Title: ShellShock Live
Version Tested: PC
Available On: PC, Mac, Linux
Where To Buy: Steam
The enemy tank lies far below in a valley formed by explosions. It is weakened severely, having been hit the last turn by multiple exploding fish. It is down to the final two, and it would take a miracle for the other team to come back. Not leaving things up to chance aiming mishaps, the solar flare seems like the right option for a weapon choice. On top of that, it is fabulous looking.
Victory! A quick recap screen, and it’s back to the lobby to ready up for the next match. Thus is the life of the tanks of ShellShock Live.
ShellShock Live has been around in some form for a few years now. It began as a Flash game in 2012, developed by a one man development team called kChamp Games. Last year it made the jump to Steam, but only recently has it joined the Early Access Open Beta program. Even though it is Early Access, it is already very polished and content-heavy since it has been around for so long. It does not reinvent the wheel, but it brings a highly polished and extremely deep progression system to a familiar and fun genre.
Right off the bat in my first game of ShellShock Live, I was reminded of two things – the first was the Worms series (specifically Worms: Armageddon, as that one holds the top spot in my heart). To even further prove how old I am, the second game I immediately thought of was Gorillas, a QBasic game from about 300 years ago.
The basic premise of ShellShock Live is this: teams of tanks square off on a 2D terrain. The ground is completely destructible, and various floating obstacles (such as orange and blue portals, reflective surfaces, and damage multipliers) litter the sky. Everyone chooses a weapon from a gigantic list, and each has varying damage outputs and behaviors, you choose an angle and speed to fire them at, and then hit fire. Everyone flings their chosen method of destruction, terrain blows up, tanks take damage and occasionally explode, repeat. One team is left standing at the end.
The simplicity of the gameplay is completely at odds with how much depth is present in ShellShock Live. There are over 120 base weapons in the game right now, and each of those can be individually upgraded (meaning you earn experience only from using it) at least once, and sometimes up to four times. That means, when all is said and done, there are currently 339 weapons in ShellShock Live. Each of those weapons behaves differently. Some ignore terrain altogether. Some leave a marker on the ground before calling in an attack helicopter to fire away. Some call in an army of frogs to hop on your opponent before exploding. In addition to the staggering level of weapons, every time a player levels up, they can upgrade their tank in one of four categories, either improve stats or eventually add unique modifications to their tanks. Cosmetic tank upgrades await those who collect gears, which are randomly dropped and can be wagered in different game modes. The amount of stuff in this game is outrageous.
ShellShock Live is not simply a multiplayer game. You can skirmish against bots to test new weapons (although this won’t earn you any experience). There are also single player missions that force you into specific scenarios and challenge you to fight your way out. There are over seventy of these single player scenarios, and reaching certain milestones unlocks even more weapons, levels, and upgrades. This huge amount of upgrading, customization, and unlocking means that after just a short amount of progression, you will see a huge variety of builds among different tanks. Some people may focus on just one weapon, trying to upgrade an already powerful shot to an even more ridiculous one. Some people may spread their weapon progression out so that several different options have slightly more powerful versions. Some people may focus on mobility, some on armor, and some on powerful critical hits. There is no wrong way to play the game. And if you dive in with a group of friends (as anyone who has played a game of Worms: Armageddon can attest to), the trash talk and the salt are both very real. Overall, the community seems pretty welcoming. Even if you do not know anyone who plays, jumping into a multiplayer game is not terribly intimidating. I would recommend running through a bit of the campaign first to get a few levels and upgrades under your belt before diving right in, lest you be overwhelmed by the superior firepower of your opponents.
There are a few things that hold ShellShock Live back from perfection. Even though it is obviously comparable to the Worms series, it lacks the personality and humor that can keep it interesting for sustained periods. There are some silly weapons, but if you are stuck between a long stretch of upgrades, it can begin to feel like a bit of a slog rather than a game. The weapons you get are randomly selected at the beginning of the match and randomly replenished throughout the game, so sometimes RNG gods give the other team ALL THE AIR STRIKES AND ALL I HAVE IS A PISTOL ARE YOU KIDDING? In that case, your team gets blown out before they ever really had a chance. There is also that sneaking suspicion that comes with most competitive games, but especially games from small development teams, that perhaps your opponents are using programs or other advantages that maybe tip the balance a little too much in their favor.
That being said, ShellShock Live is an extremely polished and deep game, especially for one in Early Access. It is getting there, and if the developer continues to listen to the community and support the game like he has, it could set a new standard for the genre. Especially if you have friends who would be interested in it, it is tough to not recommend this one. The glory of landing that perfect sniper shot to reverse your team’s fortune is too sweet to pass up.
- Gameplay: Precise firing mechanics help you feel in control. Strategy and feedback are excellent.
- Graphics: Minimalistic. Obviously from a Flash base. That said, extremely colorful and easy to locate and identify targets. Graphics fit the game well.
- Sound: Appropriate. Good feedback – big guns sound big. No music to speak of (although unlockable victory themes are fun).
- Presentation: UI is easy to navigate, although it takes time to find all the unlocks and progressions available. Slick and fast moving.
- Huge amount of unlockables and customization
- Precise firing and feedback
- Large community makes it easy to find a game
- Immensely satisfying
- Sheer amount can be intimidating to newbies
- Very tough when starting out
- RNG can be frustrating