Review | Utopia 9: A Volatile Vacation

There’s nothing like a good holiday.  Sun, sand, and second degree plasma burns.

Have you ever been on a bad holiday?  The hotel was a disgrace or you were staying next to a building site.  Perhaps you got ill or had to take a coach for 8 hours with no air conditioning.  Maybe the locals were actually mutants, the travel agent just flat out lied to you about the quality of the resort and the only way to survive is to fight your way to the complaints desk.  If that last one sounds like one of your holidays,then you may be the protagonist of Utopia 9.  If so, then well done for surviving!  You did better than I did.

Utopia 9
Things tend to get messy if you start using shotguns.

Utopia 9 is a rogue-like/rogue-lite twin stick shooter about a tourist heading to the galaxy’s best holiday resort, only to find that it is overrun with mutants and must survive with only his pistol, suitcase and trusty camera at his side.  The game starts with a crash landing on a planet in a small starting area with control instructions on some nearby boards and a handful of simple enemies.  Dispatching these will have you leveling up and finding your first proper weapon before venturing out into a new area in your quest to find the complaints desk and get the hell off the planet.

From here it plays like most twin stick shooters: left stick/WASD to move, right stick/mouse to aim.  You can jump, swap weapons, activate abilities (such as your camera that stuns enemies) and such as well.  The controls are sharp enough, although I found some odd issues when using a controller.  Occasionally jumping also caused me to fire at the same time, and sometimes my gun would keep firing even after releasing a trigger.  Pressing fire again rectified this, but in a game with limited ammo it could be an problem later in the game.

Utopia 9
As your deaths rack up, you’ll find more of your crashed pods in the starting area.

This being a “rogue-lite” game means there is perma-death with some element of progression along with procedural generation for levels.  Deaths here will set you back to the start of the game with a new set of levels, random weapons and different enemies.  Utopia 9 does some nice things when your character dies (which is an odd sentence) that sets it apart from other games in the sub genre.  It borrows the nemesis system from Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor, in that when an enemy kills you it will become a named elite, scavenging your weapons and remaining in the game world for your next character.  You can then hunt them down, kill them and reclaim your loot.  You’ll also find your previous character’s body nearby, as well as the previous pods you crash landed in near the start of the game.  It’s a nice element that adds a touch of permanence to the random levels.

There’s a good variety of weapons to use, ranging from pistols and shotguns, to swords and grenade launchers.  There weren’t any that stood out as being outside the ordinary, but there were plenty to find and you knew what most of them would do by name alone.  These weapons can be adjusted through leveling up and selecting a mutation.  Some will allow your bullets to bounce off walls, others will make them pass through enemies.  This allows you to customise your play style somewhat, but does tie you in to certain weapon types and can rely on you randomly finding a gun that you can use to its full potential.  This is an issue with many rogue-lite games; the random elements mean you can get a bad run through chance alone.  Luckily, each run is fairly quick and a death won’t frustrate too much.

Utopia 9
Each time you level up you’ll be offered a few mutations to customise your playstyle.

The set up of the levels allows you to adjust your playstyle as you move from area to area too.  It takes an idea I’ve previously seen in Our Darker Purpose which gave you a choice of upcoming areas and hinted about what would be there.  Do you need enemies to get in close because you’re a melee specialist?  Maybe head to an area with enemies carrying shotguns.  Need a weapon with some splash damage?  Going to one with explosive weapons will give you a chance to find something you can use.  It’s a nice system that can offset the randomness problem with weapons.  The mutations are still a random set offered each time though, meaning you may need explosives, but leveling up doesn’t allow you to use them at their best.

Being as this is a rogue-lite game, there is an element of progression between deaths.  You, you can collect lost weapons from previous killers, but you also collect Traveler Points each game that can be traded in for bonuses at the beginning of your next run.  These range from greater firing rate to increased ammo capacity.  Each one also comes with a downside though, such as increasing weapon spread or making enemies spot you faster.  The more useful ones are very expensive and will take a few runs for you to have enough to purchase them.  There are only 5 to choose from which is a touch on the low side.  I’d have liked to have seen a variety of different ones that change the game significantly beyond a few stat changes.  Making enemies move slower, increase weapon damage in exchange for greater ammo consumption, or a way to resurrect but you are limited to only using melee weapons.  The game is fairly short, so some significant mutators like this would add quite a bit of replay value to the game.

Utopia 9
I was killed by Gordon Dallas. Guess I didn’t have my multi-pass.

On the whole though, the game is fun to play.  The action was fast enough, and each run quick enough to keep me engaged, to the point where “just-one-more-go” syndrome kicked in.  Whilst this is unlikely to be one that you come back to for months on end like The Binding of Isaac, it is game that you will likely enjoy if you’re after a light hearted rogue-lite experience.  Just try to keep away from the local wildlife.


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