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The year’s best sci-fi game might be a 2D space shooter

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‘Velocity 2X’ is old-school action with a twist

2014 is shaping up to be a very good year for sci-fi video games. There was the mech shooter Titanfall earlier this year, and soon we'll see the launch of Bungie's next space epic Destiny, as well as the retrofuturistic horror game Alien: Isolation. Even strategy series Civilization is getting in on the action with the upcoming Beyond Earth, a game that lets you build a new society on a distant planet. But as wonderful and epic as these games are shaping up to be, the most intense sci-fi game of the year might be something a whole lot simpler: a 2D space shooter for the PS4 and Vita.

Velocity 2X looks like an old-school game. You control a tiny spaceship speeding around a harsh-looking mechanical world, where alien ships and creatures come at you in synchronized waves. You collect power-ups to upgrade your arsenal and at the end of certain levels there's a giant, multi-stage boss ship that takes up most of the screen. Success is reliant on quick reflexes and pattern memorization. It’s all very familiar on the surface. The twist in Velocity 2X is that, at any point, you can teleport your ship across the screen.

Teleportation changes everything

It sounds like a minor addition, but it’s one that dramatically changes how the game plays. Top-down space shooters are all about avoidance, but historically that means staying away from enemies and their waves and waves of bullets. There’s some of that in Velocity 2X, but the teleportation mechanic coupled with a labyrinth-like approach to level design turns the world itself into your biggest obstacle. As you speed through each level you’ll regularly come up against obstacles that you can only avoid by teleporting past them. And because the game moves at such a fast clip, making the jump in time is incredibly challenging. When the levels start to get more complex — later stages feature multiple paths to explore — the teleportation essentially turns each stage into a puzzle. You'll spend more time figuring out how to navigate the world then you will shooting at bad guys. But when you pull off a series of jumps in quick succession, it feels amazing.

Velocity 2X

The short but tightly designed levels made the original Velocity the best Vita game you've probably never played. It had old-school charm — complete with addictive high scores and leaderboards — but the warping mechanic made it unlike any other shooter before it. The sequel keeps that same fantastic gameplay, but throws in a surprising new addition: 2D side-scrolling action that takes you out of your ship so you can explore certain areas on foot. It's as if someone tried to merge R-Type with Mega Man, and somehow made it work.

R-Type meets Mega Man

The on-foot sequences work so well because they feel just like the flying sections, only viewed from a different perspective. You have essentially all of the same tools at your disposal, including teleportation, and use largely the same controls. That makes it easy to switch back and forth between the two, which is good, because it's something you'll be doing constantly. Many levels will have you flying up against an impassable barrier, which will require you to get out of your ship so that you can disable a shield or some other sci-fi wizardry.

The two modes are different enough to add variety, but also similar enough that it doesn't feel jarring to switch between them. And that's important, because like the classic space shooters before it, Velocity 2X requires you to get into a zone where you're acting reflexively and not over-thinking things. Most of the levels in the game aren't that hard to beat, but the real challenge lies in getting a gold medal and, after that, climbing your way up the online leaderboards. Combine the gameplay with a thumping electronic soundtrack and slick visuals filled with copious amounts of lens flare, and you have a game that channels the best quarter-munching space shooters while still offering something completely new.

It doesn't have Destiny's epic scope, but Velocity 2X might just be harder to put down.