Twin-stick shooters and puzzle games might not sound like the best combination, but French developer Alkemi created an enjoyable arcade genre mix with Transcripted to show that casual and hardcore gaming don’t necessarily exclude each other.
A virus is on the loose, and the only way to find and fight it is to go deep into the microcosm of the human body with the Nano Probe, a technical marvel of modern medicine which is equipped with a high level of weapons and skills.
Puzzling with storytelling
Puzzle or arcade games seldom tell a great story or even have memorable characters to speak of. Transcripted might not have the most complicated plot to speak of and its few characters (actually only PhD student Adam, his protegé Prof. Dahl and AI assistant NaDiA) never reach the same highs as more story-based adventure games or RPGs, but it certainly helps to have a background and therefore reason to complete each level. A story with predictable twists don’t make this the most accomplished script, but compared to other medical-treatment storytelling trite like the Trauma Center series, there’s less an emphasis on overdramatic or ridiculous overacting, and more on an interesting mix of tongue-in-cheek dialogues between the AI and the young student plus some simple, but working conspiracy themes.
Especially the lines written for NaDiA are well-thought out and highly entertaining. Maybe not as sophisticated as GlaDOS in the Portal games, but just as human-like to make her and Adam the perfect odd-couple match at times. It’s only too bad that because of the hectic gameplay, some in-game dialogue can be lost. So it’s good to have most of the story explained and character interaction presented in the briefings.
Thinking before shooting
Casual gamers are familiar with the Match 3 gameplay, and more seasoned ones with the Asteroids controls. Three cubes in a chain of the same color have to be combined in order to gain experience points and fill up a bar at the top of the screen which indicates how long it takes for the AI to take a full sample of the current DNA. The more chains are connected, the more points are awarded and the faster progress in the level is made. The Nano Probe has to be moved around the screen with the direction keys while the mouse is used for aiming and shooting. Unfortunately a gamepad seems to be supported, but didn’t work, at least not with the standard Xbox controller, making the ship less intuitively to move around in tight situations of which there are many.
What makes things even more difficult is that the player has to shoot various enemies who drop randomly colored cubes which have to be collected (making the ship move slower) and then shot again at the DNA-chains. This requires fast reflexes, precise shooting (sometimes from far distances) and also a fair bit of strategy. It can be a bit overwhelming at times with so many enemies on screen, and in some levels the chains move so fast that the only way to slow them down for a limited amount of time is to activate certain switches with the appropriate color cube. Planning is often undone by frantic shooting and maneuvering, which gets even more difficult when some enemy types split into smaller versions, making it a far less unforgiving game and less suitable for casual players.
Level up and down
Not only arcade-shooting and puzzle elements are introduced, also RPG ideas are implemented as well. This is reflected in the experience points and level up system. After reaching a certain amount of EXP by destroying enemies or matching 3 cubes, but also by completing a select number of levels, one can decide which parts of the ship to upgrade. Better shields, weapons, movement or getting more experience points are only some branches of the long tech tree to attribute these points to. Not all upgrades are necessary to complete the game (I didn’t even use another weapon than the standard one), but it certainly adds some variety to the shooting. Another nice touch is that even after losing a life in a level and restarting it doesn’t mean that any EXP are lost, so frustration is kept to a minimum in this case.
Level design itself is usually accessible for both newcomers and advanced arcade players when it introduces new enemy types. Even some boss battles are thrown into the mix, giving the game a bit more memorable scenes. The only problems arise in certain protect-the-DNA missions, when the player is tasked to defend it against oncoming colored enemies which want to dissolve the chain of cubes. Fighting these off while trying to avoid bullets and also altering the color scheme of the strand gets extremely frustrating and annoying, so it’s a good thing there aren’t many of these levels.
Seeing, hearing and experiencing
Graphics, sound effects and music score are nicely done, even if they don’t stand out in the genre with its many Geometry Wars-style light show of lasers, explosions, bleeps, beeps and instrumental ambient music which changes from calm to hectic. Cutscenes are done in stills, usually well-drawn, but could also have used a bit more dynamic work, as dramatic sequences in the later part of the story don’t have the same impact rendered sequences would have created. Still, voice acting is decent and in the case of the AI pretty good, so all in all it’s a homogenous package in terms of presentation.
Medical treatment can be fun
Alkemi’s Transcripted is an accomplished blend of puzzler and shooter with RPG elements and an entertaining story. It lacks a bit of substance in the latter and gameplay suffers in some parts from repetition and unfair design. Maybe it lies in the nature of the Match 3 template, but the main mission objectives remain the same throughout, so that the levels don’t offer a lot of stand-out moments.
Still, this is a game which is as addictive as it is fun while it lasts for its 5 hours playtime (not counting the additional modes beside the campaign), even if it’s less for casual gamers and more for the trigger-happy shooter fans who love their gaming more on the lateral thinking side.
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