NVYVE Studios, who brought us 2017’s open-world survival/sci-fi/horror P.A.M.E.L.A, now brings us what they describe to be “fast-paced rogue-lite action featuring procedural weapons and environment, hordes of enemies and bosses” in the form of HYPERGUN; a psychedelically colourful arena-based FPS whereby you kill rounds upon rounds of aliens with increasingly more powerful and ridiculous gun attachments you find along the way.
In terms of arena-based FPS mechanics, HYPERGUN resembles games such as Superhot, DOOM, Hotline Miami, and Clone Drone in the Danger Zone; you enter rooms/arenas whereby OP enemies spawn and chase you whilst you try to avoid, shoot, run, survive, and upgrade. Games such as these, especially Superhot with its slow-mo/movement mechanic, take on a skill-based puzzle element wherein one has to plan and adhere to a strict order of actions and movements in order to progress. Movement feels very DOOM-like too in that running constantly feels like one long silky-smooth swoop instead of a step-by-step camera bobble apparent in most realistic FPS games.
Secondly, the game goes for that game-within-a-game concept whereby the shooty-shooty bang-bang stuff actually occurs within a simulation set inside the game à la Superhot; the meta-game narrative being that you’re an intern for an advanced weapons company called DevTech Labs who’s snuck in over the weekend to “play” a simulation; the purpose of which is to help discover and design the ultimate weapon – or a Hypergun if you will – that will help humanity defeat an actual alien invasion happening IRL.
These meta game-within-a-game elements allow HYPERGUN to stretch out its legs comedically, juxtaposing the explosive, high-octane, end-of-the-world stakes of let’s say DOOM with the comparatively mundane pettiness of inter-office relations. In other words, almost like a chapter from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the world is on the brink of total annihilation but the employees of the company charged with stopping it are primarily concerned with the office budget for pizzas, who borrowed so-and-so’s stapler, and who keeps leaving teabags in the office kitchen sink.
In this sense, the game dips into what I call “the whimsy of bureaucracy” that games such as The Stanley Parable or Portal fully immerses themselves in. However, if the latter two are the foolhardy teens cannon-balling into the swimming pool of comedy, HYPERGUN is the hesitant child who keeps prodding the water with their toe, towel draped around shoulders, repeatedly glancing at Mother for reassurance, only to find her sun lounging in the Italian sunshine, totally unconcerned with the mental and physical obstacle he needs help in overcoming, gossiping with an English couple from Stoke about the best and nearest beach, whether they’ve tried the bruschetta from Mama’s Rosa’s down the road, and the state of the pound; three subjects that she seems to care more about than the relative happiness and welfare of her son who needs just a few seconds of her emotional support and attention to help him conquer his fears and insecurities. Is that too much to ask, Mother? Is it?! IS IT?! (The story, all names, characters, and incidents portrayed in this analogy are fictitious. No identification with actual persons (living or deceased), places, buildings, and products is intended or should be inferred).
Unfortunately, as far as this meta-game comedy goes, it almost entirely consists of various post-it notes scattered around the various offices and rooms near the simulation room and little more. The opportunity to expand on this was clearly missed.
The other part of the game that tries to maintain this humour is in the procedurally generated gun attachments you discover throughout. Whilst you will get your typical muzzles, stocks, scopes, ammo, etc, you will also acquire more surreal additions, like a megaphone, or corn, or gun-shooter (literally making your gun shoot actual guns). This is also the part of the game that attempts to sustain replayability – everyone playing it will encounter different attachments at different times with different results. This variety is also exemplified via the randomised rooms you enter.
Despite this, the relative “variety” in each room – consisting mostly of differently placed slopes, catwalks, and ledges – is negligible and barely affects how one strategically plays the game. Ultimately, regardless of weapon attachments or room design, you end up running in a circle to avoid projectiles whilst shooting and that’s it. As a result, this rather quickly becomes a bore. Admittedly, the inclusion of boss-battles does break-up the stagnation that begins to seep in but, when it comes to the bosses I personally encountered, the same tactic is used as before except the enemy this time is a bullet-sponge.
The RNG nature of the attachments also means that many will experience frustration as they have to constantly replay levels and die until they happen upon an attachment that will actually enable them to progress. Whilst clearly trying to add a strategy element of the game via the attachments, the developers paradoxically – or rather ironically make it so that any random new attachments you discover in the midst of battle and the possible buffs or nerfs that you’ll gain or lose is completely hidden to you until equipping it, making it nigh-on impossible to actually consider what attachments are best suited to what enemies in what environments.
Why certain attachments affect the gun in the way that they do via the DPS, firing rate, accuracy, speed, projectile trajectory, etc is deliberately obfuscated to the player, presumably out of zaniness and/or to create further chaos or to fit the tone they are going for. Ultimately, it just feels like an unnecessary hurdle to vault over in a very hectic environment; like expecting a person to stop and compare competing fixed rate mortgages on a laptop whilst attempting to traverse the field of a popular driving range unscathed.
This isn’t to say that the game is joyless of course. Far from it. The multi-coloured, glassy, fractal-geometric character designs and scenery makes you feel like you’re inside the world of Tron, whilst the gameplay itself has its moments of fun, amplified by the superb 80s-synthwave soundtrack (created by Carpenter Brut) that blares pleasingly in your ears.
A fairly fun but flawed and, at times, bewilderingly frustrating game, HYPERGUN certainly can be played and enjoyed, albeit in small doses. It has potential, however, to be something greater and more fully realised than the current state it is in.