Have you ever wondered what it would be like if Star Fox had a nitro button? That must have been the question Shortbreak Studios wanted answering when they constructed the super-fast assault course that is The Collider 2. It's available from April 19, 2016, on Steam for PC and also VR (Oculus Rift & HTC Vive). For the entirety of the game, you’ll be zooming through tunnels decorated to look like the inside of The Terminator, trying to avoid crashing into obstacles just as deadly. It’s a reaction-based game where you have to see the gap in an oncoming wall and manoeuvre your ship through it using your computer mouse to angle the nose of the spacecraft.
What’s the explanation for this spot of interstellar F-Zero? A mysterious alien force threatens humanity’s existence and it is your duty as Earth greatest (and potentially only) Starfighter pilot to infiltrate the invaders mothership and destroy it from the inside out. One Star Wars-like trench run at a time. That’s the best anyway that can be inferred from the blueprints on the loading screen, as well as the main menu overseeing a spaceship-sized puff of steel wool repeatedly firing a laser into South America. The story isn’t what The Collider 2 focuses on. It’s the gameplay.
Mouse in hand, you’ll be slaloming throughout the various tunnelled gauntlets of The Collider 2. Holding the left mouse button activates the speed boost, which sooner or later becomes your default method of transport. Hitting an obstacle causes your shield to drop which will recover after approximately 5 seconds. However, if you take another hit in that time, it’s game over. Think like Sonic the Hedgehog only, this time, if you manage not to hurtle headfirst into a metal surface, the gold ring regenerates.
The controls are simple and responsive; once you find the sensitivity level in the settings, piloting the Starfighter feels very comfortable. Invert controls are also available as well as different first/third person viewing options. I didn’t get the good fortune to play The Collider 2 in VR using head movements, but I doubt my eyeballs would enjoy the first-hand experience of slamming into an alien wall at 600 mph. The way the game has you swooping in all directions, my head naturally bobbed and weaved along with it like a Meerkat dodging tennis balls, so I’m sure I got most of the experience. The fine tuning in the mouse movement means that whenever you do crash into a million tiny pieces of fiery space debris, it doesn’t feel unfair. You feel like you can do better. And depending on how competitive you are, that urge to become better is the addictive element that’ll keep you playing.
Aside from getting up close and personal with an alien ship’s interior design, another way you can meet your end in The Collider 2 is staying on the speed boost too long, overheating your engine and exploding. So not only must you react to oncoming obstacles, but negotiate your boost with the 4-second cooldown. There’s an interesting (perhaps, realistic) feature where releasing the left mouse button doesn’t drop your Starfighter out of top speed straight away. It takes about half a second for your spaceship to return to normal speed where you can get back the easier manoeuvrability. Several times that half a second was the difference between skimming through a gap, and an explosive death. It’s not exactly game-breaking, just something that has to be taken into account if you’re about to pass through an opening and cannot immediately identify where the next one will be.
The Collider 2 consists of 6 sectors, each containing 8 missions and a boss fight, with most normal missions lasting anywhere between 30-90 seconds long. Failing a mission brings no penalties, just the options to restart, select another mission or go back to the main menu. The regular missions come in three distinct flavours: complete the course within a time limit, destroy the targets or collect the artefacts. However when played, they turn out to be more like having multiple individual packets of crisps torn open and thrown into the same bring-and-share bowl. The distinct flavours matter a lot less, and the only real goal is to get to the end without dying. As long as you complete the course in one piece, you’ll complete the mission. The faster you do so, or the more targets destroyed or the more artefacts collected will award you up to 3 emblems. Completionists will find an intense undertaking in collecting all of the game’s 162 emblems as the difficulty curve keeps The Collider 2 challenging throughout. But less achievement-hungry players may find repeatedly flying in and out of an alien mothership like a basketball through a hoop, grows dull quickly. If the lack of story gives you no emotional incentive to come back, then realising you constantly fly through the heart of your alien enemies and yet leave the ship virtually untouched might stop you playing. You’d think crashing your Starfighter into a support column would do more good for the cause.
Each sector ends with a boss, what looks like the back end of a mechanical dungeon worm, that hurls mines and lasers at you until you destroy its glowing red porthole. Shooting works by aligning your reticle with something that needs to be shot at, and your Starfighter automatically starts shooting at it. Similar to Star Fox, that means you need to be flying towards the thing you want to shoot at but stop firing and dart out of the way in case it shoots back. Often you’ll find that in ‘destroy the target’ missions, the target you need to destroy and the next gap you need to fly through aren’t in the same position. So aligning your shots and taking out your targets quickly becomes key. This is especially true where if you destroy a target too close to your ship; the resulting explosion may cloud your vision for a split second. Destroy a target even closer and the resulting explosion may damage your ship, dropping your shield.
