16 February 2017
Filip Neduk captures the speed and style of first-person shooter video games on the tabletop
The relationship between tabletop and video games has long been an uneasy one. Many physical takes on virtual worlds fall prey to becoming all style and no substance, while others introduce convoluted or just plain dull mechanics in an effort to simply emulate the gameplay of their digital counterparts without making it fun or engaging to actually play.
Attempting to steady this rocking boat is Adrenaline, the new title designed by Goblins, Inc. creator Filip Neduk and published by dependable games outlet Czech Games Edition. While it’s not based directly on an existing video game, Adrenaline’s heart clearly lies in the virtual world, coming across as thematically and aesthetically inspired by the vivid palette and breakneck speed of classic 1990s multiplayer first-person shooters such as Quake, Unreal Tournament and Doom rather than the slow tactical realism of modern-day successors Call of Duty and Battlefield.
Players control a colourful cast of heavily-armed robots, aliens, lizardmen and soldiers – although disappointingly despite this apparent diversity the only overtly female character, Violet, still ends up dressed in skimpy clothing and characterised in the rulebook by the finish of her nail polish. It’s Violet who also provides fourth-wall-breaking commentary throughout the instructions – a clear attempt to inject some humour into learning the basics, but more than a touch irritating and smug. If you enjoyed the style of self-aware jokes in video games such as Borderlands, it might raise a chuckle.
The characters spawn into an arena put together using any combination of the game board's two double-sided halves. The rooms are lit up in vibrant hues to highlight the combination of player and weapon spawnpoints and ammo pickups available. Movement is performed in the four cardinal directions between squares, with players able to move up to three spaces as one of their two repeatable actions each turn – with the ability to pick up items or shoot enemies being the other options.
Ready-loaded weapons are obtained by paying the required number of red, blue or yellow ammo cubes, which can also be used to reload spent armaments at the end of each turn. Ammo is acquired randomly from facedown cards dotted around the arena. This introduces a tactical consideration where swapping a powerful but empty weapon for a ready to fire gun can pay off – while running for the nearest ammo crate can land you in hot water.
There’s a healthy supply of firearms, covering the FPS staples you’d expect; rocket launchers, railguns, shotguns, machine guns and melee weapons are all present and correct. In addition, there are also some more inventive tools, such as the tractor beam and power glove.
Nearly all of the guns have alternate fire modes, which cost extra ammo to deploy but allow you to dish out more damage, attack extra targets or apply special effects, such as the ability to mark, which causes additional damage when the target is hit again.
While they may lack the visceral auditory and visual pleasures of their virtual equivalents, the weapons still feel formidable to wield and balanced for a variety of strategies, from long-ranged sniping to close-quarters combat. Power-ups gained from ammo tiles add single-use skills, including the ability to teleport or push back enemies.
As you might expect, the aim of the game is to kill your opponents, zipping around the arena to gather weapons and ammo to fill enemies full of lead or whatever it is that comes out of a railgun.
In an interesting twist, dealing damage to an opponent means handing over your own health tokens to them, which fill up the rival’s health bar. When the bar reaches the skull, the player is killed and point tiles are distributed depending on which player caused the most total damage, landed the first hit and potentially achieved an overkill. The various bonus points on offer solve the frustration of seeing your hard work weakening a player go to waste when someone else finishes them off, while also rewarding those who swoop in for the killing blow. The defeated player respawns instantly, but places one of the killshot skulls on their player card, making them worth fewer points each time they are killed. It’s a smart way to discourage ganging up on one player, while also painting a target on more experienced or powerful characters that remain more valuable.
After a set number of kills have been achieved, the Final Frenzy mode is triggered, which bumps up every player’s abilities for a final turn and makes characters with no injuries worth far fewer points, sparking a last-ditch rush to cash in previously applied damage by finishing off hurt characters. Afterwards, points are tallied and a winner declared.
The rulebook proposes other ways to play in line with common modes in shooter video games, involving controlling set areas or earning points by commandeering turret. There’s also an autonomous bot for three or four player games, making the game quite flexible and replayable.
Once the rules are read and the game is underway, Adrenaline flows almost as quickly and smoothly as the fast-paced PC shooters it takes as its muse. The tone is a little off at points and the artwork strays into cliché, but the mechanics at the heart of the gameplay are a solid foundation for a really fantastic experience backed up by a fitting theme. You can’t help but feel that the game might have benefitted from securing a well-known video game licence, if only to encourage more people to play it.
True to its name, Adrenaline is a thrilling duel to the death (after death after death) that embodies the moment-to-moment action and tactical depth of its video game inspirations without being dragged down by overly complex mechanics. Only the hackneyed artwork and the rulebook’s contrived humour tarnish its polished finish.
Publisher: Czech Games Edition
Time: 30-60 minutes
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