“Stand clear citizen and prepare to be scanned” - Cop Drone
After loading the preview build of Metrocide from creators, Flat Earth Games, it’s easy to see where they gained their inspiration. I’m instantly flooded with nostalgia, remembering my time with the 1990’s “Syndicate” and original “Grand Theft Auto” series’. Unfortunately, based on the version we have, Metrocide doesn’t seem to capture the feeling or scale of either franchise. However, it can be fun once you get the hang of things.
Metrocide is a retro-futuristic, cyberpunk inspired, top down stealth-action title, that places you in the shoes of legendary contract killer T.J. Trench. The gameplay has you dispatching targets one at a time for credits within a three zoned game world. Streets are populated by gang members, fascist “cop drones” and vigilantes that attempt to neutralize you at every corner. Catch is, there are no respawns, once you die, you start from scratch.
This game is deceptively simple. You start a mission by locating your contact who offers the choice of either your next target from a list of ten random names, or purchasing additional weapons. During the preview there were only two mission types, ones where your target has a tracker located on them and those where you are given an area on a mini-map and a “photo” of your target.
Completing missions isn’t hard, the difficulty comes from citizens reporting your criminal actions to the police; security cameras tracking suspicious behaviour and an army of cop drones patrolling the skies. One false move and you’re dead. Personally, I didn’t like the “photo” missions, as in this early build, targets wouldn’t necessarily appear, or they would spawn outside the area marked on the map. These issues were likely bugs and hopefully won’t be in the retail release.
Not all weapons were available for use during this preview, therefore I can’t comment on how they change-up the gameplay, although they were listed in the contact’s store. At release, unless alterations are made, the weapons on offer will include a Shotgun, Rifle, Maverick Pistol, Remote Explosive and an Anti-Drone EMP. Ammunition for these additional guns is purchased separately from “Ammo-Co” vending machines scattered around the map.
To help out when you inevitably fall prey to the Police, there is the Anti-Drone EMP, which fries cop drones in the area, or, you can “hack” police boxes that litter the map. Both cost quite a few credits, but are necessary unless you’re looking to die and start again.
I found it odd that, for a stealth-action game, there’s no way to purchase silenced weapons, armour or draw targets down side streets and back-alleys to discretely dispatch them. Hiding bodies in sewers, via the open manhole covers, does add an elusive element, but positioned as they are in busy streets, it almost defeats their intended purpose. My guess is, the “stealth” theme comes from eluding the security cameras, cop drones and citizens while performing your illicit deeds. Speaking of “illicit deeds”, the writers definition of “hacking” police boxes seems a little off to me. When you use this feature you inadvertently donate to a “Police Drone Retirement Fund”, to-which I question, “isn’t that bribery?” Better wording would be helpful to accurately reflect what you’re supposedly doing; hacking.
Despite the game mimicking pixel art of the late 1980s and early 1990s titles, bland colours used in character design often make it difficult to locate yourself or your targets. It also appears as though little work has been put into the User Interface design. Transparent boxes make reading text difficult and neon lines, intended to highlight important subjects, dissect the screen, interrupting the game’s flow. In general, this user interface doesn’t work for Metrocide’s cyberpunk inspired world and it lacks identity. If augmented-reality was the intention, I feel more can be done. These annoyances didn’t take away from the difficulty, but they did pull me out of what little narrative there was.
Dead dogs in alleyways, open manholes and cracked sewer pipes oozing green slime help set the depressing atmosphere of Metrocide. The visual and sound effects; particularly how thunder jolts the screen, music and pixelated art also add to the experience. At the end of the day, I found my time with Metrocide surprisingly addictive. Hunting a new high score kept me restarting, and despite any grievances I had with the build, I look forward to seeing what Flat Earth Games releases.
As of yet there is no official release date, but their website indicates sometime in August 2014 for the PC and Mac via Steam, and other unannounced digital services.
If you like the idea of a retro styled, top down mix of stealth-action assassinations and easy-to-learn/ difficult-to-master gameplay in a dystopian futuristic world, this might be a title worth keeping an eye on.