Puzzle games are often simple to understand, hard to master. Rarely has this been phrase been truer than with the new PC game Critical Mass which is maddening simple yet addictive and complex and frantic.
The object of the game is to match four blocks of the same colour together to make them vanish. This time however its in 3D so you’re not just looking at what’s in front of you, you’ve got to think what’s behind, above, below, in front and round the corner. This one simple step into a space Rubik’s Cube-esque landscape turns the whole match 4 genre on its head because there’s so many possibilities. Just by looking at the picture above – in two cubes you could link any of the pinky purple cubes, the greens can go round the corner and the oranges could be finished easily too. However, it’s not quite that simple under time pressure.
The crux in Critical Mass is that everything is under very strict time rules. The camera starts far out from the mass and slowly zooms in. The closer the camera gets, the more obscured things become and you have to frantically swivel the mass around so you can see what’s going on. The camera acts as a counter so when you’re too close the blocks begin to shake and you have about five seconds to get a chain together or its goodnight Vienna!
Where Critical Mass’ frustration occurs is that the difficulty curve at the beginning is very steep. My first few goes, I could not get passed the first level as it all goes so quickly. That’s partly because it’s a difficult time limit but also because I hadn’t taken on the whole 3D chain concept. Once you think that way, I was bombing through the opening levels reeling off combos.
Aside from the normal mode there’s survival which throws more block on when you score a strike and meditation mode lets you play with no time limits as you hunt the highest score, not the quickest time. The final mode is one where the score drops and you have to keep scoring combos to keep the score frozen. There’s plenty of achievements to aim for and also a few power ups that slow down time or increase your combo.
~Simple to pick up, hard to master
~Simple controls and predictable physics
~You will need patience to get to grips with the initial time limits
~Single player only
Addictive, simple and hard to conquer, Critical Mass is a dark horse game that will quickly turn from a five minute filler to a two hour hi score muncher as this time you WILL pass level 20. Essentially the longevity of the game is down to your own world ranking and hi score chasing but if it hooks you in, think Tetris but expanded.