Polybius - Feed your head to Jeff Minter

by Paul Morrison

I’m writing this in a stream-of-consciousness style on the train on my way home from PlayExpo in Manchester, because, well, what else do you do on train journeys?  I could play a bit of TxK as I have my Vita with me, but that would mean subjecting myself to more Jeff Minter and I’m not really sure I’m up for that again, just yet.

“What’s the problem?”, I hear you ask.  Well, let me tell you what the problem is.  I’ve just played the demo of Llamasoft’s latest creation, Polybius.

If you’ve read Jeff’s latest blog post, you’ll have read the story of how this game came about.  It’s loosely based on the now-mythical brain-melting unreleased arcade game of the same name.  Jeff has seemingly pieced together what fragments of memories remain from his brief experience with the game, and built on top of it with his own unquestionable know-how.

You might also have seen a couple of gameplay videos by now.  If you have, you’ve probably thought, “Oh, there’s Minter at it again with his tube shooters.  Yeah, looks nice.  Probably quite good fun”.  You probably think you have a fair idea of where it’s going.

Let me tell you something.  You have no idea.

The reason I say this is because the game is built to run on VR units.  That means you have to strap on a pair of those funky new goggles and allow yourself to be completely at the mercy of the man who knows how to inflict visual and aural mania upon you better than anyone else.  Once those goggles are on, you belong to him.

Pressing ‘X’ hurls you headlong into the first level, which is a tutorial of sorts, in that it’s fairly inoffensive, at least as far as enemy attacks go.  As soon as you begin, you realise that everything you have seen of the game so far means nothing.

It’s impossible to overstate the effect the VR headset has on this game.  I’d never used one before, and it was simply staggering.  The first level was all well and good, with stunning true 3D bringing Minter’s mindwarps thoroughly to life.  Once I hit the second level, though, things took on an even greater dimension (see what I did there?).

The second level has you inside a tunnel.  You’ve seen and heard that before, but never like this.  You have to traverse all 360 degrees of the tunnel, and that’s when the VR effect really slams home.  I definitely felt a sense of disorientation as I swooped up and down the sides of the tunnel… at first.  Once I figured out how to play the game a bit better, I managed my movements better, became more effective and felt less out of whack with the world.

The feeling you get as things fly from behind you within touching distance, or explosions rush towards you almost making you flinch, is immense.  It’s new.  You haven’t had an experience like this before.  You just haven’t.  As I played it I felt that my jaw was hanging open the whole time, but I was too busy swooping and blasting to even care about closing it.

Later levels throw more and different things at you.  Oh, and each level has a series of bull-horn gates to pass through.  When you do, you increase a bonus multiplier... I think.  I also think that's what triggers an increase in speed.  It might be something else, it was hard to really tell from one short demo.  But when you do start speeding up and tunnels are strobing and things are shooting and exploding, you will truly feel like you're in another dimension.  It is awesome.

The object of the game, by the way, is to shoot things.  Basically, shoot everything and don’t crash into anything.  It’s a tried-and-tested Llamasoft formula, and it works. Here, it just feels natural.  You don’t have to be told what to do.  You just glide into it and go by your instincts.  They’ll serve you well.  Just go with it and enjoy.

If I absolutely have to try and describe it for you, I’d say it’s like playing a shoot ‘em up inside the tunnel at the start of an 80s episode of Doctor Who, whilst simultaneously looking through a kaleidoscope.  It’s like S.T.U.N. Runner meets Cosmic Causeway meets Blaster meets Star Wars meets Race the Sun meets God knows what else.  And yet, it's none of those things.  It’s its own entity, and it’s stunning.  Is it stunning enough to make me spend hundreds on a new piece of kit so I can play it more?  Yes, if I can figure out how to rake the cash together.  Until then, I suppose I’ll have to settle for TxK.