Hammerfight is like Omar Sharif

ATTENTION. I AM MANLY OMAR.

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.

I AM ALSO MANLY. BUT A 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.

CHAIN CAGE MATCH

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.

'Glory' is a statistic in this game. Awesome.

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‘).

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5 Comments

  1. I wanted to like this game. I really did. The concept of helicopters dueling each other with rocks attached to them by chains in a postapocalyptic setting is just ridiculous enough without being too far gone, as well as being just original enough to be interesting over the amateurish design.

    Ultimately though, any independent game (or game at all, for that matter) that blazes its way down a new path is going to live or die by its controls, and that’s where this game dies. The physics were just not designed with usability in mind — they reek of a programmer who, once they had something working, tested it out a few times and said “meh, good enough”. Unfortunately, it’s not quite good enough. The impossible physics might be excused if playing the game didn’t cause my wrist and hand to start hurting at around the five minute mark, which is way too short. I am ultimately puzzled by the use of the mouse as the primary interface — during my brief time playing it the game did not seem, to me, to actually get any benefit from the analog nature of the mouse. The same could have been accomplished with an 8-way directional pad — and not given me tendinitis in the process.

    Reply
    • lauramichet

       /  February 28, 2010

      I actually agree about the directional pad– this game would probably be better with a XBox or PS3, treated like a one-stick arena shooter, or something. The mouse is tricksy.

      I hated the living daylights out of this game for about a day after I got it. Then I figured out that I had fucked up on the calibration test: the game isn’t terribly clear about what it wants you to do, but it wants you to make a single pass across a surface with your mouse, and I had been swiping it across the table for basically ten seconds, trying to fill up the stupid calibration bar. I put the mouse sensitivity down to an eighth of what it had been and the game played beautifully. Before I did that, it was frankly un-fun. Afterwards, it was actually playable, and pretty much charming, but I was still left wondering what it would have been like with analog sticks.

      I ‘got’ it pretty quick, and after that I adored it. But I can see how the controls would be an absurd and uncalled-for stumbling block. They very nearly were for me.

      Reply
  2. Anonymous

     /  August 30, 2011

    well this game would be better suited to an old arcade joystick then a mouse the developers made do with what they had no indie game is going to come out for a console and well the controls could use work the main pitfall of this game is difficulty about 14-16 ish missions in i think, i reached a point where you have to kill 2 enemies in a cave with explosives dropping from the roof which stuns you if your any where near the ball park of the explosion now normally this would not be bad at all BUT you get your standard gear taken away and replaced with a teir 2 ish hammer again this wouldn’t to too awful in normal matches but what do they get well of course steel plate armour and electric flails.

    the gameplay rocks and the idea is awesome but it expects the player to be INSANELY GOOD.

    -badwolf give a man a fire and he’ll be warm for a night, light a man on fire and he’ll be warm for the rest of his life. (I’m trying to this of a new alias and an ending joke so thats all you get for now)

    Reply
  3. Anonymous

     /  December 12, 2011

    The Funny Thing is ou sayd it is very hard but The only level where i had real problems was the one where you had to fight those bees with the stupid sword after that is was quite easy

    Reply
  4. “Omar Sharif, a man of Franco-Libyan heritage.”

    Ignorant! Where did you get your information from?!

    Omar Sharif is an Egyptian by nationality and birth, but his parents were both Lebanese immigrants to Egypt, i.e. Canaanites, i.e. what the Greeks wrongly call “Phoenicians.”

    Reply

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