This review first featured on the now offline 1P Start.
Glare is a 2.5D side scrolling platformer from Phobic Studios (Dragon Vale, Bounce On series), in which you control the Shiner. This guardian has been summoned to bring back light to worlds that have been shrouded in darkness by the Ramora (cue dramatic music). To return the light to these worlds, you’ll be required to trek across varied landscapes and bring the pain to the Ramora, in an entertaining, but somewhat frustrating adventure.
So let’s begin this piece with something blindingly (no pun intended) obvious; Glare is a beautiful game to behold. The graphical quality and the art design are exquisite. You have vibrant and varied colour schemes for each of the worlds, and all of the on-screen objects are very clear and easy to make out; no squinting required. At the same time, the main menu stands out from the game in its relative plainness. The basic options are there, but it gives you no hints as to the beauty your eyes are about to experience.
Now there’s an interesting aspect of the story that didn’t really get answered on my play through of Glare. You see houses of various types throughout the game, but where are the inhabitants? Who exactly is the Shiner saving these worlds for? While the basic story is good, the motivations are somewhat lacking. Still, it’s certainly not enough to stop me from playing, so let’s move on. Now, for our hero to take on the Ramora, he’ll need guns…lots of guns. No, wait, I was thinking of something else. Sorry about that. To take on this army of darkness, all he needs is his glowing eyes and trusty gun-arm. When the glare is activated, it will cause things like the dark mist to dissipate, and will also make approaching enemies turn away and stop attacking. You won’t be able to directly destroy your enemies with the glare, but you will be able to drive them into natural hazards dotted across the landscape. You can also use it to buy yourself some time if you’re being overwhelmed by the bad guys; either to get away from them, or to bring the aforementioned gun-arm into play. This is quite a clever set up that means you can’t just use one weapon. You have to use every tool at your disposal and think very carefully about your next move. The other use for the Shiner’s glare, is to manipulate the environment. It could involve causing various plants to grow, so they can be used as springboards to higher or further platforms, or even as a form of telekinesis, to move objects into their appropriate places.
There is an aspect of Glare that I felt a tiny bit underwhelmed by. With the fabulous looking worlds, I was hoping (expecting?) that the sound effects and the music would be at least on a par with the overall look of the game. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing bad about the sound and music, but there’s just nothing that makes it anything more than something to put in the game, just to say it’s there. Maybe it’s because Glare looks as good as it does, that the developers have unwittingly made this faux pas, and most aspects of the game seem average by comparison. Either way, it’s a bit of a shame. The main thing is, it doesn’t detract from the game experience, but doesn’t help with the immersion. On top of that, you will start to notice a small amount of repetition in the music as the later levels are larger, and therefore take longer to complete, resulting in the same loops of music being played.
The enemies are a varied bunch of creatures, that will be both a challenge and a frustration as you journey through the various worlds. Some are weak and can be destroyed fairly easily, but others can prove to be much tougher prospects. They will also vary in the sense that you will find stationary enemies that behave like the equivalent of proximity mines, and the mobile ones which float toward you with the intent of ramming into you. The biggest obstacle however, will be when they attempt to overwhelm you with numbers. Sometimes escape will be possible through a well placed glare and then shooting them, other times will be pure luck. It’s the ‘pure luck’ aspect which proved to be my biggest source of frustration, during my play time of Glare. The last couple of levels almost caused me to throw my controller in anger more than once. While facing one particular end of chapter boss, the weapons that were fired at me and the smaller enemies chasing me were so numerous, that no escape was possible. But then on a re-try, I would use the same pattern of movement and attack, and it would be almost too easy. Personally, I find it an annoying trait in some modern games that this method is used to ramp up the difficulty, rather than programming more complex enemy patterns to maintain the steadily increasing challenge. Still, everyone has their own view and there are probably those out there that enjoy it.
A very interesting mechanic that I noticed is that you can take a few hits, but there’s no health bar to be seen. Indeed there seems to be no HUD on the screen at all. Instead, what you’ll find is that the screen will become darker with every hit and the light beam from your eyes starts to flicker. Add this to unlimited ammo for your weapon (which will receive a couple of upgrades) and the straight forward level design, and you find that there’s no need for a HUD in the first place. Which means you can have an unhindered view of the beautiful world of Glare throughout you play time. A very well implemented piece of work. The controls on the whole, are easy to pick up. There’s full controller support, or you can opt for a keyboard and mouse combination. I prefer the controller in this instance, mainly with the wall jumping, as you’ll find more than one opportunity to get sent back to the last checkpoint with a poorly timed leap. The controls can be a little slow to respond, especially in the later levels where there is far less margin for error. It would be great if an option for button responsiveness was present. Additionally, for these later levels, you may find that the checkpoints seem to appear far less frequently than in the early going. This is quite ironic really, as the difficulty level is low enough that you wouldn’t need them as much for those opening chapters.
On the subject of difficulty, prepare to be shocked as you head into the later chapters of glare. While the opening levels are very well balanced, with a steadily increasing challenge, you’ll find the difficulty levels right up there in the final stages. The only warning of this that you’ll receive is getting put back to the same checkpoint more than ten times in a row.
For those that like to speed-run in their games, you’ll find the incentive to do just that, as each of your level times is recorded in the ‘Select World’ menu. There are also artefacts for the collectors amongst you too, in case you don’t get them on your first play through. You can keep track of how many you’ve collected from the same menu. Of course, there are a selection of Steam achievements to unlock that fit right in with collecting artefacts.
So in bringing things to a close on Glare, what we have is a fun, but increasingly frustrating experience. What awaits you is a beautifully imagined landscape, with equally beautiful, but deadly enemies looking to snuff out the light that the Shiner brings. You could run through this game in about four to six hours and at under fourteen Euros, you could do a lot worse than giving this a try.
Technical: The chapters of Glare are very ‘A to B’, with very little room for exploration, but the beautifully constructed worlds will help you forget that. Also, no bugs, glitches, or crashes to mar the experience 4.5 / 6.0
Presentation: There is a very basic story, but you don’t really need it in this case. The music and sound are quite unremarkable, but luckily, this is more than countered by the exquisitely drawn world that you journey through. 5.0 / 6.0
Gameplay: The difficulty is nicely balanced for the first few stages, presenting a steadily increasing challenge, before completely going off the rails and bringing some real frustration to the table. 4.5 / 6.0
Overall: Terrific animation and an eye-meltingly beautiful landscape that make you want to jump in and never leave, but slightly spoiled by an unbalanced difficulty level and very average sound and music. Still a title that I would recommend trying though. 4.75 / 6.0
AVERAGE SCORE: 4.7 / 6.0 | (78%)