Stuff you could buy instead of Game Room, No.1
Details are a funny thing. Some games can be absolutely amazing in practically every respect, yet make a single clumsy error and be completely ruined. Some, on the other hand, can get almost everything wrong and still be irrationally compelling.
You Will Die is in the latter category.
This particular Xbox Live Indie Game (80 points, or about 67p) is basically a sideways version of the brilliant PC freeware title Warning Forever. (The only main difference is that it's a twin-stick game, so you can move and shoot anywhere on screen.) You fight an enemy boss, and when you defeat it it comes back with a load of extra parts screwed on (which can be shot off individually), until you lose.
So far so good, but YWD messes up at almost every turn. The scoring system is completely opaque – you can beat the opening boss twice running in what seems the exact same way, yet score 12850 the first time and 6250 the second time. And in a game where scoring points is the only objective, having your score for a level cut in half without knowing why is a bit of a problem.
It's also far too random. You don't get the same sequence of bosses every time, so in one game you might get four easy rounds to start off, but next game face a terrifying Stage 2 boss that's actually much tougher than the previous Stage 4 boss. There's no level playing field for scores, which renders the game fairly meaningless as a competition, even with yourself.
It's overly complicated, in a pointless way, and (relatedly) horribly unbalanced. The core game couldn't be simpler, but the author has tacked on a shields/energy recharge system that's a total waste of time. Sometimes you have the ability to employ a shield or refill your energy bar by using the triggers (and sometimes you don't, on what seems to be a quite arbitrary basis).
However, doing so drains your score and multiplier so quickly that you'd be just as well getting killed and starting again. It's no use throwing away 200,000 points to get a quarter of your life bar back, when a hit from one of the game's smallest bullets will knock all that energy right back off, and leave you needing to beat three entire waves to recoup the points you sacrificed for it.
(I'm not even certain that the amount of damage done by any given weapon is consistent.)
And it's hideously unforgiving – if you're unlucky enough to encounter a boss who randomly possesses certain kinds of weapon, a single salvo from them can obliterate even a full life bar, jealously guarded for the previous five stages. And because the game always builds on the previous boss, if you get one with the evil weapons you're going to have to deal with those weapons again in every wave. Once more, you're probably better off just quitting, starting again and hoping to get dealt an easier enemy.
So why am I still playing it?
My best guess is that YWD taps right into the most vulnerable part of an arcade shmup fan's psyche, which is their competitive masochism. You only have to look at the popularity of "bullet hell" shooters to see that shmup fans live for the pain, and YWD does more than simply provide the pain – it also gives it a voice.
Each stage is preceded by a taunt from a robotic-sounding female, identity unknown. She could be an unseen narrator, or the captain of the enemy ship, or she could BE the enemy ship. Whichever it is, she's not impressed with your efforts. "You will die", she says without fail at the start of each game. "You can't beat me", she asserts with impregnable confidence at the beginning of the second round. "There's no chance you'll win", she assures you at the commencement of the third. And so on.
But it's what she says when you inevitably fail that keeps you hitting the 'A' button again. Unlike the fixed comments before a wave, your death is marked by a random eulogy, of which I'm still hearing new ones after 50 games.
There are run-of-the-mill insults ("You're simply not good enough") and dismissals ("Oh! Just run away now"). Sometimes there's sarcastic, contempt-dripping mockery ("You're right. It's not fair".) Sometimes she's irritated ("Why do you even try?"), and sometimes it's personal ("No-one cares about you." Blimey, that was uncalled-for).
Very rarely you even get a tiny half-flicker of begrudging respect ("You ARE a pest"), and sometimes – ulp – she sings. But mostly it's just straightforward S&M stuff ("When you scream, I want to hurt you more"), all delivered in the same cold, metallic yet mellifluous cyborg voice. But it turns the whole game around, giving it so much personality and character as to override its flaws.
You even get an online leaderboard, after a fashion. Occasionally the game deems your pitiful efforts worthwhile of the internet scoreboard and gives you a code which you have to type in on the website with your PC, which is a pretty primitive way of going about things but it's better than nothing.
Stuff being cheap isn't an excuse for it being rubbish. But YWD costs about the same as buying a Twix from a corner shop, and it'll entertain you for a lot longer and give you more pleasure – even if some of it is weird, uncomfortable pleasure that makes you feel a bit furtive and wrong. 80 points well spent, then.