Just a slight note, the screens SCEA had available are from what seems to be a really early build of the game. For a better reflection of how the game actually looks, check the video I recorded and included in this review.
Because of the nature of the PixelJunk games, story has never been a huge factor. In this sense, Shooter is no different, although there's actually some sort of back story this time around that deals with a group of scientists investigating a mysterious planet, and it's up to you to rescue them. Nothing inventive, but something that gives the player motivation and something that gives the game a point.
The gameplay of PixelJunk Shooter relies not only on the titular shooting mechanics, but also puzzle solving with elements. The game itself is divided into three 'episodes,' each with their own levels, and each level is divided into sections. With each episode comes new elements and mechanics to deal with; so while the games first chapter only deals with lava and water, come the game's second chapter you'll be dealing with lava, ice, water, and gas, and figuring out how they all interact. But you're not just going around messing with elements, and fighting off enemies, but you'll also be rescuing scientists and collecting treasure. Come the end of each episode there's a huge boss battle, but they rely as much of the elemental features as they do with shooting... making the name more fitting.
Control-wise the game is quite simple. L1 and L2 (you're choice) are used to pick up scientists and items, and R1 and R2 (once again, it's preference) are used to shoot; flight is controlled with the left stick, and the angle at which you shoot is on the right stick, and it seems to work with ease. If anything, I found the gameplay and the progression of Shooter to be much more user friendly than that of Monsters and Eden. It really bothered me that for games that relied on simplicity would become so frustrating/unforgiving at early points in the game; Shooter has seemingly remedied that issue by having no time restraints, brutal enemies, or life limits. These may put off gamers looking for a challenge, but if I'm going to spend $10+ on a game, I should at least be able to enjoy it instead of being enraged by it, so I'm happy. Heck, it's the first PixelJunk game I've not only been able to beat, but actually earn a Trophies in.
The game also includes a two-player mode and a Remote Play mode. Since I still don't have a second DualShock 3, I wasn't able to try out the multiplayer (it's local only, the only online feature is leaderboards like in Monsters and Eden). But, I have a PSP, so I tried out Remote Play. While the game still looks decent, minus the compression from streaming, it plays a bit differently, mainly due to the PSP's lack of a second analog stick/nub which is crucial to the regular gameplay. Instead, when you move the nub, the ship will fly and shoot in the same direction, meaning when you're aiming you'll still be flying towards the enemy... which defeats the purpose of avoiding the enemy.
Graphically PixelJunk Shooter is much more like Eden than it is Monsters or the flat-3D Racers. The game features an outline-less 2D style, with a unique color-scheme, that all together just looks fantastic when you're playing it in 1080p. The liquid elements, despite being flat, flow like liquid should, and the varying environments and elements between each episode are a treat to see in HD. It's not as much variation as Eden's levels, but at least Shooter offers unique levels in each environment instead of just making you replay the same map for longer. I also appreciated that this is the first game in the PixelJunk series to not use the annoying 'black bar' HUD, instead using a display that feels like it's part of the game. (The screenshot here is from an early version, but you can check the video to see the game's much improved HUD).
Not the most enticing soundtrack of the PixelJunk series, but the music in Shooter works really well at giving the game the right mood for exploring the depths of a planet. But as I said before, unlike Eden, which had 10+ different environments, Shooter only has you playing in 3 majorly different settings, and because of that a lot of the music repeats. Sound effect wise... the monsters in the game don't have unique cries or noises when they attack, and the ship can't really make much noise. If there's any sound that amusing to hear it's the sound of the scientists being killed, sure it indicates that you won't get a 100% score, but it's the cutest death cry ever!
I definitely enjoyed playing through PixelJunk Shooter, and I have all the intention of completely the game 100%, which is something I can't say about Eden and Monsters despite enjoying them a lot. Maybe it's because the Trophies are actually achievable without getting angry or having to change a difficulty setting (which doesn't exist in Shooter, but the other two games had them patched in). Or maybe it's the fact that the game is the first I've bough that has PlayStation Home rewards for completing certain (though I have no clue) objectives. But regardless, PixelJunk Shooter is definitely my most favorite in the series so far, and I'm looking forward to the inevitable Encore expansion.
Overall Score: 9.2/10
For more gameplay footage visit VFHvideo on YouTube.