Review: MicroVolts

Game: MicroVolts
Genre: Third-Person Shooter
Rating: Teen

“Fun” is a word that is taken for granted. We use it almost as frivolously as the word “love.” But as soon as anything impedes our definition, “fun” turns into something more akin to “sour.” MicroVolts straddles these two words. One minute, the fast-paced gameplay and sharp controls make you feel like you’re playing a title that can match some of the best competitive games out there. The next minute, overwhelming lag, framerate and balance issues remind you that you’re playing a free-to-play game.

The thematic backdrop to this TPS is living action-figures powered by batteries, engaged in warfare for reasons no one understands. It’s a battle to decide who the most dominant toy is and for whatever reason, these action-figures turn to toy guns to bolster their ego. It’s a bitter backdrop for this bright-colored, cartoony experience.

Four characters, each of them with their own cute, quirky, or brute feel to them, inhabit this world. Similar to real teenagers, these characters have a tone of rebellion, toughness, and individuality, but when the pressure comes, it’s not uncommon to hear these characters screaming for help or crying for preservation of their life. It makes for funny dialogue although it does get repetitive quickly.

MicroVolt Figurine Battle

This world these action-figures inhabit make up their war zones. Similar to young adults, the world is their playground, and in this case, kitchen cabinets, gardens, paper castles, toy rooms, and bedrooms are not off limits to these palm-sized figurines. The scale of the game is believable but because everything is so big, you have to look up to find most of the imaginative detail.

The detail of these maps is what makes them feel special. Sound effects are heard when passing by certain landmarks, like the roar of a stovetop burner or barely audible music coming from headphones. It’s unfortunate that the theme calls for everything to be so large because during the action, it’s easy to miss the bobblehead dog or realize that you’re actually fighting on a chair. At the same time however, the scale makes the game feel believable.

Regardless, there aren’t many times to stop and appreciate the design because the gameplay moves incredibly fast. Firing rates are fast on all the guns, the movement is swift, health depletes quickly, and re-entering from death doesn’t take very long.

Because so many people can be in a match at once, no matter what the map size, you’re rarely not in a fight. The type of speed this game produces makes combat addicting. Even if you’re dying a lot, the chance to put shots in people is frequent making you feel like there’s always a chance to dominate someone else and gain points for your team.

Looking through a Sniper ScopeSadly, dominating people isn’t easy. Whether you’re skilled or not, lag interferes, and it’s really bad in this game. It’s one thing to have hitbox latency—which this game has—but it’s another problem when the lag causes people to freeze in place, teleport, or sound effects become distorted or not register, and bullet animations become invisible. On top of that, serious framerate drops occur when there is too much going on, and that is unacceptable when playing any type of shooter.

It doesn’t matter how good your ping is or what server you’re in. While those help reduce lag, it doesn’t save the frustrating interruptions it causes to the gameplay. Map glitches disrupt and dawdle gameplay too. People have found hidden spots in various parts of maps where they can’t be shot or it’s very hard to hit them. All of this can be extremely frustrating and depending on how fast your connection is, these issues can be a deal-breaker.

It’s a shame sound effects don’t always register because they’re enjoyable to listen to. Explosions have a satisfying depth and sounds of guns firing are an enjoyable mix between playful and gritty. It’s noticeable a lot of effort was put into the sounds.

The same goes for the music. If you were to listen to the music without playing the game, you would never know it’s music for a playfully gritty TPS. The 50s jazz and mildly techno-inspired music are background for the menus and some gameplay. It’s well orchestrated and catchy at times but it gets repetitive as variety is lacking.

Character customization is a big part of the game. Considering there are only four characters in the game, it’s nice to know there can be some visual difference—if you choose to pay. Let’s not forget this is a free-to-play game and different pieces will need payment. However, all customization options you can buy do affect gameplay for your character, so you’re not just paying for visual customization.

For the weapons, MicroVolts equips every character with 7 different guns; meaning you never have to pick up a weapon during the match. You’re equipped with a Melee weapon, Rifle, Shotgun, Sniper Rifle, Gatling Gun, Bazooka, and Grenade Launcher. All of these weapons can be upgraded to stronger weapons in each class.

The same applies to the plethora of clothing and accessories options, which all have their own class. You can change shirts, pants, hair, and even the head. All the upgrades increase a specific trait of your character whether it would be health, speed, or ammunition for a weapon class.

The customization menuDepending on the clothing or accessory, you can choose between two options of upgrades. For example, if you choose a shirt, you have the option to upgrade speed or health. As an added bonus, simply for looks sake, all clothing or accessories of the same type have the same upgrades, so if you don’t like the way your characters’ shorts look, you can choose a different pair and have the same upgrades.

