26: Hammerfight

Hammerfight is a nice little game with a nice little idea, in theory. You play a gyrocopter with a swingy weapon (mace, flail, hammer, pivoted sword…) attached to your chassis. Moving the mouse around moves the copter around, and through dastardly manipulation of momentum you can swing and smash that weapon into your enemies. Nice, simple, fun, right?

26hammerfight1.jpg

Well, sort of. Firstly, Hammerfight assumes that you have wrists that are stronger and more flexible than Gumbercules. If you actually input the correct sensitivity for your mouse, you have to swing your arms around in great loops to even get that bastard copter to move. The mouse revolutions it was expecting me to achieve would actually have meant I was able to fly just by flapping my arms. So, first thing you should do is go to the options and turn mouse sensitivity down as far as you possibly can. This will make your mouse react in a way that seems reasonable and your copter fun to use. It will be possible to get past like the first two levels. So do that. Now the game actually works, should be pretty good, right?

Well, not yet. The swinging weapons are products of a rudimentary physics engine. The scenery around you can be bashed and smashed, but mainly it just gets in your way. Momentum is stopped when you run into the guys you’re fighting, and that makes sense, but you also have to be looking out for bits of the ceiling collapsing onto you. The HUD is gigantic and blots out chunks of the screen so, well, good luck if the enemy is in the bottom left, and the overall feeling you have during any fight is “noise”. With explosions and enemies blotting out the sun, it is sometimes very difficult to keep track of which of the spinny murder copters is yours, I’ve lost more than one fight that way. You can occasionally get hit exactly 0 seconds after a level starts, I’ve lost more than one fight that way. One-on-one fights actually are quite good but if you’re fighting a horde they’ll smash into you from nowhere, I’ve lost more than one fight that way.

26hammerfight2.jpg

In terms of learning to play, it chucks you out into the street and reckons you’ll figure it out. Stuff is mentioned once and only once and if you miss it, well, good luck. There’s some controls that are ridiculously finickity, and one particular experience sticks out. I had to spin around, let go of the mace, use it to destroy a pináta, and catch it as it fell. This took about twenty attempts, even after I’d figured out the controls to actually do this which were mentioned vonce und only vonce. Mind-blowingly frustrating and added nothing. As if to provide an exaggerated counterpoint to the lack of explanation, it’s of the Hard Reset school of exposition, which states that the plot should be both overwhelming and incomprehensible. Every fight is preceded with some talky-talky between mugshots representing the copters on-screen, there’s occasional massive cutscenes between fights, and the overall effect is to just break up the game into this disparate collection of experiences.

You play through a campaign of missions, a combination of plot and fights. You start off as a noble hammer fighter, before being captured and forced to be a slave hammer fighter in an arena, then go rescue someone as a heroic hammer fighter, then suddenly lots of robots appear and you fight them as some kind of rescue hammer fighter. Sometimes you have to kill a big guy, sometimes lots of little guys, sometimes arena fights, sometimes “outlast the clock”. There is a nice spread of things to do if only they’d let you get on with it and not just bog you down in talky talky talky.

26hammerfight3.jpg

There are some saving graces, once you’ve waded through all this, though. Every fight is graded for glory, which is proportional to how many enemies you beat and whether you let them retreat honourably. You can take on optional challenges, too, which give you nice one-off bonuses. You can pick different routes through the campaign at certain branch points, deciding whether you want to face harder or easier challenges. The amount of glory you have and the amount of cash you have allow you to buy better weapons and equipment. and there is a spectacular array of weaponry and armour and special abilities to equip. You are always able to go back to the armoury and change your loadout for any mission. If you’ve failed it five times already that can be very useful to pick your weapons now you know what you’ll be facing. The game isn’t actually that long once you know what you’re doing, either, so there is in theory replayability there of trying different paths, though I’m not sure I ever want to return.

26hammerfight5.jpg

Overall, though, all these nice touches are just drowned out behind a UI that has more or less designed to be a hindrance. It is fun, in fits and starts, but it was a constant struggle to get to that. Still, at least they tried.

2 stars, 4 hours played, campaign finished once.

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