Mojang, of Minecraft fame, has begun its first foray into publishing. The game? Cobalt, by Oxeye Game Studio.
Cobalt is a 2D platformer/shooter/arena game which has just entered what is quickly becoming known as the open alpha stage of development. There’s not much in the game yet, so I’ll just talk about what’s there. As well as what might not be there. We’ll come back to that one.
You play as a little colourable robot – a Metalface. You have three methods of attack (three weapon types), close-ranged, firearms, and thrown weapons. There’s already a good amount of variety in the weapons – you’ll be using anything from tasers and revolvers to boomerangs and grenade launchers. Most of the weapons to a lot of damage, and many can kill in one hit. Therefore, you have a large amount of freedom of movement. You can grip and jump up walls, use rocket boots, flip away from explosions, just as examples. Rolling and flipping, in fact, are important – you can not be damaged by bullets while rolling, you’ll just deflect them. Opponents can be killed by deflected bullets. Explosions, however, are another matter – they must be punched away. This would all be rather difficult if not for the fact that time slows when any dangerous projectile gets close. The game also puts a yellow square around it, just to make sure you absolutely know it’s there. It’s really a spectacle game. It’s designed to make you look and feel cool, effortlessly jump-flipping over a grenade and shooting your opponent in his big stupid metal face. In slow-motion.
The combat is good. It’s really good. It feels fact, pacey, and stylish even though the robots themselves aren’t particularly quick on their feet. It even feels good against bots (I was fortunate enough to be able to drag someone over for a quick game. We’ll come back to that) and against the few standard enemies in the game. There’s a survival mode (with one official map, but new ones being made with the editor), which, while lacking a scoring system, feels pretty nice so far, allowing you to buy weapons and ammo and pitting you against some fairly dangerous enemies. It’s a little broken currently in that once you leave your bunker at the beginning of a survival game, enemies can follow you back in when you go to buy ammo. Again, this is only the first alpha.
Cobalt is being designed with a 360 pad in mind and, currently, the keyboard controls are more or less unplayable. It does that thing which some console ports do, where the arrow keys are for movement and the QSC area is used for actions, turning your keyboard into a pseudo-controller. It doesn’t work. It’s as simple as that. This is partly tied into another control issue – up and down on the left stick (used for movement) is used to lock-on to enemies. Why it’s not one of the unused shoulder buttons, I don’t know. Unfortunately, however, if you’re playing on a keyboard, the up arrow is bound to both lock-on AND jump. The controls can also not be rebound. Again, this is only currently, it may change. WASD with full mouse-support would make much more sense and not feel completely awful, but the developers pointed out, accurately, that this would give an advantage over people using a pad.
By far the biggest issue I have with Cobalt, and the craziest design decision Oxeye have made, is the fact that they are not planning to implement online multiplayer. Why? I have absolutely no idea whatsoever. Cobalt has already seen a shift from story-driven singleplayer to a co-op multiplayer focus, but to omit such a basic feature of multiplayer games is just mind-boggling. As I mentioned before, I was lucky enough to be able to drag a 360 pad-owning friend to my house for a game. Many, many gamers do not have the same luxury. I honestly believe that online multiplayer will end up being implemented, this is a multiplayer PC game for god’s sake, but the fact that it is not planned genuinely leads me to question just how good a purchase it is. With regards to game modes, there’s currently deathmatch and CTF.
So then, should you buy it? No. Not yet. What’s there is fun but there’s not much actually there yet, and certainly there’s not enough to gauge where development is going to go. If you want to play online with your friends, don’t bother. Wait until we know that online multiplayer is going to be added, if it ever is. On the other hand, if you’ve a few 360-pad owning friends living close-by, it might be worth a look. It also might be worth a look if you enjoy bot-matches.
I can not recommend Cobalt at the moment. There’s not much to it yet and we don’t know what development’s going to be like. It’s got potential, it really has, but it’s marred by some stunningly daft design-decisions. I’ll be revisiting Cobalt at a later date, but if you do want to pre-order it, it’s following the same pre-order scheme as Minecraft did: the current alpha is 10 euros, which will increase to 15 in beta and 20 for the finished release. You can grab it here. You’ll need to go through Mojang’s daft unified login system in order to pre-order it, and it hasn’t been working 100% of the time, so take note.
Oh, and the music is really good.