I’ve always been a fan of police games – being a criminal in Grand Theft Auto and its ilk is all well and good, but sometimes putting an end to a rampage can be just as much fun as starting one, as mods like GTAV’s LSPD:FR and games like SWAT 4 demonstrate. With that, we have the subject of today’s review – JYDGE (pronounced “judge”), a quick-fire isometric “I am the law”-’em-up from the creators of the very enjoyable sci-fi roguelike Neon Chrome.
Court is in session, let’s hear the evidence – is JYDGE any good, or is it going straight to the iso-cubes?
JYDGE puts you in the futuristic combat boots of a member of the JYDGE Initiative, a controversial program that aims to bring order to the streets of Edenbyrg by any means necessary. The story does its job setting up the righteous carnage that’s about to unfold, and it soon became clear that’s all I would really need – Robocop meets Judge Dredd? Sounds good to me!
JYDGE’s gameplay has you taking on a big list of missions that will take you to a wide variety of locations around the city of Edenbyrg. The settings may vary and the players might change but one thing’s for sure – there’s some crime going down, and you need to stop it.
This is done through the medium of isometric twin-stick shooting. Anyone who’s played Neon Chrome will be immediately familiar with the controls as the game pretty much uses the same control scheme as its predecessor – move with WSAD, use the mouse to aim and shoot, press E to interact with doors and open crates and use Spacebar to throw out a deadly melee attack. The controls are just as quick and intuitive as they were in Neon Chrome, though I would say the melee attack has just enough of a wind-up to make it undesirable in a pinch.
There’s a wide range of perps to take on too, from lowly gun-toting street thugs and charging melee attackers to giant, hugely destructive mechs and brutes wielding rocket launchers. While some can end up being far more annoying than others if you haven’t equipped the right perks to deal with them (cough cough melee guys cough cough), they all provide their own particular obstacles and they’re usually a lot of fun to go up against – especially when you find yourself transfixed on your character as you dodge a hail of bullets danmaku style!
One thing that becomes clear very early on is that JYDGE is built for replayability. Every mission has three (later six) “Medals” earned by completing certain objectives unique to each of those missions – one medal might task you with completing the stage in a very short amount of time, another might demand that you fulfill your primary objectives (e.g. killing all enemies, rescuing all hostages) without being seen or hit once and others might ask that you loot all the crates in the stage. Collecting more medals unlocks more upgrades and missions, so returning to a previous stage powered up and ready to take a more powerful stab at those extra challenges is strongly encouraged. In fact, some missions have certain shortcuts and areas that can only be unlocked once you’ve earned some of the later upgrades, such as the Hacking Tool that unlocks after you conquer Act 1.
Speaking of upgrades, there’s plenty of ways to improve your JYDGE with your hard-earned cash and medals, from a wide variety of character perks built to suit many different play styles to a plethora of individual ammo types and sub-weapons. I really liked the perk system in particular – do I equip the Shadow Blend perk to stay hidden and take out as many enemies as I can unseen or do I equip more health and “Electrocyte” to charge in all guns blazing and zap anyone who comes anywhere near me?
One UI improvement that could be made here is that it would be nice if you could save your JYDGE’s loadouts, but as you’re given the chance to swap out perks, ammo types and weapon mods on death it’s not too big of an issue.
From a visual perspective JYDGE takes more than a few neon-soaked cues from the developer’s previous title Neon Chrome, with plenty of reused assets popping up all over the place. There is some improvement however, primarily in how JYDGE sports greater environmental cohesion and variety due to the game’s handmade (i.e. not procedurally generated) levels, taking you from future homesteads and freshly raided banks to dirty streets and beyond.
Character and enemy models are intentionally simplistic, with bright colours to help players concisely identify the type of unit they’re going up against. The slick environments and the adorably low-poly characters blend together surprisingly well, with an aesthetic that manages to be brash with its colours yet still coherent overall.
One aspect of the game’s presentation that will probably muster the odd raised eyebrow or slight chuckle is that every character is voiced by a text-to-speech personality, often one that you’ve probably heard elsewhere for comedic effect. If you ask me it gives the characters an odd sense of charm. There’s nothing quite like hearing an in-game news report on the rising success of the JYDGE Initiative delivered through a just-robotic-enough female monologue or taking in the JYDGE’s soothing computer generated baritone stressing odd syllables as he sounds off on the beauty of his Gavel.
Overall, I found myself really enjoying my time with JYDGE. While the overall number of missions might not seem particularly huge considering the length of each one, the requirement to get quite a few medals to progress the story and the continued fun of replaying the older missions to take on the normal and hardcore Medals you missed keeps the experience very enjoyable. Except when a hardcore difficulty melee guy with a huge health bar running at 60mph kills me for the third time. Did I mention I can’t stand the melee guys?
If I were nitpicking I’d say that it probably shares a few too many assets and similarities with Neon Chrome, at times almost making it seem like a mod, but I do find that the pre-made levels give the game’s environments a hand-made design that sets the experience apart. Here’s hoping that 10tons can release a level editor at some point!
So, the judge has reached his verdict. On the charge of being a challenging, replayable and most importantly fun action title, I judge the defendant very, very guilty indeed!