. The most impressive thing about the controls is that not only are they mapable, but there are so many different ways to play. Cyberpunk 3776 has at least 6 pre-loaded control schemes. You can use wasd, arrow keys, a laptop mouse pad, a mouse, an Xbox 360 (PS3 for MAC) gamepad joystick, or a gamepad d-pad. You can even use multiple control schemes at the same time and change between them at your leisure during gameplay.
This game is not like Galaga where you have a set number of lives and you play until you die. Instead you get only one life and are expected to die, but gain experience points for each attempt. Your ship can be developed with points acquired during play as pick-ups. These points can be used to develop 7 ship stats: agility, health, shield, damage, firerate, cooling, and overload. This system meant that you were always building towards victory even when you died and you really did notice a difference when you levelled things up. Points are saved forever even when you exit the game. The only way stats can be removed is by wiping your save, which can be done from the options menu.
There are seven stages in total, but unlike most retro space shooters, you don’t have to beat the game in one go. After you complete a stage, you can start at that stage whenever you want. You have the choice of revisiting any completed stage at your leisure and the game will continue from there until you die, finish the game, or exit. Because of this, I actually got to see the end of the story in this one.
Shields (blue bar in the HUD) are your best friend in this game. They make you invincible for the most part once fully upgraded, but I noticed a few times where I took damage even when my shield was active. At level 1 it constantly diminishes while active but once you level it up it only loses power when damaged through contact with objects and enemy fire. When not active, shields recharge and can be activated even when they aren’t fully charged.
Shields are optional and must be activated, but there are certain points in the game that are actually impossible to beat without using your shields because you have to take damage as part of the fight. I don’t really think these kinds of moments in games are fair, but it’s totally manageable in Cyberpunk 3776 as far as difficulty is concerned.
Your laser weapon is your main and only necessary means of inflicting damage. It can be held for continuous fire or tapped for controlled bursts. In order to prevent continuous spam firing, your weapon can overheat and must be left inactive to cool down if it does. The bottom (orange) bar in the HUD tells you when you are close to overheating. You can manage your cooling attribute to speed up the cooling process but it doesn’t affect the speed at which you overheat.
The overload technique is a shockwave that hits everything in the current field in exchange for a chunk of your health. I beat the entire game without using it and you probably won’t need it either because the damage rarely justifies the sacrifice in health.
You can take damage in a number of common and expected ways, including enemy laser fire and running into enemy ships/debris. If you are in the vicinity of a proximity mine when it explodes you will take damage. Personally I felt like the mines had much too large of a damage proximity which becomes especially troublesome during boss fights, of which there is at least 1 for each stage.
The game doesn’t give you exactly the same patterns in each stage. They are always similar, but enemies often change direction or entry side from attempt to attempt. This is especially noticeable with mini bosses.
Healing is done with a floating chamber which I found very innovative, but flawed in execution. It was nice that the pod usually appears when you actually need it as opposed to at random. You have to be within the health pod in order to recharge health, but you can take damage while attempting to heal. This is fine except for the fact that the pod is almost always put in the flight path of enemy waves making it essentially useless much of the time. I would have preferred basic health pickups similar to the ones used to instantly recharge your shield or gain experience points.
Boss fights are interesting because each one must be defeated using specific tactics. The bosses all have their own flight patterns and attack styles. Some of them are quite puzzling, with the last one being a multi-part fight. As you get closer and closer to defeating them, parts will break off and can cause damage if they hit you.
A nice little bonus is that at any time you can take a screenshot during gameplay with F12 and it will automatically save to your pictures folder. This was extremely useful in obtaining the pictures for this review.
All in all, Cyberpunk 3776 has excellent gameplay and no lag that I noticed. It’s got a few new things from the standard, but still remains true to the tradition. The gameplay is challenging, but fair from start to finish. You will notice that it is considerably harder if not impossible if you choose to play without levelling up your ship. If you like retro space shooters then I can guarantee that you will enjoy the gameplay in this one.
The sound quality in Cyberpunk 3776 is good but lacks power. It’s not scratchy or anything problematic. It just doesn’t have the force that an alien ship being ripped apart by lasers should have. But then again there’s no sound in space so maybe the last few levels are accurate. I definitely would like more thump in the sound effects levels though. This becomes a non-issue when you remove the music but who wants to do that?
