The sounds of gurgling horror reverberate against your blood-stained window. Who knows how your friends and family are faring, all you can think of now is how to survive the next five minutes. Fire and debris eclipse the streets you once thought so safe. Each door you open to escape your home could be your last, as any room could be infested with the fiends who brought about this end of days. You manage to make it to the front door, and without thinking you swing it open, only to be met with a bloody end. It’s one of those things, come to claim you. This is Armageddon, the beast of Revelations is the llama.
Vicious Attack Llama Apocalypse (VALA) is a rogue-like twin-stick shooter developed and published by RogueCode (PTY) LTD. In it you control a mechanized drone on a mission from Llamazon to clean up the streets, eliminating any llama you see. It’s a gorey, explosive, and pun-filled game that will be delightful for some but turn off others easily with its difficulty and bad humor.
VALA is available on Steam for $14.99.
With a game such as this, the story is merely a means to frame your actions. The player doesn’t really need a reason to mow down a horde of vicious llamas out of blood, but it’s nice to have one nonetheless. You are in the employ of Llamazon, a delivery service that utilizies llamas as a delivery means. Due to the intervention of the Llamanati, all the llamas have turned hostile, turning many city blocks into warzones. As you can see, the llama puns come fast, and they come early.
It’s these puns that will stay with you for most of the game, in terms of the writing. Your AI companion will often come in on your speaker to deliver yet another groaner in response to llamas coming to kill you or you having killed many llamas. Even the streets occasionally have billboards featuring some llama pun. Unfortunately for this game, the pun is the laziest and weakest form of humor. They can be endearing, done properly, and well spaced apart, but this game shoots them at you faster than you can shoot your gun. Combined with the ungodly squeals of the llamas constantly filling the streets and you have a recipe for a bad time.
VALA comes with two genres: twin-stick shooter and rogue-like. The two complement each other well, when handled correctly, but VALA has the same grace and care with its gameplay as it does its writing. The player is equipped with a dual-wielding mech to dispatch the endless hordes of llamas. The weapons you may or may not find during your time out on the streets will determine very much whether or not you have a smooth time committing mass genocide.
The biggest problem with the gameplay in VALA is the difficulty. High difficulty in a rogue-like is standard, it’s expected, but it’s the why that determines if the player will have a good time or not. When the difficulty comes from the enemy, that’s one thing, but when the difficulty stems from a weak arsenal, that’s another all together. The fact that VALA uses both forms of difficulty just compounds the problem further.
At the start of District 1, you begin with two pistols. These pistols are woefully inefficient for dealing with the threats the game throws at you. They are weak and slow, so rather quickly the player will be overwhelmed with the nonstop stream of llamas. It’d be one thing if llamas were encountered in groups, hanging out in random areas of the map, waiting for a mech to come into view so they could attack. While this is the case for the first 30 seconds of a zone, after that it becomes a tedious horde of llamas swarming you until they’re all dead.
Other weapons can be unlocked and found, but their appearance is entirely random. Unlike a game like Binding of Isaac, where a new upgrade is guaranteed in select rooms, you may run into a streak of bad luck and just not get anything good, if anything at all. This is why it’s frustrating to have the difficulty stem from a weak player-kit, rather than from the enemy. It’s more fun to be defeated by 100 enemies swarming you when you only have a machine gun than it is to be defeated by 50 enemies and you only have a slingshot. The blame goes inward, which is not good.
There is a total of three districts, each with 10 zones. You must complete these zones before you can cross a district off the list. However, fail at any point, and it’s back to the start of the district. And you will absolutely fail, a lot. This is by design, according to the developer. You are meant to focus on completing challenges to unlock upgrades rather than try and finish a district on your first run. These upgrades, unfortunately, don’t stick around. They must be found via drops. Random drops. The worst part is that most of these upgrades don’t feel like upgrades at all. Their ineffectual feeling means that the limited strength you feel at the start of the district is likely to follow you throughout it, unless you find the gun pairing that best matches your preferred playstyle.
All of this could be overcome, however. The difficulty, the lackluster upgrades. A skilled player could go through these stumbling blocks. However, what keeps this game from escaping mediocrity is the fact it’s just plain dull. The groan-inducing jokes, the repetitive gameplay, the repeating map zones, the severely limited enemy variety, and the unengaging gunplay all work together to make this is a dull affair. What’s more is that there just simply isn’t much game there to begin with. Even if you find some enjoyment in mowing down the llamas, the game is not substantial enough to satisfy any player. It’s clear that the developers believed the difficulty-induced repetition of levels would pad out the run time and make the $15 more of a value. My guess is that most players will either give up before that hour-of-value is hit or do so well as it finish the game long before it hits. Either way, the game will leave the player unsatisfied.
So aside from the writing and gameplay being faceplants, how do the graphics and sound stack up? Graphically the game actually does quite well. Almost too well, in fact. I found that even with my high-end rig that the CPU usage was abnormally high. I never encountered any stuttering or issues that could be associated with high usage, so it’s likely nothing to worry about. What likely causes the spike is that every llama leaves a bloody corpse. If you end up taking all the llamas on on one street, you’re going to see a right bloody mess.
Musically the tone fits with the quest of killing off entire hordes of rampaging llamas. It’s hard rock throughout, and surprisingly enjoyable, given how much the rest of the game failed to impress. The only real negative I can say about the audio is the sound the llamas make. It’s an annoying, gurgling, squeal that is always going off because there are always llamas there to attack you. More so than the writing and the gameplay, players are likely to get tired of the llama cries almost immediately.
The developers of VALA have shown, judging by their presence on the game’s Steam forums, that they are dedicated to listening to fans and making alterations where needed. Though it wasn’t available when I played the game for this review, there was word that they were working on implementing difficulty settings for players who found the game too hard, and even for those who found the game too easy. When a developer shows that they are willing to listen and are quick to make changes, it puts even the worst games into some kind of hopeful light. However, it’s not a wait I’m willing to take, just to see if this game makes the improvements I’d like.
If you’re an avid twin-stick shooter fan and are looking for something a bit more challenging, VALA might just have the right recipe for you. Most casual players are likely not going to want to put up with the annoying llama grunts and puns, as well as lackluster and repetitive gameplay, long enough to find something they truly like. The potential is there for VALA to be much more than what it is now, so keep it on your watchlist if you’re vaguely curious about it. However, my advice is to wait for it to go on sale, as three districts for $15 is simply not a good value.
|+ Graphics and music are nice.||– Dull and repetitive gameplay and maps.|
|– Difficulty is meant to pad out your playtime.|
|– A ineffectual feeling for most of your encounters.|