Developer: Zombie Dynamics
Publisher: TinyBuild Games
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch
The Nintendo Switch is fertile ground for new gaming experiences, but unfortunately Garage, a shock-'n'-gore shooter inspired by the video nasty horror films of the 80s, seems doomed to languish in the same bargain buckets where you will now find most of the VHS tapes from that era.
It starts strong. Your character, Butch, wakes up in the trunk of a car and emerges into the titular Garage, surprisingly not a garage but an underground mall that is now filled with nightmarish creatures. The environment is grim, with blood and gore streaked across the environment while the screen is marred with scanlines that makes it look like an old CRT television.
Unfortunately, the problems come quickly: The game's establishing section is drawn-out, leaving you with no weapon or threat for a surprisingly long time, and then equipping you with only an axe for longer still, finally relenting and giving you a pistol after over an hour of play. As a top-down shooter, the action feels like it should be immediate and frantic, but instead you're left wandering dingy corridors.
When the action finally starts, there are problems there too: Your primary enemy in the early game are rats, which often attack you by bursting out of supply crates. Rats are hard to hit with your weapons and are best dealt with by kicking them, but your kick is better suited to opening doors than hitting the tiny rodents, and so I often managed to die by a thousand tiny bites whenever they assaulted me.
Later, you'll fight zombies — which run at you — and several failed experiments, including an early boss fight which has you take a shotgun to an impossibly long human centipede. It's certainly original, but the combat is still just too fiddly, which makes hitting people with your limited ammunition a real chore, especially as managing your firepower to ensure you're never caught reloading is a key strategy for those who want to survive.
Worse, enemies are only shown when Butch has a clear line of sight to them on screen, meaning that as you try to move out of the range of melee attacks and later even enemy gunfire, the attacking monsters will wink in and out of view, exacerbating the problems caused by the game's loose controls. Things are confused further with the oddly prescriptive way the game is played, with you able to explore any room you like providing it is the one the developers are funnelling you towards next. This robs the game of replayability, and considering it's so clearly inspired by the tight combat and ultra-violence of Hotline Miami, most of the time I was just thinking about how I would rather be playing Dennaton's indie kill-'em-up instead.
What original steps Garage takes are often the wrong ones: Vehicle sections make no sense, and the game is so determined to feed you its derivative narrative that you're often forced to fight only when it suits them. You can barely even backtrack because every time you come into a room, the incredibly precarious ceiling will often fall on you; developer Zombie Dynamics is clearly scared you'll go and get lost in the disorientating darkness borne out so many rooms in the game looking exactly the same.
Get a little further into the game and the smorgasbord of different art styles starts to grate. The darkened rooms and rough aesthetic are supported by well-painted character portraits, while a mind-bending psychedelic sequence seems to be in the game purely for the sake of it. Nothing ever really gels, and the game doesn't manage to achieve the high visual appeal set by its promotional art, or even the high-definition image of a two-headed dog adorning the main menu screen. It's hard to understand what's going on half of the time with the murky visuals.
Technically, the game had a few snags, and looked more washed out in the Switch's handheld mode. When things got busy, the game slowed down, and a death or change of area would often subject me to a lengthy loading screen.
Garage: Bad Trip is, sadly, a remarkably bad game, missing several of the fundamentals of the top-down shooter genre and also managing to make a pastiche of B-movie splatter horror feel completely mundane through a lack of imagination. I would have had a begrudging respect for the game if it had been daring enough to make bold choices, whether by picking a consistent direction in terms of the art or making a single interesting decision when it came to the mechanics of the game.
It's hard to play Garage and not feel like you've already played a game that is more interesting, aesthetically more pleasing, or in a mechanical sense just a better product. I'm not saying every game needs to redefine its genre, and there's room in the indie top-down shooter market for plenty of great games, but Garage is not one of them.
If Garage is trying to be a pastiche of the horror genre, it comes off more Scary Movie than Scream, and will no doubt soon vanish without a trace.
November 6 2020 | 17:30