Review: Auralux: Constellations05 Oct 2016 9
Review: Auralux: Constellations
Released 26 Aug 2016
One of the appealing aspects of old Atari and Commodore games is in the way they portray space. The limited graphical capability and largely black backdrop always gave the impression of a mass empty void for as far as the eye can see, and playing the likes of Asteroids and Space Invaders in the middle of the night with the sound cranked up is an immersive experience like few others.
Enter Auralux: Constellations, a sequel to the 2012’s Auralux, currently available to play on your browser over here, but also available on Android and iOS. The sequel plays by the same rules as the original, but with an overall facelift in presentation. You start off with glowing blue units orbiting around the surface of a planet that you control, while two or three opponents await symmetrically across from you on the map. Their colours are different, and the screen almost becomes a hypnotic blur as a barrage of glowing orbs awash the backdrop of space and the glowing pins of the stars. Lyrical pretentious rhetoric aside, it looks gorgeous, and when the action intensifies it resembles a neon firework display.
The aim of the game is to take control of all the planets on the map – which means capturing uncharted ones, and battling for control over ones your opponents possess. You can move orbs over to uncharted planets by dragging down on an area that contains your orbs, creating a radius to whatever size you need, then tapping on the area you want to move them to. Each planet you have control over will begin to generate more orbs over time, and some planets have the ability to increase in size with an increase in the amount of orbs they generate; the more planets you have control over, the more orbs you have. What brings this all together is how seamless and simplistic the controls are. There are only two inputs: drag & tap, but the game is so dynamic with its moving parts that you never stop to think about it.
The challenge is all in the timing – and a little bit of luck. Say there are a triangle of planets and each player controls one, if your opponents decide to throw their orbs at each other they also leave themselves exposed for a short period of time, meaning you can quickly sneak in and take over. Now if they both come after you, you just better hope you have a collection of planets lined up behind you to call in for support.
It means that going for an all out offensive approach is not necessarily going to work – certainly if you have not built up your resources. And that sometimes you pick your targets carefully, whether that is going after a collection of planets that are not in the middle of the action, or picking off planets as your opponents are in an all out assault on each other.
The game hosts three speed settings, each give their own unique take on the presentation. The slowest speed setting creates a menacing, tactical affair, where you can predict early on what targets the AI is aiming for, allowing you to adjust your plans accordingly. On the bigger maps this does become a little tedious after a while, especially if you get locked into a stalemate and the fight begins to drag on. But it is surprisingly calming for a RTS game on this setting – almost like you are watching a moving painting.
On the fastest setting, though, it is utter mayhem. When tackling several opponents on a larger map, simply trying to focus on several areas at once is a challenge, and it does not take long to get overwhelmed if they decide to gang up on you. Thankfully you can change the speed in the pause menu, meaning if the game becomes too frantic you can take a minute to try and get yourself out of a sticky situation. Add on top of this the audio: the background music is an understated, yet slightly hypnotic trance track, but when opposing orbs begin to clash, they make tiny “clink” noises that turns into the equivalent of a child bashing away at an electronic piano set to xylophone mode. It is a mess, but in the most alluring way.
It’s surprising how tactical Auralux feels considering how little there is mechanically. Removing elements such as building bases or using different unit types creates what you could call an “arcade RTS”. There are 13 constellations, each one revolving around a singular environmental gimmick, which challenges and forces you to vary your tactical approach. For example, one constellation has supernovas that you can fill with orbs till they explode, leveling the playing field if you are getting overwhelmed, but they are orb sponges, so you better make sure you do not leave your planets exposed trying to fill it. Be warned, though, as some of these levels are brutal. Thankfully you can play levels in any order. The game is F2P at launch with the ability to purchase extra levels (you can not unlock them by completing the free content first). Though they are priced reasonably and a full unlock equates to about the same as the Steam release.
Apparently the game runs local multiplayer on Android TV, with the NVIDIA SHIELD offering free multiplayer maps. It’s difficult without playing this mode to comment, but I imagine local multiplayer between you and three of your friends would be chaos.
Overall, Auralux: Constellations is easily one of the more enjoyable mobile games I have played this year. The simple yet direct gameplay has a large degree of replay value - even on levels already completed, and the compact action works great, both on tablet and on PC (if that is your sort of thing instead). My first five stars here at Pocket Tactics!