On the surface, PaperCraft looks like a fairly typical top-down arcade shooter with paper graphics. Okay, paper graphics aren’t typical, but stick with me. The missions look and play like one would expect from just about any entry into the genre, but there’s a different sort of framework underneath it all; a handful of design decisions that make it more than “ordinary.” Whether or not it should be considered “extraordinary” will depend largely on an individual’s love for shmups, but no one can deny that it’s unique at the very least. Well, no one should deny it, anyway.
Hmmm… “… love for shmups…” That gives me an idea for a T-shirt.
As I said, initially PaperCraft seems more-or-less like any other shooter. Move with the left stick, shoot with the right, gather items dropped by enemies to charge up special weapons, and fly nimbly (when possible) between slow-moving projectiles. Yup, seems pretty normal so far. Aside from the origami jets and backgrounds, that is.
I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the visual style here. I do think it’s a neat idea, and I do find the less industrial areas quite alluring, but I almost feel like the concept wasn’t pushed far enough. Player and enemy aircraft, backgrounds, and structures within the backgrounds are all rendered like origami, but projectiles and explosions aren’t. And while the colorful rural areas look pretty good, what with the crumpled-paper mountains, forest wads, and neat fluffy clouds, the enemy bases generally lack the same level of visual care. I understand that they’re man-made and industrial, but all the gray kind of sucks the detail out of everything. I was also rather surprised to see that the screens for the lab and briefing room are illustrated rather than paper-crafted. They don’t look bad; they just seem a bit out of place.
Ah, the lab and the briefing room. These two rooms are a big part of what makes PaperCraft different from most other arcade shooters. When an enemy refinery is attacked, successful missions will yield cargo (read: monies) and tech points that can be used to purchase upgrades. Some of these upgrades affect the action portion of the game, such as a more powerful flight computer or various special attack enhancements, while others tie-in to the more strategic elements found in the briefing room.
There are a surprising number of nuances in PaperCraft‘s design here in the planning stages between missions. Enemy forces are scheduled to attack the base within one hour, which correlates directly with the amount of time it takes to complete missions. So spending five minutes flying out to a refinery, grabbing “teh lootz” and hightailing it back home will take five minutes off the countdown timer. Upgrades from the lab can slow the progression of time, but it’s very important to keep an eye on the clock and plan raids carefully.
Of course, there’s even more to it than that. Reaching any refineries depends on fuel reserves, so by upgrading those fuel tanks players can gain access to refineries that are further and further away from the home base. The trade-off here is that longer flights will eat up more of that precious time. Then again, hitting the same refinery over-and-over will start to deplete its reserves, yielding smaller and smaller payloads unless it’s given time to “refill,” so to speak. It’s a real balancing act that adds a shocking amount of depth and strategy to a game that could easily be written off as “just another XBL indie.”
The ability to adjust a craft’s balance between offense, defense, and speed on-the-fly is also a really great idea. At any point during a mission, players can shift things around between those three values to any extreme they require; increasing defense during a hectic fight or going for massive firepower to clear the screen faster. There’s a noticeable difference when shifting from one to another, with stronger shields making way for faster guns and more missiles. It’s an interesting dynamic that adds even more strategy to the game.
I have to admit, though, I was pretty disappointed to find out that the game doesn’t save your progress. Quitting in the middle of a play session at any point, for any reason, will result in having to start over from the very beginning next time. I suppose it’s because the game’s designed to be played in one sitting, and probably with four players. Still, it’s worth mentioning that each playthrough of PaperCraft is essentially all-or-nothing.
As is, it’s still a cool game with some neat ideas. There’s nothing holding players back from enjoying it, save if they hate shooters, but I can only imagine what it would be like if a few of the concepts were pushed a little farther. Needless to say, it’s an indie worth checking out.
Things We Liked: The ability to shift focus from offense to defense or speed adds some strategy to the classic shooter formula. It almost feels like a strategy game, what with all the time and fuel management.
Things We Disliked: Some of the paper visuals fall flat (no pun intended). Not being able to save progress is understandable, but still unfortunate.
Target Audience: Arcade shooter fans. People with a friend or two who like the genre.
(PaperCraft – Developer/Publisher: Vicinity Games. Available for Xbox 360 via Xbox Live Indie-Games. A copy of the game was provided by the publishers for review purposes. Unfamiliar with CFD!’s review system? Read our newly revised explanation here.)