I need more training.

Title: Rigid Force Alpha
Platform: PC (reviewed)
Developer: com8com1 Software
Publisher: com8com1 Software
Release date: Out now
Price: £16/$20
TL;DR: A frustratingly difficult space shooter with no save option.
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Side-scrolling space shooters are not really my go-to genre when I decide to settle down for some quality gaming time, so it was with some trepidation that I picked this game up for review. It turns out there was a reason for that; after an hour of playing the game, I wanted to tear my own hair out.

The game itself is pretty enough – it has everything you’d expect from a space shooter. Small ships shooting at you, rock debris to avoid, and giant robot-type dudes that fire a deadly onslaught of fiery bullets at you that are almost impossible to avoid. All of this is well presented and fits with the idea of a harsh spacescape, that you, as a player, are expected to traverse.

You get a little background from PSYE, an AI designed to support you during your many missions; your ship, the Rigid Force Alpha, has been created by the United Planet Freedom Force’s best people, and was developed using CORE technology. You are then given the option of being guided through a fairly brief tutorial before jumping into the main mission, the story mode that takes you through a number of smaller missions, each with a boss thrown in at the end.

You pick up weapon upgrades to help you as you go, and are able to position your weapons to fire in a number of different directions – super helpful in situations where you have enemies circling you. These upgrades aren’t permanent, however – you’ll lose them the minute you fail a mission. You’ll also be able to collect “energy,” in the form of small green orbs that enemies leave behind once you’ve disposed of them. You can collect this energy by flying through it or hitting spacebar (the default binding) to produce a magnetic field that will pull them to you. Once you’ve collected a decent amount of energy, you can use it to charge up your weapons, firing a huge destructive beam that will pretty much one-shot bigger enemies and do a ton of damage to bosses.

The first issue I encountered was with the controls. The default keyboard controls are bloody awful, feeling completely unnatural and making my hands feel like they were taking part in some sort of advanced yoga class. Luckily, you can rebind the keys to your liking, but nothing felt comfortable after that – though, in fairness, that may be down to my lack of experience with the genre. Switching to my trusty PlayStation 4 controller seemed to do the trick for a while, making the controls feel a lot more intuitive, but then it started to disconnect, often in the middle of a mission.

The controls might not have felt quite so crippling if the game itself wasn’t so unforgiving. There was absolutely no way I was getting through the first mission on normal difficulty, so (much to my disgust), I dialled it down to Easy. Even then, the levels are tough, with one section in the first mission that I think will give me nightmares for the foreseeable future – a number of rotating wheels, with electricity rhythmically pulsing around them, all of which you’re expected to skillfully manoeuvre through. Good God.

The difficulty of the game wouldn’t be such an issue either, but Rigid Force Alpha has taken a leaf from its ’80s arcade brothers and doesn’t have a save option. At all. If your ship is destroyed during a mission, you’ll immediately be put back into the action, with all of the weapon upgrades you’ve collected scattered somewhere near you, so you have to be quick if you want to reclaim them. The third time your ship is destroyed, you’ll fail the mission and are given the option to “retry,” though this will put you back to the beginning of the current level. When you’ve exhausted all three of your retries, you are dumped, unceremoniously, back at the title screen, where you’ll need to start over from the beginning of the entire game. But not before PSYE reminds you that “you need more training.”

Arcade mode was infinitely more fun for me, offering a little more flexibility. It removes the pressure of having to keep up a certain skill-level in order to not be thrown straight back to the title screen after swearing your way through several main missions – instead, you only sacrifice your progress on the current level if you screw up. You’ll have to complete the mission in the main campaign to unlock the arcade version, which adds collectables to pick up along the way, as well as stranded pilots to rescue.

While I’m sure Rigid Force Alpha will appeal to fans of the side-scrolling space shooter or ’80s kids that want to reminisce about the old-school, no-save, arcadey action, it’s a game that is probably best avoided if you’re new to the genre. For me, it was very much a case of “smashing your head against the wall until you finally get past that one tricky bit, then die to some stray projectile you didn’t see while doing your victory dance.”

The Good

  • Detailed graphics

The Bad

  • The default controls feel unnatural
  • Limited controller support
  • Frustratingly difficult

Family Focus

Rated: Not yet rated; arcade shooter with no graphic violence. Suitable for older children.

Disclaimer: This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.