Final Glimpse: The future is funnier than expected and, apparently, involves lots of bugs
It's not uncommon to hear gamers and reviewers alike complain that the gaming world suffers from sequelitis, that studios continually put out variations on the same, worn-out themes. Insecticide, the first release from Crackpot Entertainment, definitely doesn't suffer from any lack of creativity. It's set in a city called Troi, a city inhabited by chiggers, roaches, and other bugs. They're smart--they've pushed Humanity to the wayside, constructed their own city, and get mixed up in their own film noir crime dramas.
Insecticide is set in a far-flung future that upends society as we know it: humans live in underground colonies and scrabble out a rough life while insects have taken over the world, built cities, and generally run the big show. Apparently after years of pesticides, genetic modifications, and other bad science stuff, humans became so allergic to pollen they go crazy or die on contact with it. But the Hominids, as they're called, aren't the heroes of Insecticide's story. Instead, the player inhabits the role of Chrys Liszt, a four-legged, two-armed bug who walks erect, works for the police department, comes from the rough side of town, and?truth be told?is pretty hot for a bug chick. Along with her veteran partner Roachy Caruthers, she investigates a murder at the Nectarola soft drink factory. The investigation, of course, uncovers a "web" of corruption, raising just as many questions as puns. Is the soda addictive? Why does Nectarola, Inc. run the government and society?
But this isn't just any old hard-boiled detective story: it's designed to make you laugh. If the "bugs ruling the Earth" story isn't enough of a giveaway, members of the design team worked on classic LucasArts games like Maniac Mansion: Day of the Tentacle, Sam and Max, and Grim Fandango. Insecticide likewise mixes game genres, since it's both an action platform shooter and an adventure game. On the one hand, players will help Chrys negotiate an insect-designed environment with plenty of places for jumping from one perch to the next?just the kind of thing you'd expect if jumping, flying, wall-crawling bugs designed a city. At the same time, Chrys is a police detective investigating a murder, so she'll need to do plenty of interrogations, crime scene investigation, and puzzle solving. The Crackpot team is showing its roots by making about half of Insecticide's levels fit a more traditional adventure-game mold. It works out great with the story, since these detective levels will do the work of a chitinous Philip Marlowe, figuring out the clues and uncovering the story at the same time.
Unlike a lot of the old adventure games, Insecticide will mix up the pacing with levels that focus on pure action. In addition to the platforming stuff already mentioned, Chrys will get her hands on a variety of weapons so she can take on a bevy of buggy bad guys. There's the evil-sounding Amberizer, which hurls a glob of molten amber that hardens to imprison its target. There's the Pollinator, capable of sucking toxic pollens from the air and spewing them in a deadly blast. Other weapons, along with hand-to-hand combat skills, round out her arsenal. They developers have said that there will be an equal number of action and detective levels, but they've also said that the adventure elements won't dominate the game, leading me to think that Insecticide will be much more of an action game than an old-time adventure game. It should make for an interesting mix, though, since we won't be bouncing from one action-based, shoot-'em-up level to the next as in many games.
Insecticide will ship in February in both DS and PC versions. The DS version will include a multiplayer element, while the PC version doesn't yet promise any head-to-head or co-op action. The PC version promises graphics that befit the platform's better processing power. The PC version will be released in two episodes via the Web before a boxed edition later hits the stores. The developers claim to have taken the two platforms' radically different control schemes into account in the design, but it's hard to imagine how well the gameplay will translate between stylus and mouse?we'll have to wait and see on that one. Finally, Crackpot has promised an art book and special content for pre-orders through some retailers.