Trigger Time is described as a story-driven, top-down 2D shooter with a gravity gun and physics puzzle elements with some cutscenes amongst the 9 levels of shoot-em up action. Amidst a world full of indie top-down shoot-em ups, does Trigger Time deliver enough to be different?
- Developer: Shephf Games
- Publisher: Creative Mobile
- Release Date: 16 May 2017 (Linux, Windows)
- Price: $4.99 USD (Steam)
Disclosure: free review copy provided
Indeed, I think it's fair to say even on our Penguin-powered platform, we don't exactly lack indie games or indie shoot-em ups at that, but that's not to say we should be ungrateful. If a good enough shoot-em up comes along, they tend to be pretty popular as they offer a kind of old-school arcade style action while being able to offer some modernized perks due to more advanced engines than we had way back in the 90s (in the old days).
Trigger Time is one of the latest indie top-down shooter titles to land, and yes, it supports Linux from day one, as well as Microsoft Windows of course. Mac users are curiously once again out in the cold, but maybe those guys are just too... snooty, for a 2D shoot-em up?
Moving on (with flame suit well and truly activated), let's take a look at Trigger Time which does indeed mix some modern gameplay elements with old-school 2D action and has a few interesting cards up its sleeve.
Though the game is undoubtedly story-driven and features in-game cutscenes, don't expect to find a Metal Gear Solid-esque narrative here, although you probably didn't expect to. That's not really intended as a negative though, as the story does its job and keeps things moving along with the in-game cutscenes.
The basic premise is the very evil and mad Professor Nathan has finally gone completely bonkers and decided to cause grave threat to the world with armies of his cybernetic mutants and weaponry, all from the comfort of the sprawling levels of his laboratory. Yes, the big bad guy is called Nathan and I guess at first he sounds more like your slightly batty but clever college professor rather than a man threatening world domination, but to be honest I find it strangely endearing and original as opposed to some anime super-cyber-fraggilistic name. Or something.
So with Professor Nathan needing his butt kicked, you are sent in as a highly trained commando to shoot cybernetic mutants, blow stuff up and progress through each of the levels, including big boss battles at the end of each.
If Professor Nathan doesn't sound so scary, interestingly the game threw a couple of unexpected curve-balls for me in that certain levels almost transformed the game into a horror game. Let's just say, if you're an arachnophobic like myself, there are some areas that are actually pretty darn terrifying, especially given said areas are in the dark and you have to use a helmet mounted light to guide your way.
I also have to give credit to the game for one of the first bosses being a crazy, flame-throwing tank as opposed to some typical big mutant creature. I threw in a Metal Gear reference earlier, and funnily enough, some elements of this game (especially aforementioned giant tank boss) actually reminded me of that series, at least of the old top down versions. Whether intended or not I'm unsure, but for a big Metal Gear fan such as myself, it was a bit of unexpected nostalgia. Plus you know, fighting a big rampant tank in a confined area is just pretty cool in general.
Gameplay and Controls
And now we get to the meat of the game. As a top-down 2D shooter, you can expect things to be frenetic and action packed in Trigger Time. Heck, the title of the game basically implies as much.
The control model in Trigger Time is described as "dual stick". As in, on an analog gamepad, one stick controls all the directional movement of the character while the other stick purely controls the target cursor, and also, the direction that the character is facing. So it's perfectly possible to be moving in one direction while having a 360 degree range of aiming around you, with no breaking of the flow of actual movement. Not easy to describe, but if you've played a game like this before, you'll know what I mean.
Obviously the controls make up a big part of the gameplay so I tried both mouse and keyboard, as well as my Xbox 360 Wireless Controller. Both work technically fine and game is, in my opinion, just as playable with either so pick your poison. Although, I will say I personally prefer playing with the mouse and keyboard, as I feel the aiming is just that bit more precise and a bit more predictable. At first, I found the analog control with the Xbox gamepad to be quite odd feeling and extremely twitchy, particularly on the aiming control, but after a couple of minutes of settling into it, it became fairly easy to handle. Still unusual compared to a lot of games I've played, but it's alright. Having said that, I'm primarily a PC gamer, so when it comes to shooting pretty much anything, I'm much more accustomed and skilled with a good old mouse and keyboard.
As for weaponry, you've got your selection of primary weapons such as your default blaster (with unlimited ammo) and a range of others that you come across as you progress (limited ammo). You've also got a few secondary weapons/items, including the good old Gravity Gun which you have pretty much from the start. Yes, there's a cue taken from the Half Life series here, but it does make for some compelling gameplay and puzzle elements in an otherwise "see stuff, shoot stuff" game genre. You'll be using the Gravity Gun to remove blockades, throw explosive barrels at things or even latch onto an enemy and use them as a living shield if you so wish, which I thought was a nice touch. In another nod to Half Life, you can even catch spinning blades with your Gravity Gun and hurl them back at your enemies, slicing through them effortlessly, which is as satisfying in this game as it was in the Valve games, even if it is 2D.
