Holodrive – First Look
Holodrive is the perfect example of how concepts and influences from a lot of different genres can come together into one cohesive, fluid, and entertaining package. While it does feel like there could be more to the game, it overdelivers where it counts.
Holodrive is a 2D arena shooter that borrows elements from a ton of different places to create something truly unique. The game centers around your robot character, called a Dummy. You control your dummy across three different game modes and a bunch of varied and fun maps as you blast your way to victory.
Visually, Holodrive stays in its lane. The models are crisp and look great in motion. The backgrounds and maps fit the game’s theme, and the vibrant but slightly muted neon colors of the stages blend nicely with the particle and bullet effects of the guns. The design is silly and cartoonish, and it just works.
Gameplay is simple. You run, jump, and use your jetpack to navigate the different arenas. There are teleporters, tubes, walls, slopes, and ramps that have different effects on your speed and visibility. This is where the game starts pulling from classics of other genres. The movement and sloped platforms reminded me a lot of Sonic the Hedgehog. Your dummy builds up speed very quickly, especially when running down a slope. Running down a curve and then off a ramp will give you air-time and a big speed boost. Using these platforms to find or evade your enemies becomes super important. This is especially true for modes like Dummy-Ball.
The structure of the stages feels a lot like Super Smash Bros. There are a ton of platforms at different elevations and ways to move between, around, and through them. Scattered all around these platforms are the game’s many different guns. Each one is satisfying to use, and works very well. Aiming with the mouse as you zip around the stages is tight, accurate, and allows for a lot of shooting and moving in different directions. This is how the guns themselves break down.
First you have the stock repeater. Everyone starts a match with this gun. It shoots infinitely within its range, but lacks any serious punch.
Next you have the FastFire, which is like the repeater. As the name implies, this is another rapid-fire gun, but it has a heat meter that builds as you shoot. Rather than overheat when the meter fills though, it gains more damage. You can fire it until it runs out of ammo, and you’ll want to spin up that meter to get the most out of it.
Next you have the multi-shot. The base version is a shotgun whose individual bullets ricochet off walls to hit enemies at angles. I should mention that there are variations of each gun category that you unlock. Each has different effects. For example, I have the scattergun, which shoots regular shotgun bullets that explode into smaller bullets that track visible enemies. It sacrifices damage, but the homing is nice.
After that is the FPS classic, the rocket launcher. You fire rockets with it for big damage. Rockets travel fast and don’t stray from their path. If you’re too close to a rocket you fired when it blows up it will hurt you, and you can use this to rocket-jump like in TF2. You can also use it to blast yourself off an angled slope for a rapid back-dash to get out of trouble.
The continuous guns do damage over time. The stock version is the ray-gun, and it’s one of my favorites. You can bounce it off surfaces and angle shots, and the damage is consistent. There are different versions of this that have different particle effects as well as other damage and ammo modifiers, but I haven’t unlocked any yet.
There’s also a grenade launcher that works just like you’d expect. Grenades in the stock version are proximity sensitive, so getting your shot close to an enemy will still get you some damage. Grenades are bouncy, but not overly so. Using the grenade launcher feels amazing at range and the damage is strong as well.
Finally, you have the Sniper rifle. It’s a charge-beam like the Spartan Laser from halo, and will instantly kill someone at full charge. Shots on the stock model don’t pierce, so you’ll have to choose targets carefully. Additionally, using your jetpack cancels your charge entirely. Placement and timing is key to success with the rifle.
Holodrive takes inspiration from Mario Kart for part of its gameplay as well. This comes in the way of powerups scattered through the stages that grant different effects like a gun damage boost, invisibility, a temporary over-shield, or a short burst of infinite jetpack use. There’s even a powerup that drops a fake powerup or fake gun that damages enemies who touch it.
There are those who would argue that the powerups can add an element of RNG and lower the skill-cap. For the first few matches, I forgot they were even there. Your mileage may vary, and if you’re the type that enjoys no items, fox only, final destination then you probably won’t enjoy that. Hopefully they’ll add a mode for players who want a powerup-less gameplay experience. Fortunately, I’m not one of those people.
Holodrive has three game modes, but despite a week of trying, I was only ever put in two of them. The first is Team Deathmatch. That doesn’t warrant an explanation. The other mode I played is Dummy-Ball. You and your teammates fight for control of an adorable robot chicken, no not that one, and you try to carry it to the enemies’ goal and throw it in. You can’t shoot while you have the chicken, so your ability to dodge and use the game’s terrain to your advantage is essential.
The character customization in the game is nice, and completely ridiculous. Your robot has item slots for a hat, a separate head accessory like glasses or a beard, a top, and in some cases pants. There are a ton of options for you to unlock and you can mix and match stuff from any set you like with anything else. There’s even LaForge’s visor from Star Trek: The Next Generation and a Dragon Ball Z scouter. The default accent color of your robot is blue, but you can unlock replacement colors as well as all the game’s cosmetic items and alternate weapons through holopacks.
Holopacks are the game’s loot boxes. They’re a reward for leveling up, completing challenges, and continuous play. In the early going I was getting a holopacks after nearly every match, and unlocked a bunch of cosmetics. It is possible to get repeat items, but you get holopacks for free so often it hardly matters. It’s also important to note that the guns are the only things that affect gameplay in Holopacks, and they grant no advantage. They have tradeoffs to make all of them balanced, and give distinct visual effects as well.
The game’s in-game shop allows you to buy holopacks with real world currency as well as complete cosmetic item sets. You can also buy the accent colors for your robot if you don’t want to wait for them to pop out of a holopack. The accent pack runs $3, and the average complete item set runs $10. The game offers a founder’s pack and an Early Access pack, which grant unique skins in addition to holopacks and a load of currency to buy more. The Early Access pack gives you two skins, one of which being the Scout from TF2, as well as currency and packs. This pack costs $10. The Founder’s Pack cost $20, and includes Three Banner Saga themed skins as well as holopacks and a ton of bits.
Holodrive does have its flaws. Most of them stem from the currently small and growing player base. Matchmaking never took long, but I was frequently re-paired in matches with the same people as the last game I was in. The matchmaking also seems to favor Team Deathmatch over any other mode. To its credit, the game includes a matchmaking modifier in your profile settings. This allows you to tell the game which modes you like best, and help filter out ones you don’t like. This is an interesting take on matchmaking that keeps everyone in the same queue but still allows you to have your pick of modes.
Holodrive’s lack of player base may seem discouraging, but the game hasn’t officially released yet. Its inherent charm, blisteringly fast and tight gameplay, and silly customization options, and shorter match times make it the perfect pick-up-and-play shooter for casual and serious players alike. It’s truly a blast to play and I encourage you to go pick it up right away.
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