July 11, 2012

/ by Tin Salamunic

Developer(s): NQ Games
Publisher(s): Rock Hippo Productions, Ltd.
Platform(s): PC
Release Date(s): August 12, 2010

“Fun” is a word that's taken for granted. We use it almost as frivolously as the word “love.” But as soon as anything impedes our definition, “fun” turns into something more akin to “sour.” MicroVolts straddles these two words. One minute, the fast-paced gameplay and sharp controls make you feel like you’re playing a title that can match some of the best competitive games out there. The next minute, overwhelming lag, framerate and balance issues remind you that you’re playing a free-to-play game.

The Good
Gameplay is fast, furious, and frantic
All weapons are available from the start
Controls are responsive

The Bad
Too much lag
Few rewards for players who have a life
Glitches imbalance already ill-balanced maps
Parts, accessories, and items are not permanent
Single player is executed poorly

The thematic backdrop to this TPS is living action-figures powered by batteries that are engaged in warfare for reasons no one understands. It’s a battle to decide who the most dominant toy is, and for whatever reason, these action-figures turn to toy guns to bolster their ego. It’s a comically violent backdrop for this bright-colored cartoony experience.
Four characters, each of them with their own cute, quirky, or brute feel to them, inhabit this world. Similar to real teenagers, these characters have a tone of rebellion, toughness, and individuality, but when the pressure comes, it’s not uncommon to hear them screaming for help or crying for preservation of their life. It makes for funny dialogue although it does get repetitive quickly.

The world these action-figures inhabit makes up their war zones. Similar to young adults, the world is their playground, and in this case, kitchen cabinets, gardens, paper castles, toy rooms, and bedrooms are not off limits to these palm-sized figurines. The scale of the game is believable but because everything is so big, you have to look up to find most of the imaginative detail. The detail of these maps is what makes them feel special. Sound effects gently tickle your ear when passing certain landmarks, like the roar of a stovetop burner or barely audible music coming from headphones. It’s unfortunate that the theme calls for everything to be so large because during the action, it’s easy to miss the bobble-head dog or realize that you’re actually fighting on a chair. At the same time however, the scale makes the game feel believable.

Regardless, there aren’t many chances to stop and appreciate the design because the gameplay moves incredibly fast. Firing rates are fast on all the guns, the movement is swift, health depletes quickly, and re-entering from death doesn’t take very long.
Because so many people can be in a match at once, no matter the map size, you’re rarely out of a fight. The type of speed this game produces makes combat addicting. Even if you’re dying a lot, the chance to put shots in people is frequent, making you feel like there’s always a chance to dominate someone else and gain points for your team. Sadly, dominating people isn’t easy. Whether you’re skilled or not, lag interferes, and it’s really bad in this title. It’s one thing to have hitbox latency—which this game has—but it’s another problem when the lag causes people to freeze in place, teleport, or sound effects become distorted or don't register, and bullet animations become invisible. On top of that, serious framerate drops occur when there is too much going on - and that is unacceptable when playing any type of shooter.

It doesn’t matter how good your ping is or what server you’re in. While it certainly helps reduce lag, it doesn’t save the frustrating interruptions it causes the gameplay. Map glitches disrupt and dawdle gameplay too. People have found hidden spots in various parts of maps where they can’t be shot or it’s very hard to hit them. All of this can be extremely frustrating and depending on how fast your connection is, these issues can be a deal-breaker. It’s a shame sound effects don’t always register because they’re enjoyable to listen to. Explosions have a satisfying depth and sounds of guns firing are an exciting mix between playful and gritty. It’s clear that a lot of effort was put into the audio. The same goes for the music. If you were to listen to the music without playing the game, you would never know it’s music for a playfully gritty TPS. The 50s jazz and mildly techno-inspired music are background for the menus and gameplay. It’s well orchestrated and catchy at times,but it gets repetitive as variety is lacking.

Character customization plays a big part. Considering there are only four characters in the game, it’s nice to know there can be some visual differences - if you choose to pay. However, all customization options you can buy do affect gameplay for your character, so you’re not just paying for visual customization. For the weapons, MicroVolts equips every character with 7 different guns; meaning you never have to pick up a weapon during a match. You’re equipped with a Melee weapon, Rifle, Shotgun, Sniper Rifle, Gatling Gun, Bazooka, and Grenade Launcher. All of these are upgradeable to stronger weapons in each class. The same applies to the plethora of clothing and accessories options, which all have their own class. You can change shirts, pants, hair, and even the head. All the upgrades increase a specific trait of your character whether it's health, speed, or ammunition for a weapon class.

Depending on the clothing or accessory, you can choose between two options of upgrades. For example, if you choose a shirt, you have the option to upgrade speed or health. As an added bonus, simply for looks sake, all clothing or accessories of the same type have the same upgrades, so if you don’t like the way your characters’ shorts look, you can choose a different pair and have the same upgrades.

