Infection, as we all know, is usually most easily handled by a med-kit or a health potion… maybe a healing spell or two. But never before have we seen what magic the various healing items are actually doing inside our various avatars and characters. Cell Emergence by New Life Interactive LLC. is a game in which you take on the role of a nanite inside the body of a child fighting some massive viral infection. Of course, it’s also once hundred percent medically accurate!
The first thing you notice about Cell is the look of the game. Everything is composed of little cubes of various colours. Viral particles are single red cubes, the infected, cancerous cells are purple, lymph nodes (which “spawn” antibodies) are white and slightly glowy and the human cell structures are all randomly coloured but partially transparent. The way the “enemy” particles work is as follows. The red viral particles fly about on their own and when they come in contact with human tissue they stick where the landed. After a few moments they “hatch” and a small blob of purple cancerous cells appear around them.
Purple cancerous cells also appear on their own at the start of the game. While they start of doing nothing, every now and again there will be a sudden growth surge and they will start to fill up the game space. Should any of these cancerous cells come in contact with any normal human cells then they start to spread extremely quickly, each adjacent human cell turning cancerous almost straight away, and once they go cancerous there’s no saving them. Soon, if nothing is done you’ll have the entire human structure devoured by the cancer.
The main gameplay is done as shooter. You have a targeting reticule in the centre of the screen and you have to shoot yellow beams of… Healing energy. These beams destroy clumps of the purple cancerous cells completely. Further on in the game you also get the ability to construct neural pathways (or something like that) and you use these to connect the lymph nodes to the human tissue, allowing the tissue to become infused with antibodies, which automatically destroy any purple cells which land nearby. Interestingly you can shoot the human tissue yourself, which, while not damaging it permanently and the beams pass right through it, causes the antibodies to spread quicker. An interesting little mechanic there. You also eventually get some sort of foam gun which can destroy the viral particles themselves.
Now at first it sounds reasonably interesting, but nothing overly special. The most interesting thing about the game is the movement and camera in the game. By moving the mouse you don’t just move the targeting reticule, you move the whole screen, up down and side to side. You also get the ability to zoom in and out of the area you are in. You also can spin round the camera 90 degrees in either direction, so you can get a full panoramic 360 degree view of the whole battlefield. Zooming in and out and flying all over the place.
At first it’s a little confusing. Especially as, when you zoom in, some things in the screen will actually be behind the targeting reticule and so you can fire at some cancer cells wondering why the hell they aren’t exploding in clouds of firey healingness.
The gameplay and looks of the game are the main selling point. It looks fantastic and the gameplay always starts each level with you frantically examining the battlefield to make your plans before the viral particles and cancer cells start flying everywhere at which point it gets even more frantic and fast-paced with you holding your breath as the adrenaline courses through you. As such it is an excellently designed little game and playing it is an awful lot of fun, as only those fast-paced, lightning-reaction games can be.
It does have a few flaws though which do shine through. An initial problem is the lack of subtitles in the game. As someone hard of hearing this is something I will always say about a game: every game these days ought to have the option for subtitles with it’s dialogue. I don’t know what it’s like for someone who can hear but for me I couldn’t understand more than one word in ten of what was being said.
That said, as far as I am aware the short cut-scenes (which revolved around still images rather than moving ones) seemed completely secondary and unnecessary to what was going on in the game. As I say, I couldn’t really understand what was going on, but basically I think it was a fairly straight-forward and almost pointless plot.
Another major issue was the HUD of the game. While I liked the use depth and scale and the movement of the nanite through the environments, the were some problems with the objectives indicators on the screen. There were always two (and at times more) little circles in the top left and bottom right of the HUD and I had absolutely no clue what they were. I understood they had something to do with keeping track of the overall levels of the cancerous cells and making sure that the human tissue didn’t get so damaged that you lost the level. But for the life of me I could not understand what they indicated or whether they wanted me to do things or not. Worse, there seemed to be no indication that you are ever told what they do.
At times a robotic voice does do a little speaking and I imagine that this is what describes what they are for because it was COMPLETELY illegible. Understanding the normal voice acting was difficult enough, understanding this verged on impossible.
In fact there is a later stage that introduces, what I now understand are, enemy nanites in the human body. Whether there is some way to fight back against them or whether it’s possible to do anything to them I still don’t know because I’m pretty sure the explanation provided by the robot voice I couldn’t understand.
That actually strikes me as the main problem with the game, the lack of understanding of the objectives provided for each mission and having to work most of it out myself. I mean, it goes without saying that you need to defend the human cells, but otherwise it was often confusing and uncertain.
As far as game length goes I’d say it might take about 3 hours maximum to complete the game and, again, there isn’t really any replayability.
Overall, I’d say the game was definitely fun and extremely well designed in the action terms of it. Movement and combat was fluid and designed so well and it looked as good as it felt to zoom about the levels battling the infections. Each level was varied enough and challenging enough to make me keep coming back for more, the rest of the game though provided no such enjoyment and detracted from the overall experience. So while I did enjoy my time playing the game I can’t really make myself give it that high a rating.
One last thing which might well prove an annoyance to a number of you. If you do consider buying it, you can download a free demo from the official website but the game itself is actually not available on Steam. The link I just provided shows where it IS available but Steam isn’t on that list. I’m not entirely sure why, but I do know that’s bound to irritate some prospective players…