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Review: Graceful Explosion Machine (PC)By Gabriel PVJ Jones At 07.08.2017 14:00

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In this shmup, players are expected to soar through cyclical caverns, effortlessly avoid dozens of enemies, and counter with phenomenal firepower. Even in the midst of this chaos, all that matters is the high score. This is no place for restraint or patience. Every destroyed foe adds to the multiplier bonus, and that's lost to the ether if too much time passes in between kills. It's also wise to avoid reckless play. The blaster cannons overheat easily, so holding down the fire button for more than a few seconds is a bad idea. In other words, go crazy…but not that crazy.

Mastering the sub-weapons is the secret to achieving a high score. Missiles home in on enemies, making them handy for crowd control. The energy sword absorbs bullets, and slices through anything that gets too close. Then there's the sniper beam, which punches through heavy armour. Bonus points are also awarded for frequent sub-weapon use. Rather than use the blaster, consider the sniper beam when dealing with a swarm. It's a bit more troublesome, but the rewards can be substantial. Sub-weapons are powered by energy crystals, which fall from the remains of the evil aliens. Be sure to make use of the fighter ship's dash functionality. It can push through crowds and cover ground quickly.

Adversity comes in many shapes and sizes, but rarely is it ever threatening. Players are more likely to fret over their multiplier bonus than potential destruction. Why is that? It all has to do with enemy design. Most foes are standard in their design. They attack in swarms and are destroyed in a single shot. Less common are the armoured aliens. The sniper beam is all but required in order to deal with them. This becomes more problematic in the later stages. Certain enemies take a relatively long time to cut through. Occasionally, that's just enough time for the multiplier bonus to disappear.

Graceful Explosion Machine is well-designed in many ways. The audio and visual feedback is quite good. The player always has an idea of their current situation, without feeling the need to check their ammo gauge or health meter. The enemies and their bullets never blend in with the scenery, nor are they obfuscated by the fighter ship's weaponry. The subtle camera shifting is also quite nice. There's a lot going on at once, and yet all of the on-screen action is accurately conveyed. There aren't any load times, which makes retrying stages a breeze.

However, this game also plays it too safe. The blame starts with the controls. Though moving around and destroying enemies is simple enough, there's a distinct lack of finesse. The fighter ship is a little unwieldy in the tensest situations. When surrounded by aliens, it's better to just use the dash or the energy sword. Trying to "thread the needle" through the swarm just doesn't work all that often. STG veterans are liable to feel suffocated by the limited analogue movement. Though they can cover distance well enough, those millimetre-tight dodges and escapes just aren't possible.

As mentioned earlier, enemies aren't all that dangerous. They're not as aggressive as they could be. This is probably to help balance out the weapon system and controls, which is sensible. It just doesn't make for a very exciting shmup. There's enough of a challenge in pursuing high scores, but the player never actually feels like they're in the desperate scenario the game presents. Millions of lightyears away from home, facing off against a battalion, and yet the only concern is the multiplier bonus.

Basically, there's no incentive for coming through in the clutch. There's no fighting back from an overwhelming disadvantage, no last second escapes from certain death, and no pulling through when the chips are down. Even if such an event were to occur, would it really matter? In this game, the player isn't forced into a bad situation. If they make a mistake and stumble into one, then they'll just reset the stage and try again.

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Final Score
[i]Graceful Explosion Machine[/i] is a thoroughly solid title with enough content to last. However, it lacks passion. It has an almost clinical approach to everything, which makes for a shmup that's only enjoyable with the right mind-set. This genre is designed around stoking a flame in one's heart. After spending enough time mere pixels away from death, there is this feeling that takes over. It's hard to describe, but it's amazing. Every moment thereafter is earned. The best STGs pummel and exhaust the player, but after succeeding, it's almost as if EVO has just been won. When playing this game, there isn't even a spark.



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