Updated: circuit_strike.one Review

After following up with developer Shay Casey at h.grenade, we were informed that some of the framerate issues are actually intentional slowdowns of the game. They are triggered when the player reaches certain achievements, such as destroying three enemies at a time, shooting at certain enemies or passing through a wall.

Casey also recognized several other unintentional slowdowns, such as the beginning and the end of the level, and by triggering the countdown timer that leads to the level-clearing scenario. That last part is what bothered us the most, as the whole point of game is to destroy a data core during this countdown timer. There’s already enough stress when the screen is flashing red, but to have the game hiccup during the hardest part of a level is frustrating, to say the least.

The intentional gameplay slowdowns, while interesting from a visual standpoint, still end up being a bit of an annoyance more than anything else. Since we spent much of our time playing Hardcore, where things get a little hairier and enemies move a little faster, triggering unintentional gameplay slowdowns most definitely interrupts your rhythm–you will be gunning down threesomes more often than you think.

With so much exploding and action going on during these intense sequences, we just assumed that the device was trying to cope with the stress. With the option to engage slow motion manually, it seems confusing to have it happen automatically. The intentional slowdowns still do not address the problem of crashing during some of the middle Hardcore levels, however.

That said, circuit_strike.one definitely has potential to become a great game should the proper changes get implemented, but it still has a ways to go in its current form.

After our initial review of circuit_strike.one, it was clear v1.0 had issues, notably some crippling performance snags and confusing visual effects.

Those problems have largely been corrected in developer Shay Casey of h.grenade’s v1.1 update, which features an astonishing 19 bug fixes and a few aesthetic tweaks. The effort shows, as cs.one takes a huge step toward living up to the potential that we saw in its earlier build.

Most of the bug fixes center around the handling of cs.one’s visual effects. Many players complained about the game being “laggy,” when in fact the so-called “lag” was a slow-motion visual effect. Those moments are now labeled to clear up any confusion–there were a lot more than we realized, and they happen in bunches on the harder difficulties. It’s always good to know why things are happening.

Actual framerate slowdowns, which occurred at the beginning and the end of the levels, have been remedied through pre-loading. There’s a huge laundry list of other bug fixes that probably won’t make much sense to non-programmers, but the overall effect is a much smoother gameplay experience.

The correction of so many visual effects hiccups is a huge improvement over the previous version. With those major distractions resolved, the brilliant audio-visual presentation really shines through. Should players still experience any performance issues, visual effects can be toned down manually–We didn’t experience any problems on this new version with an iPhone 3G, but it’s nice to know the option is there if things get too hairy for the hardware.

There are still some minor issues, though. The game still has an annoying habit of respawing your ship in the path of oncoming bullets or on top of enemies, and sometimes the controls don’t recognize a shift between the propulsion and fire buttons. But all things considered, the dramatic performance improvements outweigh these ticks.

It’s been a pleasure to play this game as it was intended, without having to deal with the the blood pressure spikes that come with unexpected performance drops. Some of the marketing language behind cs.one bills it as a “hardcore” game, which might sell it a bit short–It’s about as “hardcore” as Asteroids–so casual gamers shouldn’t be intimidated. It’s very accessible, and more importantly, very playable, in its latest incarnation.

Now that we can concentrate on the actual gameplay itself, updating the score to a solid “3.0 – Good” is an easy decision.

circuit_strike.one makes another great leap forward in its v2.0 update, adding a dual-stick control scheme, iPod integration, and new ship designs among other changes.

Clearly the major part of this update comes in the form of the dual-stick controls, which is more in line with most arena-style top-down shooters in the App Store. It’s a fundamental change–about 180 degrees from the standard, Asteroids-type controls–that is meant to appeal to a broader audience, developer Shay Casey said.

“I was hoping that even though we have some very good hardcore players, this would make it more accessible to newcomers,” Casey said. “Believe me writers and gamers have ripped the current system to shreds. The funny thing is, once someone puts an hour into it, they start to love the system. It’s just not user-friendly up front, so dual sticks should help expand the audience.”

And this new setup will do that, without a doubt. It’s simple, intuitive and much more in line with what has become the de facto industry standard for these types of games. Fans of Geometry Wars will feel right at home with v2.0.

Veteran cs.one players will probably find that this control scheme makes the game incredibly easy, though. On our first playthrough of v2.0, we crushed the 1-billion mark relatively easily on Hardcore (medium). But then again, players like us aren’t necessarily the target of this latest update, and options are never a bad thing.

There also are a few gameplay tweaks worth noting. The annoying problem of having enemies spawn on your position has largely been eliminated. Visual markers now show where they will spawn in advance, so no more cheap deaths. The pause button also has been moved to prevent accidental hits.

Casey said this latest update will likely be his last major tweak to the game as he moves on to other projects. We can’t say we blame him–cs.one has come a long way since its original release, and at this point, it’s about as complete a game as anyone could hope for.

Remember Asteroids? Back in the day, it was the only option when it came to top-down shooters.

With the recent flood of top-down space-type shooters to the App Store, circuit_strike.one takes its crack at the arcade classic. Developer h.grenade may have been a bit overzealous in its attempt at reinventing the wheel. Overloading the title with graphics has led to serious framerate issues and its control scheme demands far too much patience for casual gamers.

Sensory overload!

CS.one drops players into a computer as a miniaturized ship with the goal of hacking the network by destroying a succession of objects, like shields and energy cores. Think “Tron meets Fantastic Voyage.” Along the way, there are Geometry Wars-style monsters floating around to attack you.

Controls are offered in both basic and advanced flavors. Basic is what the majority of people will want to use, as it features a standard round aim stick, a thrust/brake pad and fire button. It controls just like its Asteroids ancestor, floating around a zero-gravity environment based on the strength of its rocket boosters. Controlling the ship is much harder than it sounds, and it will no doubt take some time and a whole lot of dying–and we really do mean a lot–to get good enough to make it past the third level. It really just comes down to figuring out how to use the brakes.

The advanced control scheme seems needlessly complicated, removing the aim pad and replacing it with a rotation mechanic built into the touch screen. Most gamers would probably prefer actually playing the game rather than trying to dial in the sensitivities.

Aesthetically, this game is absolutely gorgeous. The levels are beautifully rendered, with an almost layered, top-down presentation. The game shows a sense of humor by throwing around lines of nerd jargon after every death like, “all ur base r belong to us” or the ever-popular “pwned.” Enemies are synchronized with the bass line of the soundtrack, and it really is a sight to see them pulsing along to the techno beat.

pwned

But therein lies the biggest handicap for CS.one. With all that audio-visual weight, the game is most definitely pushing the upper boundaries of the iPhone. Framerate drops are frequent, especially in the harder difficulty levels. After unlocking the Hardcore mode, expect plenty of full-on crashes. The inclusion of a “bullet time” slow motion feature, activated when you shake the device, makes sense, because if you don’t go into slow-motion yourself when things get hairy, the game will do it by itself via framerate drops and you’ll probably die. We seriously doubt that’s how you’re supposed to use the bullet time, but it works.

This major hiccup mars what would otherwise be a beautiful, challenging top-down shooter with an old-school feel. Learning the control scheme will most definitely demand your patience, but getting good enough only to see a succession of framerate drops and crashes will no doubt have you frustrated over the amount of time you’ve spent. Until an update corrects CS.one’s issues, you’d better really know what you’re getting into before taking the plunge on this one.

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