Monday, February 1, 2016

Critical Review - Blast Corps

Game: Blast Corps
Developer: Rare
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo 64
Year: 1997

Rare’s legendary run of Nintendo 64 titles included such well-remembered classics as GoldenEye, Perfect Dark, Banjo Kazooie, Donkey Kong 64 (if you like an insane amount of collectibles that is) and Conker’s Bad Fur Day. Tucked away in that expanse of games is 1997’s Blast Corps. Trying to define the type of game that Blast Corps represents is somewhat of a challenge. The plot actually gives a better indication of it than a summary of the game play could; a large transporter truck carrying two nuclear warheads to a safe zone, experiences a radiation leak. The leak causes the drivers to bail out, leaving the transport on an auto-pilot to the safe zone. However, said auto-pilot does not take into account any buildings or obstacles in the way, and given the unstable nature of the warheads, any collision the vehicle suffers would detonate the twin nukes. So what’s a government to do but call in Blast Corps; a demolition team with the talent and equipment to level buildings in seconds.

As it turns out, clearing a path for a nuclear warhead transport isn’t as easy as it sounds. The early levels of the game are straightforward as you pilot construction vehicles and mechs straight into and through anything that is generously marked as an obstruction. Not all vehicles are created equal. The Ramdozer (a bulldozer with a more aggressive name) can clear a path just by naturally driving along, the Ballista motorcycle uses missile pick-ups that you’ll fire into buildings, and then there’s the Backlash. The Backlash is the terribly impractical, hell spawn of a dump truck with an armored rear end. In order to destroy buildings with it you actually need to power slide and spin the back end into your intended target. Of course, they have you drive this monstrosity in some of the worst possible levels, just to make the game more difficult.

And boy is Blast Corps difficult. Not at first mind you, no, no. At first it’s easy, and the only difficulty comes from the occasionally frustrating camera angles and how this can sometimes cause your steering to be a bit wonky. Then you start encountering buildings that can only be destroyed by pushing a crate of TNT into them. Then you realize how hard it is to control pushing those crates. Next thing you know you have to load one of those crates onto a train, or crane, or barge to get it somewhere else in a matter of seconds. Suddenly you realize you’re playing a puzzle game and wanton destruction is no longer on the menu.

The odd/interesting/frustrating part of Blast Corps is how frequently and drastically the game deviates from its destruction based premise. Beyond the puzzle based areas are levels that have you driving cars for the sole purpose of completing hot laps around a track, an odd Pac-Man inspired stage that has you lighting up RDU’s (Radiation Dispersal Units, aka little lights you run over on the ground) before some colored bulldozers make contact with you, and Orion Plaza. Here you pilot the Ramdozer on top of a giant pool table, pushing TNT crates into the pockets. Very little of it makes sense within the context of the game, but then again, it’s not supposed to. Let’s face it; once you base a level on top of a giant pool table, you’re not exactly pushing for realism.

There’s also a heavy focus on exploration. After you clear one of the warhead stages, the level remains as you left it; the truck has moved on and any buildings you destroyed in order to clear the path, are still destroyed. You’re given the option to qualify for a gold medal on the level by going back through it and finding all the RDU’s, rescuing all the survivors, destroying all the buildings, and finding all the satellite uplinks. Some of the levels are surprisingly large and require you to travel on foot and transition between different vehicles to get at everything. It helps that graphically, Blast Corps is a good looking N64 game and the music is memorable and catchy; so at least you’ll be kept engaged while trying to find some frustratingly hidden objects.

Blast Corps has an awful lot of content but a lot of it is walled off behind progress gates that you need to be legitimately skillful to pass through. Aside from the exploration runs you make through a level, everything has a time limit that you are graded by and awarded medals based off of. If you want to unlock everything the game has to offer, you need to get gold on all the levels, side-missions included. The task is not impossible, but it will put your skills to the test and at times prove to be more frustrating than fun.

Still, when you’re not driving the Backlash, Blast Corps is an undeniably compelling game. The basic premise is entirely engaging and as long as you know what to expect when the genre curve balls come flying at you, you won’t be disappointed that you’re not rampaging through a city. This is carnage for the thinking man, a phrase not many games can successfully attribute to themselves. Is it any wonder this was made by Rare around the time of their creative zenith?

Rating 8.5 out of 10

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