App of the Day: Ballistic SE

Grid grief.

The human immune system is one mad marvel. It monitors our physical well-being through a series of rigid precautionary and at-the-ready defence systems. It's governed by an army of cellular bodies carrying out their respective duties, in order to repel invasion from hostile viral and bacterial agents.

With that in mind it's no stretch to imagine your role in Ballistic SE as that of a renegade code hacker who must break into a totalitarian empire's sophisticated online immune system. You are a single invading aggressor in a wild, Gibson-esque digital grid; a lone orb versus a seemingly never-ending barrage of swarming enemy sentries. You'll want to take down as many as possible - it's just the staying alive part that isn't easy.

Viewing Ballistic as a sort of digital ecosystem under attack (you can still pretend you're Neuromancer's Case or Neo if you feel the need to justify your assault) may seem like an odd comparison, but it makes sense when you see this dual-stick shooter in action. Since each level's set number of enemies can be cleared in a matter of minutes, you'll quickly learn to tell the behavioural characteristics inherent to each of your colour-coded opponents.

That's an easier level.

As in biology, some unit types hunt in packs, relentlessly surrounding you in large clusters that become increasingly difficult to shake. Some operate in a more chaotic fashion and have an overtly aggressive demeanour.

Still others are bigger and harder to break than the majority of their one-hit-kill brethren, surrounding themselves with barriers or tagging your position for homing shots. The further your progress, the more malicious the combination of spherical troops you'll be facing off against. They'll attack quicker and in greater numbers, too. Matters can be further complicated in the game's extra mission modes.

It's a good thing you're armed with Ballistic's namesake special attack, supplying a much-needed rechargeable bullet-time effect that allows your shots to ricochet off walls. It's at the forefront of several gameplay enhancements you'll insatiably hunger for.

Bucking traditional on-screen power-ups, enhancement points earned with progress can be spent on a number of offensive and defensive abilities, and goodness will you need them. The nuanced difficulty curve ramps up in a hurry, making upgrades like homing bullets and rapid-fire a must. Alternatively, if you're a masochist, you can spend your points on support characteristics instead.

More fun than Fantavision?

Sheer panic will probably prevent such rash actions for long. There's a wonderful breakneck tension that builds over time, and not only because lives are stressfully rationed out at milestones achieved with score multipliers.

Luckily you don't have to start from scratch every time you continue. Enhancement points earned can be re-allocated as you see fit while you can unlock higher levels to start from, possibly the only way to reach 60 or 70 stages deep with so few lives.

No matter. When your tiny stream of bullets is facing down a swelling horde of killer marbles more than half the screen wide (and often flanking you from multiple angles), you'll see how such an innocuous-looking game can simultaneously strike a balance between addiction and terror. The next time you catch a virus you might even think twice.

App of the Day highlights interesting games we're playing on the Android, iPad, iPhone and Windows Phone 7 mobile platforms, including post-release updates. If you want to see a particular app featured, drop us a line or suggest it in the comments.

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Steve Haske

Steve Haske



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