16th May2018

‘Garage’ Review (Nintendo Switch)

by Rupert Harvey

Garage-switch-screen

From the TinyBuild stable comes Garage, a VHS-filtered, top-down shooter-cum-survival-horror developed by Russian outfit Zombie Dynamics. It sounds great on paper, but a multitude of issues prevent it from matching the games that clearly inspired it.

You play Butch, a very butch janitor. You awaken in an underground garage to find that everything wants to kill you. The rats are mad and the undead humans are madder. The game’s backstory – conveyed to you by a woman codenamed “Anaconda” – concerns the usual corporate greed and genetic experiments gone wrong. The main baddie, Professor Demikhovsky, is a refreshingly uncomplicated nemesis. He literally just wanted to make two-headed dogs. Who wouldn’t?

Anyway, the plot plays second fiddle to the gameplay, which involves exploring various facilities, finding keycards, rummaging for ammo and health, and shooting anything that moves. Your task is made harder by the game’s line-of-sight rules, whereby you can only see who or what is in a room by entering and… well, seeing them. This is a blessing and a curse. While it provides a sense of constant tension, it also means that any tactical thinking is dispensed with. Forget Hotline Miami-style attack planning – you just need to blast (or punch or kick) whatever’s in front of you.

The enemies are dumb, but they are varied. There are numerous zombie types, from quick rushers to shambling armoured tanks. There are also beasts: scurrying, unpredictable mutants, and those aforementioned Cerberus wannabes. Mini bosses come in the form of Dreadnoughts: hybrids of the Boomers and Spitters from Left 4 Dead, who vomit bile and cough up rats. The rats will no doubt become a key talking point of Garage. They don’t hit hard, but they’re virtually impossible to strike without taking damage.

In your arsenal is a range of standard-issue weapons: pistols, shotguns, MP5s, assault rifles, grenades etc. They feel pleasingly meaty when you connect, but the twin-stick controls are not brilliantly implemented. For some reason the developers decided not only to give the player control over the direction of fire, but the distance. How this affects the gameplay is hard to describe – suffice to say, this key design element never feels quite right.

Forget the precision thrills of Neon Chrome or JydgeGarage’s controls are often unresponsive. Add in some sub-par sound work, an unintuitive button layout, and a strangely fussy ammo system, and in the heat of battle it’s sometimes unclear when you’re spewing hot lead or when you’re defenceless in the midst of a reload. Death by poor design is frequent.

Adding to the mechanical challenge are some occasional but devastating framerate issues on Switch (the timed exclusive platform for now). For the most part the game is a smooth 30 – but later on, when the Dreadnoughts come calling, the frames start dropping as the gore piles up. The bloodbath of a final encounter is borderline unplayable due to catastrophic judder.

But it’s not all about the chaos. Just when you think the game is finding its rhythm, Zombie Dynamics will throw in a unique filler sequence: tripping out on drugs, rowing a boat veeery slooowly through a sewer, or wandering through an abandoned shopping mall. Immersive asides, for some. Personally, I don’t feel that these moments add much to the game, other than eking out its fairly meagre runtime – I can’t have hit four hours, and there’s no reason to play through again.

One very high point for Garage is its music. Standout for me is the moody, bubbling techno of the Robot Factory level, which recalls Richard Joseph’s peerless work on The Bitmap Brothers’ Chaos Engine. Much of the score is pure 1995, with PS1 synth waves washing across the speakers. And it’s crazily varied. One minute we’ll get an obscure country guitar riff; the next, some Thomas Bangalter-style hellscape to kill the ears. It all works in context.

Zombie Dynamics have crafted a fitfully enjoyable homage to VHS B-movies, borrowing from a multitude of other top-down games, without excelling in any area. It’s a hopelessly scrappy and incoherent game, with some disappointing technical issues, and its story pacing is terrible (prepare for a ridiculous info-dump at the end to fill in the blanks). But it may provide an afternoon of mindless fun. Just don’t expect to hit “New Game” anytime soon after the credits roll.

Garage is out now on Nintendo Switch.

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