Insecticide: Part 1
First posted on 20 August 2008. Last updated on 10 January 2011.
|Beware of Chrys Liszt: The Spider-Woman!|
|The police precinct is filled with colorful characters!|
|Chrys questions Chairman Queenbee, head of Nectarola.|
|The arcade levels can be a real war zone!|
|Chrys' investigation leads her to a rundown diner.|
The game is available at GamersGate.
Sometimes we seek a game that is a little bit different and fresh, yet at the same time we want to relish a game with the playability of a retro classic. This combination, which may seem unlikely to exist in a single title, is exactly what we get from Crackpot Entertainment's Insecticide: Part 1. The game sets upon creating a new kind of gaming experience by intermixing 2 tried but radically dissimilar gameplay styles. This is done not just for the sake of offering an eye-catching gimmick, but for the need to better reflect the game's story and the player's involvement in it. The end result is a game that offers a slice of good, old-fashioned fun presented in a novel, unusual way, leaving the player yearning for more.
Insecticide is set in Troi -- a dark, polluted and crime ridden city of the future -- into which the sun never shines through the city's dense fumes. The catch is that Troi is not a human metropolis at all: it is just built on the ruins of a human one. The old population has all but been destroyed by extreme allergic vulnerabilities caused by the consumption of genetically engineered food. In this twisted reality, insects, thriving on the sources of the humans' doom, have now grown and mutated into the dominant race. Having evolved to a higher state of intelligence, the bugs have even proved to be civil enough to leave in peace the remnants of their once proud predecessors, who have since devolved into annoying, scheming critters. Still, the new insect ways of life seem quite close to those of the past humans in some ways. The biggest difference is that while the old order is about money, cheap intoxication methods, and illegal goods, in the new bug society everything takes second place to the majority of the population's single addiction—the seemingly harmless, entirely legal, bee produced beverages of the Nectarola corporation.
On the surface, Insecticide is about a classic police murder investigation, encompassing the gamut of examining crime scenes, questioning suspects, and following clues, ultimately leading to the exhilarating chases and brutal shootouts -- all in the vein of an old cop serial drama. Looking closer, however, it is obvious that this deconstruction of the game is just the tip of the iceberg. Rather, Insecticide is also a stylistic, light satire of the human race that embraces elements of film noir, science fiction from the 1950s, Saturday matinee cartoons, and over the top modern thrillers.
Insecticide's whole narrative is recalled by a veteran, hardboiled cop, who is also the partner of the rookie police officer which the player will control in the game. This device allows for neat, cinematic storytelling such as jumping right into the middle of the action first and pulling back to explore the preceding events later.
The heroine of Insecticide is Chrys Liszt, a sharp and slick young dame who retains a lot of her street smarts from the times before being found in the rougher districts of Troi by her future partner and mentor. Now, after extensive training, she has finally been given a badge to wear for herself. Chrys also has a mysterious past, which causes her to have nightmares about tight, dark places and torture devices. By contrast, Chrys' mentor, Roachy Caruthers, is a cockroach who has seen it all but is now starting to get too old and slow for his job. He is easily distracted and quite clumsy and must leave most of the work to his young protégée.
Gameplay in Insecticide is shown from a third person perspective and is divided into separate arcade and adventure levels, with a roughly 50-50 balance between them. The arcade levels consist mostly of chasing the various suspects and perpetrators and dealing with their gangs and other enemies on the way using several different long-range weapons. It is basically a traditional shooter with a lot of bullet dodging and hiding behind shelters to avoid enemy gunfire. There is also jumping from platform to platform to avoid deadly chasms and other mortal dangers. The levels provide a healthy dose of tension without being excessively difficult. Saving is done automatically, but only at certain predetermined spots.
The game is very self-conscious of its old school arcade play. This is evident in the humorous dialog lines from Chrys, Roachie, and their enemies, which often make fun of how traditional game mechanics oversimplify reality.
The adventure levels are designed deliberately to be quite easy, thus the chance of getting stuck in any location for a long period of time is minimal. Nevertheless, the interactions in these levels provide a rich adventuring experience that is very much in the style of classic LucasArts adventure games. There are plenty of interesting object descriptions, possible actions to take (not only those that are required to progress in the game), and reactions from other characters to them. The controls are similar to those used in the arcade levels, but instead of jumping and shooting the same keys trigger a more detailed close-up of the environment (often from a first person perspective), where the game switches to a traditional point and click interface. Conversations are done using the familiar dialog branch format, with a solid amount of quality writing to chew on.
The voiceovers are of top quality and greatly strengthen the personality of the already fun characters. Chrys is truly brought to life by her voice talent as a young woman, who usually exhibits a sharp tongue and excellent self-control but at more relaxed moments also reveals a few hidden vulnerabilities. Likewise, the dialogs are snappy and cleverly written. Insect related puns are shot out in the game with the pace of a machine gun. The humor, while having the familiar LucasArts touch, frequently goes in the direction of direct satire and parody that are more characteristic of the old Sierra adventure games.
While artistically accomplished, the graphics show some of the usual self-imposed limitations connected to the choice of the downloadable episodic format. Some of the excellently animated cut scenes appear a bit pixelated during playback. Also, the polygon count and texture resolutions seem to have been cut down to accommodate smaller file sizes for downloading and lower system requirements. The sound quality, on the other hand, is very decent and does not show any obvious sign of over compression.
Overall, Insecticide: Part 1 is a lot fun to play, albeit being quite short and ending with a "to be continued" cliffhanger instead of a fully satisfying climax. Knowing that this is only the first of 2 planned episodes, we will need to wait for the story's second half before passing final judgment of the game. I strongly hope that Insecticide: Part 2 will manage to bring on a few new gameplay elements and situations in order to avoid the possible monotony that frequently plagues episodic games. Until then, we are left in suspense as to what will happen to Chrys and Roachy and where the surprising revelations will finally lead to.