Or the game Omar Sharif would play. Let’s talk about it.
Like Sharif, Hammerfight is outrageously manly. Derek Yu wrote about the game’s manliness, and it was his assessment of the game—“like Charleton Heston in the Ten Commandments,” he said—that convinced me I had to own it. But I’ve come to disagree with his choice of actors. Yeah, Charleton Heston is plenty manly, but the game’s unusual style points me toward a different super-manly actor with a different cultural background and filmography.
See, Hammerfight is a game about dueling steampunk helicopter gladiators. Its setting draws equally from Dune, Ben Hur, Lawrence of Arabia, and the blisteringly insane imagination of its developers, who are a pack of clever Russians. Like Omar Sharif, a man of Franco-Libyan heritage who could play both Doctor Zhivago and Sherif Ali, the game seems to straddle an East-West stylistic divide. Out of this tension it creates a kind of weird, syncretic perfection never before seen on the face of planet Earth. Look at the man. Look at the game.
Honestly, this game is such a hodgepodge of cultural signs that it actually escapes them and becomes own thing entirely. We’ve got the middle-eastern soundtrack. We’ve got sabers and geometric patterns and other Arabic visual cues. We’ve got the quasi-Arabic character names. We’ve got the Dune references. But on the other hand, we’ve got player advancement linked up to ultra-western World-War-One-esque army medals and some rather Teutonic player title awards, as well as flying sandworms, steampunk, Greek architecture and Roman coins, and the absurd inclusion of retro pixel-fonts on every screen in the game. Also animated smileys: If you fly in a taunting waggle while fighting, your helicopter will flash the other helicopters an animated yellow smiley face. What.
Basically, what I’m saying is that this universe that Kranx Productions invented for its helicopter brawler is fantastic. This game is the square-jawed mythic hero-figure justice lovechild of Gamal Nasser and the Queen of England. So, Omar Sharif.
But what about the crazy mouse-swirling combat? Well, it’s basically genius. There is not a thing like it elsewhere in the universe. But there is a drawback: playing this game too much will give you severe tendonitis in your wrist. If you can suffer that well enough, though, you’re golden.
Like World Of Goo, this game stands upon the strength of its appealing physics engine, and play consists of teasing this engine out, elaborating upon its possibilities and feeling out its limits. Moving your mouse in circles, you struggle with centrifugal force for the control of the giant hammer hanging beneath your helicopter. You then smash things with this hammer. Or you can hang a sword there, and slice your enemies instead! Or an axe! Or you can put a wooden mallet there and play a ball sport! Fighting an enemy in the slave pits? Cool. Fighting an enemy in the slave pits while the two of you are linked by a giant chain that responds realistically to momentum? COOLER. Sick of hammers? How about swinging around some guns, learning to adjust to their solid, punchy recoil? Every possible variation on the engine’s original scenario is here. World of Goo and Hammerfight share that kind of genius.
Much of your time outside these fights is spent tricking around with different loadouts, searching for the best combination of weapons. These weapons feel meaty and significant in combat, and learning each type’s playstyle is one of the central focuses of the game. Unfortunately, there is no Hammerfight wiki, but if there were, it would probably consist mainly of pages about different kinds of weapons. Someone had better get on that.
In all likelihood, though, no one will ever get on that. Very few people play this game, probably because it is outrageously difficult. The learning curve for mouse-enabled hammer-battle is quite steep, and although there is ostensibly a tutorial progression, the initial levels are pretty frustrating. In fact, the fifth level features you standing up alone to an army of giant flying-sandworm-zeppelins and a neverending stream of hovering buzzsaw robots who attack you in pairs and triples while the zeppelins fire heatseeking missiles at you. You will probably die eight or ten times, and, restarting, you will sit through the slow pre-level plotty bit eight or ten times, too. If you think you can handle it, stay on board. The real game has barely begun, and things get easier with practice.
If I ever get a time machine, I am going to do a few things with it. One of the first things I will do will be to go back to the sixties with a laptop and give Omar Sharif, then in his multicultural movieacting prime and with all his youthful hand-eye coordination still intact, the chance to play Hammerfight. Then I will come back to the present and give you all an update on what he thought about it.
If he doesn’t get tendonitis, I bet he loves it.
By the way, here is a hilariously-grammared trailer from the developers, reminding you what this game is all about (‘HIGH ART OF FIGHT‘).