The music in this game is ok. It’s a number of different sorts of techno/house tracks but not with the same strong baseline that you would hear at a rave. It’s not bad, but just like the graphics, it’s very sombre. At least for the first half of the game. Once you hit outer space the music gets a little more positive, but you won’t be dancing around to it when you’re in a good mood. It’s also very appropriate for the overall tone of the game.
It’s not bad, but just like the graphics, it’s very sombre.
Without a doubt, the voice over/narration is the best part of the sound in this game. The voice actor for the main character did an amazing job. The narration is full of emotion, negativity, and bitterness which work perfectly for the plot. There is also a robotic female voice that notifies of things like when your shields are recharged.
Sound does not hinder or distract you from the gameplay in Cyberpunk 3776. If anything it goes unnoticed. It’s an important part of the atmosphere of the game and I would not suggest playing without it. But at the same time it won’t impress you or stand out as a key factor of the experience.
The writing was both my most and least favourite part of the game. The game follows the journey of one man at the end of his rope. Quite possibly the last man on Earth, the nameless pilot goes out for what he assumes will be his last battle. Earth has been destroyed by pollution from humans and then attacked by invading aliens. After the loss of his family and friends, the pilot goes out with the goal of getting as far as he can and killing as many aliens as possible before his inevitable defeat. Though I can’t give it away, the ending is not a happy one.
. . . the ending is not a happy one.
I really liked the way the story was told in this game. The initial background plot is delivered via the pilot’s journal with minimal information. Ultimately all we learn is that everyone he cared about is dead and that he’s alone. He finds a ship and decides to go as far as he can instead of waiting around to die. This is where the game starts. The rest of the plot is told in small voice overs that take place at the beginning of each stage. But even these only give you small glimpses of what has happened and how it ends. The plot is very much focused on the journey and not the destination.
Something that was different from most games, especially in this genre, was that you also learned things from dying and retrying. Even when you lose the pilot says something and when you retry sometimes you here different openings. It goes along very well with the retry-focused gameplay. It’s not about winning so much as it’s about playing the game. The main character’s narration is great and his monologues sound so powerful. You really feel the authenticity of his darkness and pain.
Just like with the graphics and sound, the writing is too dark. While emotionally impactful and believable in some sense, the story is just too practical in its realism. From start to finish you really don’t know why you’re playing this game. The writing just gets more and more depressing and hopeless. Even the ending, which makes perfect sense, is really sad and not in the slightest bit a good motivation for me to want to replay the game for the story’s sake. I would have to say the writing and its presentation are good, but a bit too morbid for my tastes because it’s essentially one long rant of hatred, revenge, and self-loathing.
I would have to say that Cyberpunk 3776 has replay value, but only if you’re hardcore about it. Once you get through the game once, I seriously doubt that you will want to play through the story again. The stat reliant nature of the gameplay makes it so that even if you have already beaten the game you can still continue to develop your ship’s 7 different attributes if you care to.
You can also wipe your save and develop the ship in different ways based on how you want to play. Other than that, the only other reasons to replay stages is to build up your high score and improve basic records such as time and number of attempts. Honestly it may be a good game to playthrough once, but I don’t see much of a reason to want to relive the experience once you’ve completed it.
Depending on your skill level and performance, the game will take you no more than a day or two to finish all 7 stages the first time. I beat the whole thing in 39 attempts across all levels in about 4-6 discontinuous hours. The launch price for the Pilot (basic) version will be about $5.42, featuring the game as well as a set of digital wallpapers. I think this is a fair price, but I would rather have the option of buying the game for $4-5 without the wallpapers.
The Veteran version will cost about $9.50 and includes a digital handbook, the soundtrack, and the Pilot version content. Can’t say that I’d ever go for the Veteran version. For me this is a one-play type of game with little to no content-based replay value.
Cyberpunk 3776 is one of those games that’s quite good, but not a must buy. It’s a great take on an already well-established genre with a few choice innovations plus a solid foundation of good writing, nice graphics, and decent sound. Sadly though it lacks reply value and isn’t that long to begin with. I’d suggest purchasing this title during a sale or something because it really won’t hold your attention for long after you complete it. It’s definitely a game worth trying, but won’t be a staple game in you library.
Cyberpunk 3776 will soon be available for purchase from a number of different places. It is currently on Steam Greenlight looking for support. A free demo can be downloaded on Desura right now as well.
- Many fully customizable and varied control schemes
- Stage Selection
- Ship Development System
- Too Short
- Too Somber
- Overly Dark Tone
Windows XP/7/8 or Mac OS
i3 Processor with integrated Graphics or higher
100 MB HDD