Oh how I wish this was a game about demolishing a decrepit educational establishment. The heady thrill of lining up the wrecking ball, the management sim aspects of ensuring you have at least one worker not on a coffee break at any given time – what’s not to love there? Certainly it would have more to offer than the reality of Old School Destruction.
OSD, as it dubs itself with the pushy jocularity of the maldorous bore regaling you with ‘humorous’ accountancy anecdotes at the bus stop, is sort of a twin-stick shooter. Tell me, what are twin-stick shooters primarily characterised by, other than their use of both sticks? Some form of action, right? Stuff happening? Not here. Those of you who lament modern games’ tendency to include activity need no longer spend your free time sighing wistfully over memories of spending hours watching a broken Pong machine go about its delightfully inanimate business. You now have OSD to fill that gaping chasm in your life.
Things get off to a horrendous start, with the longest loading times in the world. Holy shit. We’re talking Morrowind on original Xbox loading times, here. Long enough for you to make and eat a BLT without encroaching on your play time. In Morrowind it was only barely tolerable on the basis that it was a game intended for PCs, running on a console that cried at the mere thought of trying to load its Jupiter-sized game world. Here, it’s an indie game that certainly doesn’t seem strikingly huge, running on a current-gen console, with visuals that would make a PS1 smirk derisively. The only excuse I can see for this gargantuan loading time is that the developers are frantically stalling in the hope that you will quit before reaching the gameplay, and no one will ever discover their secret shame.
I sat through this lengthy wait, clutching ever more sceptically to the hope that it meant there would be something really impressive coming. Surely if it takes that long to load, it must have a load of content. Well…I don’t know. It might be the longest game on the face of the earth; I played for as long as I could bear to, but I really don’t want to find out how long this abomination lasts.
If it played in some sort of normal, coherent fashion it might be a mediocre and forgettable roaming twin-stick shooter. But it doesn’t. Somehow it manages to mess up this simple control concept. You thought you’d seen some pointless control decisions in these games, right? The ones that require you to pull the trigger to fire in addition to aiming with the stick, for instance? Redundant, certainly. But at least they function. OSD…does not.
Move with the left stick, aim with the right. So far, so good. Unfortunately, that’s the end of the part that makes any sense. You see, the right stick doesn’t control the simple direction of your aim, but instead moves crosshairs around the screen. You aim at an enemy by placing the crosshairs over them. It reminds me a little of Syndicate, in that it would probably be much easier to control with a mouse. Awkward, but not necessarily insurmountable.
But wait. It’s not over.
The reticle sticks like glue to your target. This probably seemed like a clever way to overcome the imprecision of twin-stick aiming, but clearly whoever implemented this system never bothered to actually use it. It’s possible to detach your crosshairs from a target, but it isn’t easy. You chose your target, and now you’re stuck with it unless your aim unglues itself on a passing whim. Like a senile terrier, the reticle latches onto anything that comes near it and won’t let go until you wrench it away with the force of a titan.
While OSD doesn’t (or didn’t, in the time I was able to endure it before ruining my controller with my tears) fling screen-filling hordes of enemies at you like most twin-stick shooters, there are often a number of foes attacking at once. These are spawned from generators that need to be destroyed but do eventually stop churning out cannon fodder, like the locust holes in Gears of War. As enemies approach and you manoeuvre to stay clear of them, the wisest choice of target changes from moment to moment. The enemy who was leading the charge is now at the back, while another is almost on top of you. Well, tough shit. Should have thought of that earlier.
Just to rub salty faeces in the septic open wound, the gluey reticle is indecisive. Some enemies sprint straight at you and the game advises you to use a melee attack against them. That’s fine. But when I can see them coming a mile away, surely it’s in my interest to pick a couple off before they reach me? No? If it’s possible to make the crosshairs lock on these runners, I never managed to pull it off. Maybe that’s a conscious design choice. So what we have is either inept programming or poorly considered design. What a treat.
I like games, and I’m pretty forgiving of flaws. There are numerous much-maligned games that I quite enjoy, simply because I’m able to overlook their odd control scheme, their hideous graphics or even their excessive loading. Not this time, though. When I exited the game because I couldn’t take any more, I could feel my face grimacing and I noticed myself making a disgusted ‘urgh’ noise.
Old Scool Adventure is horrible. It has many more flaws than I’ve mentioned here, flaws that would count as serious mark-downs against another game, but here they are actually the high points. The control scheme should have been listed alongside rains of blood and the four horsemen as a sign of the imminent apocalypse. Even in the supremely unlikely event that you’re willing and able to keep playing OSD through your torrent of tears and sporadic retching fits, I can’t see anyone repeatedly sitting through a loading process that lasts longer than the complete run of the X Files.