Game Review: Ultra Mission (PS4, PS5, PS Vita)

Despite being touted as being a handheld system that could deliver console performance level gaming, the lifeblood of the PS Vita becam its plethora of indie games. Many smaller studios thrived thanks to Sony’s handheld or got their first break on the platform so were saddened to see the company stop accepting new games for release. One such title, Ultra Mission, from Gumbo Machine (also released simultaneously for the PS4 and later the PS5), managed to make it into the final wave of games, but was it worth it?

Ultra Mission – Plot

Set in the year 2081, you’re an agent working for the Stellar Exchange Commission and you’ve been sent on a dangerous (almost an “ultra”) mission to the headquarters of Otto Labs. You have to make your way out of the building, which is set out as one giant maze, avoiding all of the powerful automatons along the way…

First Impressions

Before taking the plunge and buying Ultra Mission, the first thing I noticed were the screenshots. From those, it looked reminiscent of the arcade classic Robotron 2084 – which was no bad thing. Having fond memories of that classic (and many of the home ports and clones), this was going to be a no brainer. But once it was downloaded and installed, I was in for a shock…

In reality, the game might look like Robotron, but that’s only until you start to play it. You start off on the left hand side of the screen and have to make it to the exit on the right. Do this and you progress onto the next of the game’s 20 levels. Stopping you are the aforementioned automatons. There are several different types, with more variety added as the game progressed as well as one that appears randomly, homing in on you which can move through the walls of all of the mazes.

Flawed Gameplay

First impressions aside, even with the slightly different gameplay approach, you might be thinking at this point that Ultra Mission could still be a fun game. Truthfully it could have been and while not been regarded as a classic and a fitting send-off for the PS Vita, it would have still been a worthwhile purchase. Instead, it’s hampered by a clunky control system that does everything possible to make the game as difficult as possible to play.

For a game of this ilk, you would expect it to work as a twin-stick shooter. In fact, the left analogue stick does work to control movement, but firing is done using X and you shoot primarily in the direction you are moving. If you stand still, by default your character turns to face right and will shoot that way, even if you were walking in a different direction. The only way to fire rapidly in multiple directions is to stand in one place and hold down the circle or one of the shoulder buttons then using the left analogue stick you can aim then press X to fire. It’s an incredibly cumbersome system and more often than not you’ll find yourself getting shot or running into one of your adversaries when you’re trying to shoot them.

More Frustration

It doesn’t end there though. If the controls weren’t frustrating enough when it comes to using your weapons, Ultra Mission throws even more at the player to make the game unnecessarily difficult. Contact with any of the walls will result in an instant loss of life (which resets the level) and the sensitivity of the controls for movement means that this will happen more often than not, especially when you are trying to dodge oncoming fire. When you take out the floating creatures, these shoot out an 8-way bullet spray so as well as being able to shoot them, you need to make sure you have space to move.

Look And Feel

As I said before, while this has the look of a Robotron clone, it’s fairly bland and to be honest I expected more from the visuals for a contemporary release. Even some styling for the floor or walls would have broken up the monotony but apart from the design of the mazes there’s nothing really. Even some of the enemy automatons are just recolours of the lead characters and it just feels as if very little effort has gone into the visual side of things.

Sound is another letdown with a lacklustre tune playing in the background, simplistic sound effects, and random speech snippets sampled from what I believe to be different films and TV shows although truthfully there weren’t any that I recognised. There wasn’t anything that stood out as being particularly impressive though and most didn’t seem to fit the game.

Artificial (Not So) Intelligence

One thing that struck me while playing Ultra Mission was the AI (or lack of it) for all of the automatons. They all seem to wander around each of the mazes aimlessly and make no attempt to pursue you at all. While you can lose a life when you collide with any of them, they can also kill each other on contact and this happens on a regular basis and there’s nothing incorporated into the game to stop them all from doing this. The same applies for those that are armed and more often than not they are a help rather than a hinderance to you, taking out the others for you.

The other automaton, that seems to be programmed to follow you, also has issues with its AI. Its movement pattern seems to be locked primarily into straight lines so while it doesn’t quite follow you perfectly, it can also make it harder for you to shoot it back as well – sometimes when it’s too late for you to avoid the reciprocal shot.

Overall

I honestly thought I was going to love this from the screenshots, but instead I found nothing but frustration from start to finish. What is so disappointing with Ultra Mission to be honest is that if it wasn’t for the controls, what is a truly dreadful game could have been great fun, even without a multiplayer option on the PS4 and PS5. The inclusion of relatively easy trophies and Cross Buy support across the three PlayStation platforms really can’t save this one, and it’s sad that the PS Vita’s digital legacy had to end on such a low note.

About Simon Plumbe 218 Articles
Husband, father and lifelong geek. Originally from the West Midlands, now spending my days in South Wales with my family and a house full of animals. Passionate about video games, especially retro gaming, the Commodore 64 and PlayStation Vita. Love pro wrestling, sci-fi and I'm an animal lover and vegetarian. Enjoyed this and my other articles? Why not buy me a coffee: http://ko-fi.com/simonplumbe

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