[NOTE: While updates have eliminated certain launch-day criticisms (as will be described below), I’m still going to graph my impressions focused more on time played around release. These later changes don’t really affect my personal thoughts & score to any meaningful degree.]
How does a developer follow up one of the most discussed, critically divided, and obnoxiously dreary shooters of this generation? If your answer was anywhere within the vicinity of ‘multiplayer-oriented squishy-ball battle with little marketing’ I’d be inclined to call you Nostradamus. Beyond just their previous game, Deformers is outside Ready at Dawn’s (RaD) wheelhouse if looking through their entire gameography. Surprisingly, this came with a fair share of grumbling from the community. From my perspective: when looking at the disparity between the dour, overly-dramatic pretentiousness of The Order: 1886 to this unwound, bouncy attitude seemed like a great way of hopping out of a creative rut—if only temporary; and not JUST for its intate differentiations over RaD’s previous, Deformers works so well by putting a team of great technical artists to work on a satisfying gameplay foundation.
Replacing the trite Mountain Dew-swilling online bouts of bragging rights and braggadocio from a Nuke killstreak reward, Deformers is interested in competition but in the context of bouncy balls of ballyhoo within intimate arena fights. For Deathmatch/TDM variants, a max of eight players are dropped onto a map set to duke it out against their enemies via ramming, shooting, throwing them off the map, utilizing offensive power-ups, or squishing them when thrown back in to respawn. And in these two-minute rounds there's this strange-yet-cutesy dalliance of bouncy characters steering around a map vying for more points and collecting the scattered remains of felled enemies for health. Within seconds of viewing the initial trailer ( https://www.youtube.com/wat... anyone can follow what this game's about and its oddball freneticism.
With such considerations though, there's also an underlying strategy. Said planning comes in the (de)form of classes:
-Marksman: Lightweight at taking damage and delivering physical damage offset by firing projectiles like an automatic
-Striker: Medium build, sub-par speed, etc. but hardest rammer
-Ranger: All-around class. No inherent weaknesses but average at everything.
-Speedster: Smallest and quickest of the classes. Low health as the drawback.
-Guardian: Typical Heavyweight traits. Built like a brick s***house but is the slowest shooter and at getting around the map.
Before each round you have to commit to said class. And since you're ignorant of whom they are until character selection is locked out, experimentation is a virtue for those lagging behind. If being a Guardian nets you several kills but trailing in total points, maybe dedicate your tactics to Marksman to secure the lead. Remember: landing projectile hits on numerous enemies is just as valuable as bashing enemies for kills.
One later-remedied complaint—among critics and friends alike—was the lack of any sort of tutorial. Plopping players in ranked or custom lobbies and saying "have fun!" appeared to be RaD’s idea of a fair time. Speaking as one who picked this up at launch, I seem to be one of those individuals left appreciating that ideal. Of course, I don't want to discount why adding Tutorial and Training for newbies was beneficial; and yet, I do feel like I gained something by its primeval 1.0 stage: the heuristic nature of testing the limits to my own accord. It's funny to think of how it took me a few matches before realizing I could CHARGE the ramming attack too! This may be dawdling too long into my 'subjective' interpretation to forgive missing features, but I don't think it's without merit. My combat acumen increased solely through the unremitting action of play; in turn, rendering me with a greater versatility.
It's flabbergasting to think of just how high of a skill ceiling there is for such a limited move set. Majority of action is dedicated to the trigger buttons: ram (RT), fire pellets (RB), block (LT), and grab (LB). And what class you select will inform the plethora of internalized decisions: focus on breaking up scattered objects to maintain ammo for ranged attacks, a bulldozer stratagem to disrupt and kill enemy players head-on, a combo of both whilst waiting for power-ups to materialize. Even simple moves can disrupt an opponent's strategy. Block renders you temporarily immobile & indestructible from charged attacks or pellets; however, Grab cancels Block and leaves them vulnerable to being hurtled off a map's edge--especially when a charged throw that renders them dizzy.
After considering all of these checks & balances it's not hard to see why expatiating on the game's design seems so interesting. And that's not just all the tidbits to glean from the gameplay either. Other ones that come to mind:
-How there's no cooldown after exiting Block. Meaning one can habitually pound and release the left trigger whilst attacking.
-The compressed time when dizzy is just enough for a skilled player to claw back into the ring if thrown off the edge.
-The approximate amount of button-mashing required for a grabbed player to break free (for both parties).
-The near-nonexistent cooldown for dash makes eluding a viable option.
Tie all of these ancillary templates with tautened controls and you have a great cornerstone of cute mayhem. A full game can make each ephemeral round feel hectic.
"Sheesh...with all these dynamics to consider for Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch what more can you ask for?" I'm glad you'd ask because there's one mode I haven't touched on: Form Ball.
