Remote Life is a Shmup title developed by Next Level Game. It aims to provide a more narrative-driven experience to the genre and brings a few very unusual features to the genre. Does it work? Let’s find out.
Is This Real Life?
Remote Life takes that tried and tested narrative of aliens threatening the very fabric of our existence. The answer to this problem? One man and his ship.
Across the game’s 17 stages you’ll hear bits of story exposition from your character alongside what is given in the stage briefing. None of it is too interesting. Expecting a wild space drama? You’ll be more than disappointed in the offering here.
Between the presentation which I will touch on a little later and the generic narrative, I never once felt compelled to play the game for the story. I’m firmly in the camp that Shmup games don’t need a story and that they should only be considered a dressing for the title. As such, while it’s nothing I’d dock major points for, the amount of effort gone into providing a narrative is both commendable and poorly implemented in equal doses.
Is This Just Fantasy?
Remote Life is a Horizontal Shoot Em Up. For those unfamiliar with this, you are a spacecraft that has 8-way directional control and the screen constantly moves to the right until you reach the boss at the end of the stage. What makes Remote Life different is that rather than your “shots” going straight ahead, you can aim 360-degrees with them. It’s like a twin-stick shooting game!
Featuring a hefty 17 stages and 4 difficulty modes to plow through, Remote Life is full of content. This is added to by 3 unlockable ships and a gallery mode to unlock. There’s definitely an incentive to keep coming back and shoot down the legion of aliens waiting to splatter you across the galaxy.
The game throws you into a stylish but rather intimidating menu to start with. It offers a level select, options menu, a control scheme referred to as “command” and the world’s slowest cursor. Exploring the options, there are plenty of ways to adjust the visual style of the game and the difficulty selection is also hidden in there, alongside the option to have a “radar” to show enemies attacking from the rear.
Despite a rather jarring opening menu it all looks pretty good, sets the scene, and provides you with plenty of options. Unfortunately, it starts to unravel when you get in the cockpit of your ship.
Caught In A Landslide
As mentioned you’ve got 8-way movement. It’s a genre standard at this point but bizarrely the developer has decided that realistic physics should play a part; you go forward faster than you go back! This is a big red flag in my book. It requires you to plan your movement even more meticulously than usual with you factoring in different movement speeds for different directions.
You have 3 selectable weapons which you can switch between at the press of a button. On top of these, you can pick up different types of collectibles with a finite amount of shots. Bombs too. They come in a few varieties, including one “screen clearer” to let you bring death to everything on the screen.
My issue with the shooting is that it never felt quite right. Feedback was minimal and the bullet size for the basic weapons are pea shooter sized. More positively, some of the laser weaponry looked nice and while some were better than others, the bombs were an interesting take on the genre tradition.
Talking of breaking tradition I do have to commend the developer of Remote Life for branching out and including missions where you protect a ship from damage and free roam stages. Neither were my cup of tea, but it does help to differentiate it from others in the genre.
No Escape From Reality
I say this often and it should be noted whenever you tackle the genre; gameplay is key when it comes to the Shmup genre. If it doesn’t play well at all then you’re going to have a bad time.
For every positive thing, I think of about Remote Life, it’s somewhat bogged down with what a rough time I had with the game. It’s a mix of preference and balancing issues in my opinion.
First off, the default ship speed coupled with the difference in forward to backward movement and the generally slow scrolling of the game made it feel like a clunky, slow picture reel rather than a ship flying across space. I know other titles such as R-Type weren’t much faster, but they managed to create an illusion of speed that is painfully absent here.
I didn’t enjoy the combat. The bullets had no impact and the collectibles ranged from strange to alright at best in terms of destruction potential. I want to be excited by bullet choice which is something the “Cluster Shot” didn’t do. It looked more like a spark rather than incoming death!
How many times have you heard from anyone “my favorite part was the escort mission?” It’s an outdated trope that wasn’t fun when it landed in every game during the PS3/360 generation and I celebrated its death. I didn’t outright hate the free roam missions as it reminded me somewhat of Contra 3 but escort missions in shmups should come with a “do not digest” sticker attached.
Another issue is that several times I’d start a section requiring an instant reaction even before I knew what was coming. An example of this was at the end of stage one; I was teleported to the “boss arena” right on top of a bullet which cost me a life. While that’s the most extreme example, there are several stages and instances where you either need to know what’s coming or be extremely lucky.
Open Your Eyes, Look Up To The Sky And See
Visually Remote Life is very much an HD-looking Shmup. It’s also dark and gritty, and what I would describe as “Euro” inspired or even “Amiga” in its presentation.
What I mean by this is that the screens tend to be that busy with various bullets, environmental hazards, aliens, alien ships, and other little nasties that can take your lives down to zero. I refer to it as such because a lot of Amiga or European developed titles from the 90s used to make very cluttered screens usually full of gems to collect, confusion as to what is in the foreground and the background, and a lot of stuff would be able to damage or kill you and without prior knowledge, you would fall foul to them, a lot.
What stopped me from enjoying Remote Life, is that there is just so much going on. It’s often easy to find yourself confused as to what killed you. This is a feeling that permeates through the entire game from its menus down to the turrets that randomly appear in stages.
You’re juggling so many balls and with the art direction, it’s often confusing to even figure out where the balls you’re juggling are. Coupled with the fact that the shooting feels a bit unimpactful and the ship speed is hellishly slow and I just never felt myself enjoying the title as much as I wanted to.
On a more positive note, the lighting in Remote Life is outstanding, as are the larger explosions. Enough shrapnel and fire are going on here that Michael Bay himself wants a word of advice from the one-man developer team. I do have to say the visual flair here is top-notch and it’s refreshing to see the level of fidelity in the graphics and art direction.
Less positively, the music here consists of dubstep/techno tracks that don’t match the on-screen action. They’re also weirdly cut so they don’t loop properly which can feel quite jarring. The voice acting is fine as an addition to the genre, but it didn’t help to draw me into the lackluster story.
I do not doubt that Remote Life will be a marmite-style title. It’ll have its fans and its haters. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a game I enjoyed that much, but I can appreciate what the developer tried to do.
WAIT FOR SALE ON REMOTE LIFE
Many thanks go to Ratalaika Games for a Nintendo Switch review code for this title.
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