Why Wrack Doesn’t Suck, But You May Think It Does

Wrack

It’s not your fault, and it’s not my fault, either. Wrack really sucks at first. I played through the six levels in the current beta build (available on Steam Early Access) on Medium difficulty the first time, and this first-person shooter (FPS) really doesn’t have anything going for it at this level. The only feature it has in common with fast-paced old-school FPS is that your character runs very quickly. Oh, I suppose you could count shooting guns as another, but that goes without saying.

The levels don’t feel spacious enough for you to get into your stride, the environments feel repetitive, and the enemies don’t supply much variation. Worst of all, the AI is awful. Really bad. The armored lizards just run in circles, or come at you very slowly, occasionally firing one of their pathetic blue projectiles. The huge robots are so slow that they shouldn’t ever be able to hit you, despite taking six or seven shotgun shells to take down.

When playing Wrack on Medium, or any of its lower difficulty levels, it’s bland, feels very unfinished and is far too easy. But that’s because you’re playing it wrong. Again, it’s not your fault.

Wrack

If you change the difficulty level to the hardest one, which is ironically called “Bullshit!,” Wrack suddenly makes perfect sense. The level designs click together with the enemy behavior, and the speed of your character feels just right. It feels great, actually.

The main difference between the difficulties is the speed of the enemies and their projectiles. It’s all much faster. On the harder levels, enemies dish out a little more damage when hitting you, but they don’t take any more hits before going down; the big robots still take six of seven of your shotgun shells before collapsing.


“…it needs to force its players to make use of the character’s speed”

WrackWrack is a game all about speed and precision. That and nothing else. When slowing it down to make it easier, it tends to make the player slow down too. When this happens, you take your time to observe the AI and the environments, and you expect it to be a lot more characterful and intelligent than it is, because other FPS games at this speed focus on giving the player things to look at. Spectacle. Wrack is not that kind of game, and therefore, its enemies and the projectiles they shoot should NEVER be slowed down – except maybe very slightly on the Easy difficulty level.

For Wrack to work, it needs to force its players to make use of the character’s speed to dodge and make smart, split-second movements to overcome the large groups of enemies they have to face. I’m sure there are some players who jump into Wrack and immediately settle into moving around fast and running rings around the enemy, but I’m quite sure the vast majority will pick the same difficulty as I did and start to play the game in a way that doesn’t suit it at all. You try to pick off every enemy and walk around really slowly, trying to work things out. You need to do that, at first, of course, but you shouldn’t be able to be meticulous while in combat; you should be panicked. Aggression is traded for being delicate, and the enemies just seem plain daft.

Like old-school FPS, Wrack needs to be played like a 2D shmup. The enemies don’t need to be smart and try to take cover from your shots, they just need to be in big groups and fire lots of projectiles at you to dodge, and it requires a certain pace that the lower difficulties of the game currently don’t meet. All Final Boss Entertainment need to do is bump the speed up, but make the enemies do less damage in the lower difficulty levels; it would work.

Wrack

In fact, all of the difficulties need to be shifted down. Bullshit!, the hardest difficulty level, feels like its currently somewhere between Medium and Hard, if we’re using the old-school FPS as a measure. Bullshit! should mean that you die if you take more than a couple of shots without finding a health pick-up, because the skill in Wrack is dodging all of the bullets and moving very fast through the levels. I shouldn’t have been able to get through levels on Bullshit! first time without coming under that much pressure until the last two levels. It needs to be harder.

The good news for Final Boss is that the level designs are great as they are. It really is just a case of adjusting all of the difficulty levels and maintaining that speed throughout.


“Wrack is actually a great old-school-style FPS.”

I went from thinking I was done with Wrack after getting through the six levels in just under two hours to then playing it for another seven hours once I discovered how it should be played. There’s a Time Attack mode, which is basically for speed-runners, and Wrack is absolutely great to speed-run. The levels make perfect sense when you’re trying to fly through them and shoot only the enemies that you need to in order to have a clear path.

You jump over lava pits without hesitation, and the enemies are left scratching at your heels while you clear your landing with a well-placed shotgun shell. Whole rooms of enemies are bypassed by wiggling through the air, which is possible due the degree of control you have over your character, even at top-speed. You run between the tiny lines you see between the scurrying robots and angry lizards, hitting switches and bouncing back through them again. Once you get Wrack right, you’re swift, but it’s constantly challenging as you find new paths that shave a couple of seconds off your personal best if hit just right.

Here, watch me (poorly) run through one of my favorite levels in Wrack:

Discovering this side of the game (which needs to be made clear from the start) has brought me to the opinion that Wrack is actually a great old-school-style FPS. The tragedy at the moment is that the developers seemed to have confused making things easier with completely altering how the game is played, and it’s caused this horrible disparity to emerge with the design.

Wrack hides the gold it has inside, which is a shame because it appears to be turning players away, and I can’t blame them.

For the record, the current beta build also comes with a Score Attack mode as well, which involves getting the highest score possible by killing all the enemies, preferably in chain kills to pile up the points and finding all of the secrets. The game also has a map editor somewhere, but there are no maps available at the moment, so I’m not sure if it’s ready yet. But that’s a great feature to have for a game like this, especially for those who enjoyed Quake for its speed-running community.

Hopefully, by the time development on Wrack is finished, things will be right, and players will naturally fall into how the game should be played from the start, rather than having to go to the hardest difficulty to find what Wrack is really all about.

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