Alternatively, The Collider 2 features an online leaderboard in the form of survival mode. It’s an endless run where your farthest distance travelled and a score multiplier make up your top score for everyone to try to beat. Despite Steam categorising The Collider 2 as a racing game, the only competitors you’ll ever see are the numbers and names on this list.
Visually, The Collider 2 is a very nice looking game – it’s running on Unreal Engine 4. The sight of a distant sun, softly bathing the stars, planets and laser turret of an imposing alien warship could almost make you shed a tear. Each mission starts with a brief cutscene of your Starfighter launching from its holding station, travelling a short distance through the stars and entering a discreet port in the alien battleship where you then take control. The majority of the game takes place inside these tunnels so it’s wonderful to see they’re very well designed too. Chrome plating whizzes pass with a satisfying amount of motion blur. Explosions and lights are serviceable and pleasing, and the gamma can be toggled in the settings. Furthermore, each sector has its own visual interpretation of the whole “veins of a terminator” theme running throughout the game, which then feeds into the increasing challenge of it all. The walls of Sector 1 remain stationary as does the obstacles, however Sector 2 features an almost breathing wall of rippling metal spines with its obstacles rotating almost in unison. Sector 3 switches it up again as gears are constantly shifting into place, and your openings are still being constructed as you approach. The care that is taken on each sector’s visual style, and how they tie into the variety of obstacle types, as well as the power of Unreal Engine 4, is one of this game’s highlights.
Sound & Music
The Collider 2 doesn’t have much in the way of music, mainly a tense action music track playing throughout your flights. A man, presumably the commander in charge of constantly sending you on these adrenaline-packed suicide missions, speaks to you through the communications unit during the missions. He offers words of wisdom via. short sound bites like “approaching enemy base”, “shields stable” and “mission completed”. There comes a point when you’ve dropped your shield so many times but still continue flying with the same zealous hope, that hearing a voice call out, “caution”, sounds more like a sarcastic remark than an earnest recommendation. The overall sound design comes together, with the sounds of your own laser fire and your Starfighter whooshing pass obstacles being effective enough.
During the missions, you’ll be collecting gold pieces called “awards”, which serve two purposes. First, they act as experience points. When you collect enough of them you level up, and your score multiplier increases for all your future runs (including Survival Mode). Second, they’re the game’s currency. You can buy different colour schemes for your Starfighter and improve its shield regeneration rate and boost meter in the Hangar. You can also lengthen the duration of the power-ups found during missions in the Upgrade menu. I dare say, if The Collider 2 were made on smart devices, this entire section would be controlled by microtransactions. There are multiple spaceships available, each unlocked with every new sector – strangely, improving their shields and boosts need to be bought again separately. I couldn’t be sure if there was any incremental difference in speed or handling between the ships, but it means that every new sector forces your ship to start from scratch. Thankfully, the power-ups in The Collider 2 are welcoming, if not a tad random. You’ll rarely get a useful combination of the magnet power-up placed ahead of a cavern of sporadically placed awards for example. And the cooling power-up is in some ways useless since you’ll rarely be in danger of blowing out your engine unless flying through an uninterrupted stretch. But the shield is always a timely reprieve whenever it comes along.
The Collider 2 features lightning fast gameplay which requires even faster reaction times. Its responsive controls and general difficulty curve provide a great level of challenge and fuel an addiction that’ll have you retry its missions over and over again. Those who prioritise story won’t find it here, and as it does technically boast only three main mission types, others may consider it repetitive. However, collecting all the emblems and the survival mode do offer some replayability. Thanks to Unreal Engine 4 and some inspired mechanical interior design, this game looks dazzling from one sector to the next. The Collider 2 fires you out into space to captain your Starfighter, taking on intergalactic invaders with breakneck speed and manic manoeuvres. It almost makes you wonder why Mass Effect hasn’t released a game around Star Wars pod racing yet.
|+ Smooth Controls||– Only 3 different mission types may get repetitive|
|+ Difficulty curve makes for an addictive challenge||– Having to buy upgrades for each ship all over again|
|+ Sector-by-sector aesthetics are great|