Virgin is back into games with Final Armada.
I - Imagine
Virgin Play / Koch
Taking control of two vehicles is nothing new, even Last Duel was toying with the idea back in the late 80s. Whilst in the latter game you took control of a land-based and an air-based vehicle on alternating levels, in Final Armada your vehicle can switch in real-time between your Aggressor's Warthog-like ground-based mode and a still-ground-based-but-not-quite hovercraft mode. You have to wonder though if they would have tried something similar back in the 80s if processing power and graphical abilities allowed for dynamic vehicle changing.
Still, back to Final Armada and although it is starts out with the promise of a space odyssey, as the saying goes, you shouldn't judge a book by its cover. Well, Final Armada is definitely not a book and it's not even close to being novel. It's more of a TV movie. A black and white one at that and with no sound - literally. Even if you can ignore the wooden people and the stilted animation in the cut-scenes, you'll be deafened by their eerie silence. The character's lips move but nothing comes out as everything is purely sub-titled. On top of that there's not even any background music to gloss over the glaring omission. Which is actually a relief as the in-game music is repetitive enough. Thankfully you can at least turn it down or off completely.
The story is similar - initially unavoidable but easily ignored. As a member of the Ecco Corporation you are at the end of the war with the alien race known as the Qorax. Ecco has won but at a heavy price, with most of their fleet wiped out. In a moment of nonsensical madness though you must land on Taro-459 and wipe out the few remaining Qorax. If the battle is won, why can't you just leave them? Why not send the majority of your remaining forces instead of just a handful of ships and vehicles? Why is it so hard to defeat them if the battle has already been won? Why does the story not make much sense? No matter - just ignore it.
As mentioned, the Aggressor is your land-based vehicle and capable of two modes but you really have to wonder why. The wheel-based mode is faster, able to traverse most terrain and also allows for shield recharging whilst the hovercraft mode is more nimble, allows for strafing but has no shield recharge. These two modes are so similar though they seem like an unnecessary complication and a failed attempt to provide the game with some variety. What with an ever present aerial wingman, the Annihilator, whom you can instruct in limited fashion with the d-pad, it is almost as if the intention was for a land-based mode and a full air-based vehicle but due to time constraints or technical inability the idea was scrapped.
And that leads to another thing. Instructing your wingman is a more difficult experience than it needs to be. At least until you realise that the icon shown on the on-screen image of the d-pad is not the current instruction but the instruction that will be given when you push the d-pad again. So, if you want to give your wingman an instruction, say to attack a target, you have to press up twice. The first time you press will only show the d-pad shortcuts and not perform any actions. Why not just allow the player to press once?
Whilst repetitive, an early turret section could break up the monotony and be interesting but is determinedly made not fun by re-spawning enemies and a vastly over sensitive analogue stick which cannot be adjusted. If you shoot one enemy, another one appears to take his place but should you destroy enough of them then you face a boss whom fires multiple rockets. These must be hit before they detonate your base. Despite what Adidas will have you believe, some things just are impossible.
So, what else could be wrong? Well, the levels are muddy - all browns and greens. The pre-mission briefings can't be skipped and you can't even speed up the text that is displayed. Replaying a level should you fail causes the level to be reloaded again, even though you were just playing it. When shooting at air-based targets, you can't look up to keep them in view. This soon becomes frustrating as you have to circle away from them to see them. There's more too but like shooting fish in a barrel (and Final Armada) it quickly loses its fun.
Initial thoughts and observations will lead one to believe that this is a game that is average at best - nothing great but nothing too bad. Which just goes to show, you definitely shouldn't judge a book by its cover. Let's hope that when they say final, they really do mean final.