When looking at the timeline of Deformers' release it's not hard to connect dots and say this was an 11th-hour addition after Rocket League’s popularity. Even still, it's a distraction that may—intentionally or no—be more enticing to most players. The concept is simple: scoring the ball into the enemy net. Same control setup and class system; however, there’s quite a disparate value for certain classes within this mode. The biggest blemish to such a great mode is it being limited to one locale with no design variants. There's such promise in utilizing the stadium as a skeleton for creative users to incorporate unique rule sets & modes a la Halo's Forge Mode.
In a nutshell, that's the core design of this game. But while Deformers wouldn't be so successful without that core, it's the game’s goofy nature that breathes life into the concept.
I know I’ll eventually sound like I’m harping too much on the contrasting design sensibilities of The Order compared to this but hear me out. You know how restrictive The Order felt in respect to railroading you at every turn? Rather than dealing with unskippable cutscenes here even the loading screens and victory celebrations give players transient moments of self-expression. A small detail? Sure, but I don’t think it’s inconsequential. Tie this in with these rambunctious rondures ranging from farm animals to breakfast food and it’s easy to see just how light-hearted their approach was; further, that attitude seeps into play itself, along with funny quips and puns splattered before fights. These sundry elements brewed together are what has given me some of my most genial experiences in competitive play.
The feedback loop hangs on retrieving in-game credits to purchase new characters, accessories, and emotes. Want that adorable pug-ball to be dressed like a police officer and don a big donut for a backpack? Done. How about a big Rolly-Polly burger with whipped cream for a hat? That's there too. The panoply of customizable items (across all options) has to crack over a hundred in total.
The initial announcement of such a different product from RaD's previous caused a stir with many; yet I don't think they considered what kind of benefits there are in seeing graphics specialists work their technical knowhow on such a colorful project within a confined budget.
In an age where AA titles often show obvious signs of regimenting their budget, RaD deserves credit for a $30 title having a solid physics engine that supplements game feel. There's so many little things that look like respectable visual artists worked on it: the squishy ripple effect when bashing into other Deformers or shooting pellets never got old, the noticeable debility of an injured Deformer that becomes more and more mottled with bandages nearing death, the spongy quality of accessories on their backs. I can't ignore just how loopy it sounds to venerate a polished game about squishy spheroids smacking each other, but I can't help it. The art style works and is supported by the polish, UI, and more on the technical side.
As with RaD's forte with graphics, sound is another quality that's tough not to heap praise on. Austin Wintory composes with such brio that you're not quite sure how it fits. The amiable cabaret impression is heightened by these energetic tunes combining loud orchestral scores with...chants from what I expect to be a female opera singer in Viking garb? How does this work so well again? Aside from that, sound design hits more at the 'adequate' mark. There's no voice acting, character-specific noises during selection notwithstanding. Sound design hits that mark of being basic-yet-distinct. Whether it’s dashes or pellets whizzing by, the aural combat communication can be readily understood in the same way footsteps, environmental queues, etc. are heard in a competent shooter.
So with all of these positives, I have to dredge up the negatives. For one, I admonish anyone from attempting to get their hands on this game NOW since online servers have been disconnected. If you're asking why...well that's a funny story. Recall how I sounded over-the-moon on the dynamics when one was playing a "full game," right? Well…even at launch there were times such ambitions seemed like a Herculean task. It's a shame when looking at games like Evolve, LawBreakers, and Deformers thinking of what might've been if LFG tabs, Groups, and other tools were better-utilized to maintain an active community. Part of the reason any multiplayer action will have to be local (4 players max).
Discounting Form Ball's one static map, there's a paucity of maps for the Deathmatch variants too. I know I've raised the "quality > quantity" mantra before, but that's part of why I think the map rotation is lacking. A map like Chaotic Caverns presents so many opportunities that seem missing from something overly simplistic like Battle Butte. One or two more maps, and new modes, would've sweetened the deal—even if delivered over time.
Missing something? Oh right! There were micro transactions too. Like R6: Siege, there were two credit tiers with which players could purchase cosmetics. There are special considerations to make: this not being a full-priced game, the prices weren't outrageous, and they were only cosmetic. Nevertheless, it’s still sleazy. Cosmetics in a game like this are amplified in importance. This has been removed since RaD announced the servers would be shuttered; however, it’s still worth consideration since this review’s morphed more into a retrospective.
In conclusion, I couldn't help but dig this game from the start. Seeing RaD expand their creative horizons to such a degree after making a banal shooter clicked at the right time for me; more than that, it's an concept which upends the typical staples of class-based combat today despite maintaining so many of the same rewards structures and dynamism. Unfortunate for such a budget title with technical wizardry and fun design inviting for just a bit more variety and content.
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