Working full time on a personal video game development project is the stuff of dreams for most indie developers. But after a successful Kickstarter campaign, Chicago based Hongenese developer Kee-Won Hong is living this very dream with his upcoming indie title Contract Work.
The one man dev team claims that his 2D, cyberpnk shooter is inspired by the likes of Contra, Deus Ex and Ghost in the Shell, while also blending together each title’s respective genre. It would be a bold claim for even the most well respected developer, but is such an ambitious mixture of genres and themes a recipe for success? We had a look at Contract Work’s browser based beta version to find out.
Set in a dystopian future where megacorporations rule the world, Contract Work has players assume the role of the last remaining human corporate mercenary. With stealth technologies, elite hacking abilities and an array of weapons to hand, players can sell their skills to the highest bidder.
After each successful mission, cash can be spent on an assortment of upgrades ranging from max health boosts to weapon modifications. It’s in this respect that Contract Work is reminiscent of Introversion’s Uplink, in which hacking jobs are rewarded with cash which is in turn spent on computer upgrades. However, this is where the similarities between Contract Work and Uplink, or any other game for that matter, end.
Although Contract Work would like players to think that each of its small selection of levels — which involve either finding and defeating a boss, locating and hacking a specific terminal, or defending servers from waves of robots — can be tackled using various methods, the entire experience quickly boils down to simple “run ‘n’ gun”.
Stealth doesn’t work, hacking is mandatory to complete most levels and the available support devices are so ineffective that it’s simpler to ignore them completely. For example, the ability to use optic camouflage sounds intriguing until it’s rendered useless following direct contact with enemies, the avoidance of which is practically impossible.
As if making up for the unintentional lack of tactical options, Contract Work has plenty of guns, including a machine gun, laser beam, rocket launcher and a Contra-esque spread gun. Each of these can be upgraded to ridiculous lengths by purchasing the many aforementioned modifications. In fact, the large selection of increasingly powerful weapons is the most engaging aspect of Contract Work as curious players attempt to create the most powerful gun possible. The only downside is that each gun in Contract Work is far too powerful to begin with and enemies are too weak to elicit weapon experimentation.
Coming back once more to 2D run ‘n’ gun classics such as Contra, the reasons these games have stood the test of time is due to simplistic controls which don’t add to the challenge of gameplay. Citing Contra as an inspiration, it then seems odd that Kee-Won Hong has gone for a more complicated control scheme. The A and D keys move the player left and right, S lets players drop through specific platforms, W jumps and double jumps, R reloads, Q switches weapon, the shift key must be held to sprint and E is held down to hack. This is all carried out while aiming and shooting with the mouse. If Contract Work’s control scheme sounds cumbersome, that’s because it is. Reloading and hacking are just roadblocks that stand in the way of some real 2D run ‘n’ gun fun, and being able to sprint, double jump and aim in all directions is not only unnecessary, but could have been achieved with a much simpler control scheme.
While challenging enemies, varied levels and control scheme refinements can be added to Contract Work before its official release, the game will need a substantial boost to its character and identity if it’s to stand out in a sea of ambitious indie games. Most indie and mainstream gamers would reel at the Contract Work beta’s overly fiddly controls, Flash game-era graphics and blipedy-bloop, early 00’s “cyber-punk” tunes, while simultaneously wondering when the Deus Ex inspired, branching storyline will make an appearance (it doesn’t).
As it stands, Contract Work isn’t worth the $2.99 that’s being asked for unlimited access to the skeletal beta version. Kee-Won Hong has promised many more additional features to the game once it is released proper including extra weapons, new classes, different levels, support units and the desperately needed storyline. If the game comes to fruition in the way Kee-Won Hong believes it will, then Contract Work may very well be a 2D action game worth keeping an eye on — here’s hoping it does.
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