If you choose to buy these items, be it weapons or clothes, your money will transfer into the game as Rock Tokens (RT). You can use those Rock Tokens to buy the goods that you can afford—and they’re good. If you’re dismayed by the thought of spending real money, don’t fret. There’s an in-game currency–Micro Points (MP)—that you earn through playing the game. The longer a match and the better you do, the more MP you can earn.

Unfortunately, there aren’t many MP items that are better than RT items. On the bright side, there aren’t a lot of people who use RT items. However, when you come across an RT item, it’s certainly noticeable. That’s not to say all MP items should be disregarded. Some are better than weaker RT weapons but do require a higher level to unlock them. If you’re not very good at the game, then it can take a while to level up but when you get there, you’ll have that much more of an advantage.

Where this free-to-play model really kicks you in the butt is how all items—excluding weapons—have a 7, 30, or 90 day limit. Naturally, you pay more for longer periods of use. The upside is while weapons also have this limitation, by spending enough money you can buy a weapon permanently. That’s about the only relief you’ll get from this game as far as purchasing options are concerned.

However, if you choose to play this game in a completely free fashion, there are items that are given away for one-day use, each day. It’s a minimal incentive and it is nice to know you have at least one improved item to toy around with, even though it’s usually an MP item and rarely clothing or an accessory.

It’s clear that MicroVolts heavily rewards dedicated and paying players. It’s understandable. Someone has to help keep the game running and for those who are paying, they deserve something good. It’s just unfortunate that their isn’t much for the non-dedicated player to work with. If you’re a player who couldn’t play this game often, sticking with the daily giveaway items is the best way to enjoy the game without feeling guilty for spending RT, or even MP, on something you’re not using often.

For those that do have a life and cannot envelope hours upon hours in multiplayer, MicroVolts offers a single-player mode. Be warned:  The single-player mode is disturbingly weak and one-sided. This mode, strangely called Single Wave, is a wave-based mode where the same rules apply as in multiplayer—all weapons in the match—except you’re popping shots in AI for 5 or 20 rounds depending on which difficulty you choose.

90% of your experience will be running backwards, shooting at robots that scream “Charge” every few seconds while using Melee weapons. Some AI use weapons like the Bazooka or Grenade Launcher–with near perfect aim–and don’t chase you down.  Plus, they take too much damage for the little ammo you start with. You’re never settled but maybe that’s the point.

Items are available to activate if you gather enough “skill points” by scoring headshots and direct shots, but the only skill required is learning how to run backwards while racking up points. Besides, once you have enough skill points, about the only thing you can afford is the first item, which is health. By then, you’re out of ammo and out of skill points to buy the next upgrade, ammo. If you choose to save up and buy ammo, you’re rarely, if ever, able to get the last two items.

With that said, stick with multiplayer. That’s where the satisfying action is. Part of that satisfaction comes from sharp controls. They are responsive although playing a TPS with a mouse and keyboard may feel a bit jarring while trying to look in different directions. Switching weapons in the fast-paced environment can stretch the fingers uncomfortably also, but there’s the option of switching with the mouse wheel.

As with any game, there is a learning curve and that learning curve is steeper by a lack of on-screen radar. While screen real estate isn’t large to begin with, the lack of communication in the game makes learning the maps twice as hard, so the lack of on-screen radar is disappointing. There is a radar that you hit the Tab button to see, but it interrupts your concentration and wastes valuable seconds. Some maps are easier than others are, and it does help that all the maps are symmetrical, but when there are people who play longer, there’s no internal help to aid in competing.

MultiplayerMicroVolts also comes with many standard shooter modes such as Team Deathmatch, Capture the Battery, Free-for-All, Elimination, and Zombies. In addition, there are different modes with their own spin such as an Item Match where players can use various items for a limited time to beef up their speed, weapon strength, or shield them from attacks. Arms Race is like Gun Game where players start with one weapon and advance to the next weapon as they score kills. The twist on this mode is that near the end of the game, Crunch Time begins where the player in last place gets added bonuses to catch up. There’s also a Scrimmage mode for players who aren’t good at the game and can play with no score counted towards their records and increased health.

If you have friends, playing these non-traditional modes are a lot of fun and are a welcome break from the mundane Team Deathmatch (TDM). However, if you’re playing alone and jumping into peoples’ lobbies, you’re more than likely going to find a TDM or Zombies match.

It’s hard not to like MicroVolts. It has fast gameplay, sharp controls, and creative environments. Still, the free-to-play elements, jarring lag, weak single-player, and frame drops disturb this overall experience. But when MicroVolts is running on full power, it’s a very enjoyable game.

Brief Analysis:

The Positive

+        Gameplay is fast, furious, and frantic.

+        All weapons are available from the start.

+        Controls are responsive.

The Negative

–        Too much lag.

–        Few rewards for players who have a life.

–        Glitches imbalance already ill-balanced maps.

–        Parts, accessories, and items are not permanent.

–        Single player is executed poorly.

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