A cheerful looking racer that is actually a manic schmup, but can it keep the pressure up?
At first glance Pressure looks like it's some sort of cutesy arcade racer in the vein of Super Mario Kart. You know, those racers that never do as well as the game they're imitating. That isn't the case though. Pressure harkens back to the days of vertical shooters, only instead of spaceships, here we have a cartoon styled steampunk racing car.
It all starts with the evil Count, who has dried up your riverbed and ruined your early morning swim, all just to provide water for his new health spa. You make the rational decision to jump into your steam powered buggy, with some handy weapons strapped to it, and start massacring his people... Sounds fair?
The lightning rod, one of the criminally few fun weapons
The presentation and direction makes Pressure feel like you're racing, though here racing consists of balancing pressure, spent purely on driving you forward, managing damage and destroying anything in your way. In the early stages of the game, pressure is the biggest problem. Nine times out of ten, failing a mission will be down to your buggy running out of steam rather than suffering too much damage. And it's a pretty harsh mistress too. I only just finished the second level with enough power, and failed the third numerous times before figuring out a few special tricks.
There are ways to get your pressure back though. The most obvious one is the checkpoints, which give you a fairly hefty amount to keep you going, but what you really need to be watching is getting it from enemies. Each one destroyed re-stokes your boiler, and how much depends on how big of an enemy they are. Small enemies might not give you much, but they do die quickly, and keep you topped up while you blast away at the larger vehicles.
Therefore, your aim is to create as much destruction as you can, as quick as you can. The trick is directing it. The buggy can be a little unwieldy, but this is part of the charm - if the control was too precise then it would be too easy. Your best bet is go for something more widespread. And Pressure is only too happy to give you plenty of tools to use for said destruction.
The weapons start off pretty normal - a machine gun, rifle, shotgun or flamethrower (which is pretty damn useless). There's also the more ridiculous soap bubble blunderbuss and lightning rod, but there isn't enough of these, and the game quickly resorts to the tried and tested bigger machine guns and rocket launchers. Pressure is at its best when it embraces the ludicrousness of its set up, but it never goes quite far enough.
Making matters worse is the upgrade system, in particular how much things cost. You'll be lucky to afford more than one upgrade after a race, and while there maybe the temptation to experiment, if you pick the wrong gun you're going to have a hell of a time earning money to spend away.
Co-op always adds a little bit more to a game, Pressure is no exception
You can't even go back to older levels to earn some cash to help you upgrade and get past that level you've been stuck on for ages. Not that you'd have fond memories of any particular levels to drive that desire. They could do with a little bit of variety being injected into them too. Chasing Carrots do manage to inject some change in the environments - such as a huge water flume or half pipe that feels like you're having a flashback to Sonic 2 - but for the most part the tracks look exactly the same.
The design of some of them is a little haphazard as well. As I said at the start, the game plays like a shoot-em up, and for the entirety of the first zone the driving is just straight, with minor deviations to get round obstacles. Suddenly, level eleven, there's a right hand turn and you're doing your best Aryton Senna impression head first into a wall. Thankfully the damage model doesn't care about hitting the environment - you just reverse a little and you're back on your way.
Even after that disastrous first corner, every time after that bends almost appear out of nowhere. I can't quite put my finger on what feels wrong about them. It could be that the viewpoint is too close, or the handling, which is perfectly woolly for the shooting, just isn't up to it. Maybe both.
But in all this moaning I'm ignoring what the game does well. The enemies' AI is pretty good. This being car based you're not shooting things head on but against other vehicles travelling in the same direction. Even with that variation Pressure could quite easily descend into holding down accelerate and fire, but it requires a little more than that. Sometimes an enemy will sit on your rear bumper like a boy racer who's just got his license, pouring fire into your car. No matter how fast you go, how much weaving, he'll stick there, and you actually have to apply the brake.
Your guns aren't the only weapon and won't be enough to get you to the finish line either. Your buggy comes equipped with a handy ram at the front, and a boost so you can hit them extra hard. Some enemies will even drift into a position that is crying out for you to hit them from behind. But then we're back to the slightly poor handling and that perfect shunt you lined up glides you alongside the target vehicle with little way of destroying it. Once you hit the spa zone all subtlety is forgotten and it comes to a case of mashing the controls and watching things explode.
Get used to a screen filled with explosions, at times it's all you can see
It doesn't help that it takes awhile to even get used to the boost being part of your arsenal. It feels like it's wasting pressure. You're forcing your car to go faster, of course your using up your valuable steam. Only apparently you're not, a loading screen told me so. The fact they use a pressure gauge in the UI to let me know when it's available certainly doesn't help that assumption.
By the end of it, Pressure commits what might be the greatest of all sins: mediocrity. As I played the game I was mostly indifferent, thinking “it's alright”, but writing this made me look at it deeper and I realised how many issues I have with it. It doesn't do anything new or exciting, but nor does it offend in any great way. There are plenty of little mistakes, and just not enough to make them forgiveable. It's a pretty average game with decent presentation. For something a bit more time consuming or in depth, I'd look elsewhere. If you just want a distraction then maybe.
By the end of it, Pressure commits what might be the greatest of all sins: mediocrity. As I played the game I was mostly indifferent, thinking “it’s alright”, but writing this made me look at it deeper and I realised how many issues I have with it. It doesn’t do anything new or exciting, but nor does it offend in any great way. There are plenty of little mistakes, and just not enough to make them forgiveable. It’s a pretty average game with decent presentation. For something a bit more time consuming or in depth, I’d look elsewhere. If you just want a distraction then maybe.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Trundling across the finish line just as your pressure dies.