Null Battles (80 MSP) is not what I expected. Not that I really had any idea what to expect, what with all the colors and the block people and the shapes, the screenshots I used here that don’t really present the game as it is. And that is a minimalist FPS that kicks gravity and fixed perspectives to the curb, sort of like recent XBLA title Hybrid, allowing you to boost all over the map and attach to different platforms and surfaces, but with more freedom of movement once you land.
Counting off into two teams or four (it’s always Team Deathmatch time in Null Battles) with differing amounts of players / bots and time limits, the team with the highest score wins. Rinse and repeat. Your ‘block guy’, for lack of a more literal term, carries a long-range laser, good from any distance, and a wider (but shorter) beam shot for up close and personal encounters; a melee-equivalent move, if you will. The fighting is disorienting at first, especially if you like to quickly move from platform to platform to avoid death, but it feels second nature after a short time.
As far as pre-match options and arena settings go, Null Battles gives you a ridiculously-thorough assortment. Change your team name (I don’t like to brag, but ‘theXBLIGs’ kicked ass every time out), team color, and reticle. Change room size, shape, and all the platform shapes within it, including density and appearance. Hell, if a new, procedurally-generated arena for each match doesn’t scratch your itch, use the included level editor to make it exactly how you want it.
That same ‘kitchen sink’ mentality, sadly doesn’t extend to the battles once you’re in-game. Nor will you entirely mind. It’s straightforward, no-frills shooting, but the shifting views and constant firefights don’t give you time to critique. Rocketing across the map and exploding an enemy blockhead in mid-flight simply does not get old. The absence of any other weapons or powerups bothered me at first, but that the game kept me involved and playing with its limited arsenal speaks well enough on its worth. Still would have liked to have seen rocket launchers.
Seems like a Daft Punk music video. Is not.
In addition to the local split-screen and system link options, there’s an online mode that may or may not have a decent network code capable of supporting the listed 16-player rooms. I wouldn’t know, you see, as I couldn’t find a single online match to test it out on. Day or night. Ever. It’s typical of the scene, so I can’t say I’m surprised. It is a continual shame, not just for developers that put in the time and work on building any multiplayer game, but for the unique and deserving titles (ahem, this one) to get the cold shoulder treatment.
As such, Null Battles is a solid, albeit basic building blocks (pun intended), zero-gravity take on the FPS that sadly doesn’t have any chance of building an online community. Offline, the AI bots are surprisingly adept and competitive, and that fun is no doubt quadrupled if you can pull off the 4-player local. It may lack refinement and the variety and weapon options needed to thrive, but it’s definitely worthy of your dollar if you’re trying for something different in your shooters.