Steam Greenlight Spotlight: Flowstorm
Flowstorm is a top-down 2.5D racing and aerial combat game created with the Unity 3D engine. I suck at it. To call the game unforgiving would be an understatement – more like sadistic. You control a rocket ship through various levels, but if any part of the ship other than the armored underside touches a wall, you shatter. We're not talking high speed collisions here; you can be going as slow as possible, just lightly scrape the side of the rocket against the wall, and BOOM! It's a good thing the death animations are beautifully done, slightly soothing the pain of dying over and over.
The controls are simple to use yet hard to master. I know that sounds cliché, but it really applies here. W or Up Arrow accelerates, while A or Left Arrow and D or Right Arrow turn you left and right, respectively. When the game mode permits it, pressing Shift or Spacebar fires a grenade – its length of travel and arc depends on how long you hold down the key. Pressing R, Tab, or Return respawns you; you'll be using that a lot. The game also supports a gamepad, though I think that would make it even thougher to control. No matter what your preferred control method is, your rocket is affected by gravity, firmly planting Flowstorm in the Thrust-clone sub-genre.
Flowstorm sets itself apart from other Thrust-clones with its unique sliding mechanic. As I mentioned earlier, your underside is armored. With careful manipulation – and maybe a bit of luck – you can use the underside of your rocket to slide across surfaces and keep momentum through turns. It's an interesting mechanic that can be quite useful in the racing levels, though probably not so much in aerial combat. It also happens to be essential in one of the six "game modes" you can partake in.
The reason I put "game modes" in quotes is because Flowstorm handles them in a rather unique way: each level features all six modes...at once. Let me explain. It's probably more apt to call them "styles of play" rather than game modes. When you select a level, you will see six leaderboards, each representing a different style of play. The most basic leaderboard is titled Racers, which is simply finishing the level as fast as possible. Environmentalists tasks you with finishing while using as little fuel as possible (this is where the sliding would be essential, as it conserves fuel), Accelerators is finishing as fast as possible under constant acceleration, Counterclockers requires finishing the level without turning right, Clockers requires finishing the level without turning left, and finally Untouchables is finishing the level without touching the ground. This is a great way of doing things because it takes out the tedious step of choosing a game mode – the game handles that for you. Release the accelerate key and the Accelerators time disappears. Touch the ground and Untouchables disappears. It's a very novel system and absolutely perfect for a game where you frequently die.
Such a system also lends itself well to level creation as the map creator doesn't have to worry about choosing which game mode(s) to allow. And yes, that was a subtle hint at another great feature of Flowstorm – it comes with a level editor! Though I did not get to test out the level editor – it's only available in the standalone version of the game and not the free-to-play web version that I tried – based on the videos, it looks quite easy and intuitive to use. If you have any experience using the Pen Tool in Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop, or the Curve Tools in 3D modeling programs like Maya, you'll be right at home in Flowstorm's level editor. In fact, it may actually be easier than those aforementioned tools, as you can easily add and remove points, divide segments in half, and toggle linearity (lines vs. curves). After you lay out a path, you can set the spawn point and place checkpoints and various props to bring the level to life.
As I mentioned above, there is a free-to-play web version that's currently available at the official Flowstorm site. It's classified as Alpha 4.0, so don't expect perfection or a complete game, but it's certainly very playable. It features five racing levels, three racing levels with targets you have to destroy, and one local 1v1 combat level. You can register for free to have the game save your scores, as well as provide you with stats. The standalone version supports PC, Mac, and Linux. Though I'm a bit late for the Kickstarter (it ended unsuccessfully on Thursday), Swedish developer Neat Corporation (the duo of Jenny "Sranine" Nordenborg and Joachim "Acegikmo" Holmér) is continuing development. Multiple rockets are planned, each with unique properties (two are in the game right now, though the fatter Rooket doesn't have crash animations, so it's not as satisfying to play), as well as a 2v2 multiplayer mode where you kill opponents to steal energy cores that you then have to bring to your base. So go vote YES on Greenlight – don't blame them if you suck at the game like I do.