If you choose to buy these items, be it weapons or clothes, your money will transfer into the game as Rock Tokens (RT). You can use Rock Tokens to buy affordable goods - and they’re great. If you’re dismayed by the thought of spending real money, don’t fret. There’s an in-game currency--Micro Points (MP- that you earn through playing the game). The longer a match and the better you do, the more MP you can earn. Unfortunately, there aren’t many MP items that are better than RT items. On the bright side, there aren’t a lot of people who use RT items. However, when you come across an RT item, it’s certainly noticeable. That’s not to say all MP items should be disregarded. Some are better than weaker RT weapons but do require a higher level to unlock them. If you’re not very good at the game, it can take a while to level up but when you get there, you’ll have that much more of an advantage.

Where this free-to-play model really kicks you in the butt is how all items, excluding weapons, have a 7, 30, or 90 day limit. Naturally, you pay more for longer periods of use. The upside is while weapons also have this limitation, spending enough money lets you buy a weapon permanently. That’s about the only relief you’ll get from this game as far as purchasing options are concerned. However, if you choose to play this game in a completely free fashion, there are items that are given away for one-day use, each day. It’s a minimal incentive and it's nice to know you have at least one improved item to toy around with - even though it’s usually an MP item and rarely clothing or accessories.

It’s clear that MicroVolts heavily rewards dedicated and paying players. It’s understandable. Someone has to help keep the game running and for those who are paying, they deserve something in return. It’s just unfortunate that there isn’t much for the non-dedicated player to work with. If you’re a gamer who can't play this game often, sticking with the daily giveaway items is the best way to enjoy the game without feeling guilty for spending RT, or MP, on something you’re not using often.

For those that do have a life and cannot spend hours upon hours in multiplayer, MicroVolts offers a single-player mode. Be warned:  The single-player mode is disturbingly weak and one-sided. This mode, strangely called Single Wave, is a wave-based mode where the same rules apply as in multiplayer - all weapons in the match - except you’re popping shots in the AI for 5 or 20 rounds, depending on which difficulty you choose. 90% of your experience will be running backwards, shooting at robots that scream “Charge” every few seconds, while using Melee weapons. Some AIs use weapons like the Bazookas or Grenade Launchers - with near perfect aim - and they don’t chase you down.  Plus, they take too much damage for the little ammo you start with. You’re never settled but maybe that’s the point.

Items can be activated if you gather enough “skill points” by scoring headshots and direct shots, but the only skill required is learning how to run backwards while racking up points. Besides, once you have enough skill points, the only thing you can afford is the first item, which is health. By then, you’re out of ammo and out of skill points to buy the next upgrade, ammo. If you choose to save up and buy ammo, you’re rarely, if ever, able to get the last two items. With that said, stick with multiplayer. That’s where the satisfying action is. Part of that satisfaction comes from sharp controls. They are responsive although playing a TPS with a mouse and keyboard may feel a bit jarring while trying to look in different directions. Switching weapons in the fast-paced environment can stretch your fingers uncomfortably, but there’s the option of switching with the mouse wheel.

As with any game, there is a learning curve and in this case it's steeper due to a lack of an on-screen radar. While screen real estate isn’t large to begin with, the lack of communication in the game - which isn’t the developers fault - makes learning the maps twice as hard, so the lack of an on-screen radar is disappointing. There is a radar in the score screen, but it interrupts your concentration and wastes valuable seconds. It does help that all maps are symmetrical, but when there are people who have been playing longer, there’s no internal help to aid in competing.

MicroVolts comes with many standard shooter modes such as Team Deathmatch, Capture the Battery, Free-for-All, Elimination, and Zombies. In addition, there are different modes with their own spin, such as an Item Match where players can use various items for a limited time to beef up their speed, weapon strength, or shield. Arms Race is like Gun Game where players start with one weapon and advance to the next weapon as they score kills. The twist on this mode is a segment of the match called Crunch Time. When Crunch Time begins, the player in last place gets added bonuses to catch up. There’s also a Scrimmage mode for players who aren’t good at the game and can play with no score counted towards their records and increased health.

If you have friends, playing these non-traditional modes is a lot of fun and are a welcome break from the mundane Team Deathmatch (TDM). However, if you’re playing alone and jumping into peoples’ lobbies, you’re more than likely going to find a TDM or Zombies match. It’s hard not to like MicroVolts. It has fast gameplay, sharp controls, and creative environments. Still, the free-to-play elements, jarring lag, weak single-player, and framerate drops disrupt the overall experience. But when MicroVolts is running on full power, it’s a very enjoyable game.

Review by Anthony Shelton

Final Score “Keep this one in mind” 7.5
Basic colors and texture maps fill the world. The lighting makes up for anything lacking in the landscapes. Character detail is plain, but serviceable and contains enough personality to give the characters their own flare.
The gameplay is smooth, fast, and addicting until lag or framerate issues disrupt the fun. A plus for giving players all the weapons from the get go and managing balance with what’s available from the start.
If you’re willing to open your wallet or grind for in-game credits, then there’s a lot to collect, swap, and customize. If you’re playing the game strictly for free, you’re not going to find as much to come back to unless you enjoy the vanilla game.
Guns have a satisfying punch as well as a playful feel. Character voices are a nice touch and add to the goofy theme. Music quickly becomes annoying.

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