I clicked on the advert and was immediately taken to the home page. I was able to download the game so fast I did it again a few times to make sure. I thought there must be some kind of error, but the download is so small, (556 kb) that I literally blinked and missed it.
Installation was an uneventful affair. The installation shield was polite, workmanlike and unobtrusive. I was quickly playing on-line against other guests, registered users and bots. As a guest, my gameplay was partially crippled. I didn't have access to the full complement of weapons and ship devices, and I could only play two games in a row before being unceremoniously exited out of the game. However, Zap! allows you to play for as long as you want. Currently, I could play as a guest forever. This gave me enough time to practice, experiment with the different features (including the built-in map editor!) and learn about the game. I decided I simply must have it and quickly obtained an Ignition Key.
Registration on Garage Games (www.garagegames.com) was a bit tricky for me. I don't often purchase anything on-line, but Garage Games has an interesting DRM called Ignition. When you purchase a game, you just plug in your Ignition Key and Registration ID on an on-line form, and it's unlocked. I had some trouble with this, as I understand Zap! the Game uses a slightly different scheme than other games. I could be wrong. Doesn't matter. A short e-mail describing my problem was sent off to customer support, and they were quickly in touch with me, with the correct solution to my problem.
Now that I was registered, I quickly logged in. A few hours later, I returned to the real world. Without the limitations imposed by Guest Access, I was sucked in! The handful of extra weapons and devices available to me gave me exponentially more strategies. In addition to my standard Phaser, Bouncers and Mines, I had the explosive Burster and the shotgun-like Triple. My previous strategy had been to run and gun with Turbo and Shield, but now I had an invisibility Cloak and Enhanced Sensors. I began to learn how to properly use the Repair Module on my base turrets, walls and team mates. My statistics were now tracked, and I could host games with my own maps.
Maps are created with the built-in editor. This editor is fairly complex, but with a little practice, I was making interesting maps just like the ones I had played in the game. Features like this always give me a good feeling. Nothing extends the life of a game like the ability for the players to contribute. Already, fan-made maps are popping up, and it won't be long before there are enough high-quality maps to please just about every kind of player. Versatility is the chief thing I liked about the map editor, as it allowed me to quickly scale from tiny maps to gigantic battlefields and then immediately switch in-game to test my creations.
Networking is fast and easy. I had no problems with my default firewall settings interfering with gameplay. Some other players occasionally groaned about latency and lag, but as I was running a normal SBC ADSL connection and had no lag to speak of, I think they were either running on bad connections or just making excuses. **grins** I tried playing the game on as many different servers at as many different times of day as possible, and my overall experience was of fast, smooth connections.
Hosting has two different handles. If you like, you can start up the game with special host configuration. Anyone used to running LAN parties will find this a breeze. If someone wants to just quickly get a game up without fiddling with bot settings and sundry other settings, they can just select Host Game from the menu and immediately enter gameplay. The latter is more limited in options, but definitely has a real benefit in that it is quick and painless.
As I described in the intro, the graphics in this game are clean, iconic and functional. There's a little flashy-flash up in the club with the bling-bling, but the whole style is more like a bunch of nice neon tubes flying around than anything trippy. Most importantly, YOU WILL KNOW WHAT IS HAPPENING. It is difficult to get confused by the graphics in this game. The only caveats to this I can present is that your enemy teams' bullets are all the same color as yours, which makes it difficult to see whether or not you're about to be demolished in heated firefights, and if you are unfortunate enough to be on the black team, you will really not be able to tell how much health you have left, because the background is a gentle starfield on black background. That's too bad, because the black team looks really badass.
The default control scheme with keyboards and mouse is good. It uses WASD keys for movement, so it will feel very natural to most gamers. Also available is support for more gamepad types than I knew existed. Really, it's almost silly. In addition, dual-joysticks are supported, for people who are fans of all that. Key-bindings for the keyboard is not supported, so if you're used to using your right hand for directions, as I am, you'll need to take a minute to adjust. That's a small problem that I think they could easily fix with their next release.
The forums for this game are a bit sparse and week, but it's pretty new - only a month or two old. It still has that new-game smell. The servers are also a little sparse, too, but I can forsee a time when this will all change. As awareness of this game spreads, I imagine they'll eventually need to scale up the forums and servers to support the larger audience. This game is really meant to be played against other people, because...
The AI is terrible. It has sometimes appalling path finding. And the bots vibrate. It's not so much that they're stupid, as it seems they are insane. Seriously, I had one bot literally push me in front of an enemy turret. She was on my team!!! But, bots make decent support troops if you can figure out how they like to work, and as actual humans log in to your game, the bots will graciously bow out to make room for the human players. Good, then.
If you are a fan of FPS games or real-time strategy, or if you are a fan of classic arcade games but are looking for something multi-player with a depth of strategy that can make every new game fresh, Zap! the Game should be on your short list of games to buy this week. At $19.95, you get access to reliable servers with low ping and great customer service from Garage Games. The ladies and gentleman behind this game have crafted a real winner. I wouldn't be surprised to see them at the next IGF awards.