March 20, 2007 - When Sony announced the PS3's Folding@Home project last week, aiming to fight incurable diseases by linking together machines to form an all-powerful super computer, we were pretty impressed. However, while it's a noble idea, truth be told we prefer stuff that's a bit more hands-on. So, you can imagine our delight at the prospect of playing Blast Factor, an old-skool shooter available direct from the PlayStation Store that sees you ridding cells of deadly viruses. Who needs Folding@Home when you've got a three-way laser?
There's nothing big or clever about the way Blast Factor plays and it follows the most traditional of game concepts - a well-armed but lone spaceship going up against hordes of enemies, as well as confronting all-powerful boss guys. You can almost smell the smoking bullet shells from classic shooters like Robotron or even Asteroids when playing. However, any comparison cries are likely to be bellowed loudest by Xbox 360 and PC owners, who've been playing Mutant Storm Reloaded for almost two years. It's no surprise either, because Blast Factor and Mutant Storm are virtually identical.
You must tilt the SIXAXIS to expose the weak spots of some enemies.
Take the control method for example. In both, you move around with the left analogue while directing your shots with the right stick. Both games play out in cramped, restrictive playing arenas too, which keeps the action fast and tight. However, Blast Factor's battlezone is a Petri dish with your ship zapping microscopic bad guys which explode in a shower of particles when hit. Not a million mile away from Mutant Storm's alien invasion but a slight difference nonetheless.
As for the enemies, they're actually quite varied, from the usual laser fodder grunts to bosses that have weak spots to discover and attack patterns to learn. Naturally, with this running on PS3 there's plenty of processing power to call upon so some of the later levels are absolutely infested with the little buggers. If you want a challenge, you've come to the right place.
Another element that adds to the difficulty, and aids Blast Factors's attempts to stand out from the likes of Mutant Storm, is the inclusion of branching routes through the zones - known here as 'specimens'. Each specimen is made up of twelve levels, a bonus area and a boss. However, depending on your performance, you'll take a different route through each specimen. By destroying all the enemies within a time limit and without getting killed yourself, you're taken along the hard path. If you fail to beat the time you're taken to the medium area, whereas those weaklings that die must hang their head in shame on the easy level. This adds plenty of replay value to Blast Factor because you won't see all the levels in one play and getting to the harder stages in all seven specimens is a tough task.
Earlier levels like this aren't too difficult to beat.
However, although the branching routes are one of Blast Factor's strongest points, the level design itself is certainly one of its weakest. Each stage is confined to a hexagonal Petri dish, with enemies filtering in from all sides. That's what happens on stage one and that's what happens on the final stage too. There's no variation in levels apart from the amount and types of enemies. This is made glaringly obvious by the fact you're forced to start at stage one every time you want to play. Although you might have reached specimen six previously, you can't warp straight there next time you start playing.