With a game like this you can expect to be constantly unleashing barrages of gunfire into hordes of enemies, but pleasingly the environment and items like the Gravity Gun do make things a bit more varied. Sometimes you'll find the game is almost encouraging you to be a bit more clever by dispatching waves of enemies with cleverly placed explosive barrels or, for example, using leaking pipes of hot gas to dispatch the enemies as they chase you. In fact, the waves of enemies can be so large at times you realise trying to go the old shoot 'n dodge technique will be rather difficult and this is where you'll want to be a bit more clever and calculating.
Still, make no bones about it, this is a shoot 'em up and most of the time that's exactly what you'll be doing. I'd also add that if you're thinking of stopping midway through a level to go have dinner or something... you may want to think otherwise or just leave the game paused. There's no save mechanism or saved checkpoint system in Trigger Time. You either complete a level and unlock the next one, or you don't. You do have multiple lives to use within a level, and so long as you have a life to use, you'll be respawned at the start of your current area upon dying, but use all your lives and it's all over, red rover. You'll be starting the level all over again, although you can use the diamond collectables you pick up from dead enemies to purchase some upgrades before starting a level, so dying a horrible final death in a level after collecting a bunch of stuff isn't always a bad thing.
For some, the more retro save system (or lack thereof) may feel a bit harsh or frustrating, while for others it's probably a much welcome feature.
All in all, the gameplay is action packed and unrelenting, yet has some surprisingly cool physics based puzzles and gameplay mechanics as well.
Graphics and Linux Performance
Trigger Time has a distinctive and modern cartoonish style that you might expect from a 2D top down shooter, but it's a quite crisp looking game all the same. The art direction is quite decent and does its job. And as alluded to earlier, there are some areas that do surprise you with their atmosphere and use of darkness, adding a certain creepyness factor and the levels in general are quite varied in design and art style.
As far as Linux performance goes, the game installed and ran on my Arch Linux system with an Intel G4560 Kaby Lake CPU, 16GB RAM and an AMD 380X GPU running on Mesa 17 drivers, with no issues. The game started out windowed, but a quick delve into the settings got the game running fullscreen at my native resolution of 1920x1080. The antialiasing option, rather curiously, had no options available other than "None", but to be honest I didn't find myself missing it. Certainly at my resolution, the game looks smooth and crisp enough.
There were on occasion some noticeable dips in framerate, though the game generally ran quite smooth. The cause didn't seem to be terribly consistent, sometimes perhaps it was due to a large number of enemies and other objects on screen, but not always. For a game of its type, I wouldn't say the performance is excellent, at least on Linux, in my experience, but it didn't cause me too much issue and the game has certainly been stable.
Sound and Music
The sounds in Trigger Time do their job. The musical score, well it certainly doesn't seem to be the sort to get stuck in your head, let's put it that way. On the other hand, most of the time you'll be hearing gun fire, explosions and the screeching of enemies anyway. Some of the music does have a sort of space, sci-fi retro sound to it though, which reminded me a bit of games like the excellent and classic Star Control 2.
Other than that, nothing really stood out to me here too much, but for a small indie game, they're passable.
If you have an itchy trigger finger and want some old school action combined with some neat physics based puzzles, Trigger Time will suit you nicely. It combines mindless action and fun with some intelligent environment based puzzles and level design and will only set you back the price of a cup of a large cappuccino.
The lack of an in-level save system, or at least the ability to resume your progress in a level, will either be an annoyance or a good thing, depending on your preferences. Trigger Time opts for a more old-school, hardcore approach in this regard, but on the other hand does be a bit more forgiving with the pre-level item purchases that allow you to have certain perks.
Trigger Time mightn't blow the genre apart, unlike all of Professor Nathan's goons who get very blown apart, but it more than holds its own and it's a good fun romp. It's also clearly a bit of a labour of love for the developer and games like this show it.
If it's your kind of thing, it's certainly worth giving a shot.
Get Trigger Time: Steam
- Fast, frenetic action
- Interesting game mechanics and puzzles
- Some surprisingly compelling enemies and gameplay situations
- Analog control could feel a bit wonky to some
- Can feel a bit harsh in terms of the lack of a save system
- Might "trigger" arachnophobes? Okay, I'll show myself out...