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Billed as one of India’s first commercial PC games, io is a bizarre gem. While we tweak our PCs, buying top-end hardware to run the latest and greatest games, smaller projects understandably slip buy – after all, what’s the point of spending hundreds of dollars on a system that we’re going to only play Bejeweled on? Still, it’s a shame when gamers ignore the little guy, and io is an independent game that deserves to be noticed.

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“The best comparison I can draw between io and mainstream gaming is Super Metroid – the space age setting combined with the minimalist atmosphere make io a little more subdued than most shooters. “io is an odd little game. It’s a side-scrolling 2.5D shooter, although moving into the foreground and background is allowed. On the derelict spacecraft that serves as the game’s setting, robots patrol the dark hallways, ready to attack as soon as you enter their field of vision. The best comparison I can draw between io and mainstream gaming is Super Metroid – the space age setting combined with the minimalist atmosphere make io a little more subdued than most shooters. The color palette is bright and colorful, but the lighting is dark and moody. It’s an impressive amount of design effort for such a small game, and makes it much more approachable than other low-budget games.

As the atmosphere would imply, the action in io is slow paced and methodical. Empty corridors are common, making the hunt for enemies almost nerve-wracking. There are plenty of creative weapons in io, from machine guns to flamethrowers, but they’re used relatively sparingly. Unfortunately, the aiming system and inventory systems are sluggish and unintuitive; your character will aim wherever the mouse is pointing, but sometimes his animations correspond incorrectly – i.e., he will fire straight ahead while lookingup. The inventory is fairly robust, but fiddling with controls for guns and flashlights while trying to move in and out of the foreground can really be disorienting. io contains a fairly heavy stealth element. Some robots are simply too large and powerful to face, so often your only option is to skulk into the shadowy background and wait for your foe to pass. It’s a nice combination, and adds again to the already impressive tone of the game. It’s rare for a sidescroller to elicit emotions like tension and fear; even rarer for one to force players to hide. It’s no Doom 3 or System Shock, but io certainly crafts an impressive atmosphere for a player to immerse themselves in.

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“Considering the budget io had, it’s absolutely gorgeous. Not only does the game mix bright colors with moody lighting – something most blockbusters can’t get right – but it looks downright impressive.”The best aspect of io is the visual design. Considering the budget io had, it’s absolutely gorgeous. Not only does the game mix bright colors with moody lighting – something most blockbusters can’t get right – but it looks downright impressive. The lighting engine is fantastic, and it dynamically reacts to things like the flashlight or gunfire. The characters, while simple, are all stylishly designed and pleasing to look at. The system requirements are minuscule, and io supports widescreen resolutions flawlessly. It’s a startlingly nice looking game, especially given its origins as an independent title. The sound design, while not quite as appreciable as the graphics, is certainly good, and fits in well. The speech is all delivered via text, so the soundscape is simply sound effects and background music. Still, the overall presentation in io is definitely praise-worthy.

There’s not much to say about io; simply that it is a shining example of what people can do with enough passion for the medium. It won’t break any sales records or set any industry standards, but it proves that good game design can be expressed without a fancy contract or a logo on the box. For those of us who are interested in indie game design, or independent art media in general, io is worth a look.

8 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in October 2006.

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