There is little Blast Factor can do to escape comparisons to Geometry Wars. This gaudy neon dual-stick shooter sees you battling rapidly spawning hordes in an enclosed area, and is a key release for the new PlayStation Network service. On a surface level at least, everything about it sounds like Sony's answer to the irresistible Xbox LIVE shooter.
In a plot not far removed from the basis of Rez, you must pilot your microscopic G18 Nanite Interceptor deep into biological material. Dwarfed even by the tiny craft of Inner Space, you are injected into increasingly complicated cells which make up the seven worlds of this chaotic shooter, each ending with a boss battle.
Like Geometry Wars, Blast factor is a middling-to-hardcore shmup that looks set to become the first gamer's game of its parent console's online service, and like Geometry Wars, it uses a simple, button-free system of left stick to move and right stick to direct fire.
The result is a dizzying shooter that forces you to lose yourself in a twitch-fuelled waltz of manoeuvring your craft in tight spiralling circles whilst spraying bullets into the foes that dance around you. Giving the player the chance to pilot their craft and fire in opposite directions is both a curious and brilliant idea when applied to the claustrophobic levels on offer. Confined to a hexagon-shaped playing field some two thirds of the screen in size, you must overcome increasingly brutal waves of enemies in some of the most cramped conditions seen in the genre.
The surface of each cell is covered in the hexagons that enclose the action, and depending on your success in each of the six-sided levels, you will move to another of either easy, medium or hard difficulty level, before reaching the final boss. This is a proven device in the harder of the shooters that allows the beginner to progress and the obsessive to strive for true hardcore completion, and it is well implemented here.
The in-game mechanic itself is fairly basic. Occasional power-ups increase the power of your weaponry briefly and enemies appear in formations you can eventually learn. However, as soon as they have spawned they break formation and target you sporadically and savagely. In a basic chaining mechanism, adjacent enemies detonate each other when destroyed, upping your score, though it is rare you will get a chance to intentionally spot and trigger a chain amidst the carnage. The end result is a solid and challenging shooter that is well worth the £3.49 price tag, but will never stand proud alongside the great Shmups like R-Type and Radient Silvergun.
Where Blast Factor succeeds in raising itself some way above average is with its brilliant smart bombs. The basic smart bomb does not destroy anything, instead pushing out a radial force field that gently knocks away any foes, occasionally exposing their week spots and slowing down time enough for you to shoot or dodge your way out of trouble. The second is activated by tipping the Sixaxis pad left or right suddenly, sending a crackling electrical tidal wave across the screen in the chosen direction. This wave sweeps up any enemies and takes them together to one side of the screen, flipping some over to expose unprotected bellies.
When it works, it gathers up your problems and piles them together to await their death. When it goes wrong, it simply washes everything bad your way, trapping and killing you. Used together, the two smart bombs become a wonderful strategic devise and can be utilised for some highly skilful plays along with your bullets, which ricochet of the hexagon's sides.
Where Blast Factor fails is when it lets enemies respawn directly underneath you. In a game that requires so much attention and precision from the player, it is incredibly infuriating to lose a precious life in a way that seems so unfair and unavoidable.
On the whole, this furious shooter is a nice little addition at a great price for any PS3 owner whose recent hardware purchase has left their wallet a little on the slim side.