Cell: emergence

Published on February 10th, 2012 | by Cameron Woolsey

Cell: emergence Review

Developer: New Life Interactive
Platform: PC, Xbox 360 (Xbox LIVE Indie Games)
MSRP: $2 on XBLA, $8.95 on PC
Release Date: Feb. 9, 2012

There were several points during my play of Cell: emergence where I threw up my hands in frustration. I yelled out for answers on how to triumph against these small, purple voxel cubes representing a ferocious disease, as they pummeled my defenses and turned my efforts against me without a hint of delay even after I carefully planned each step. But even after I watched my second, third, or tenth attempt collapse before me, I returned to the fight with even more determination, because Cell: emergence is an addicting game where every fight a hair-breadth away from the jaws of defeat, and a hard-earned victory becomes its own award.

Need help? Check out the tutorial video here: Cell: emergence Tutorial

I’m not simply saying the game is hard–it is. There is a quick and steep learning curve that is rarely forgiving even with the most honest mistakes. In Cell, the feeling of being in a life or death situation is omnipresent as you must desperately fight off a vicious mutation whose only goal is the complete destruction of the precious membrane you are destined to protect. In Cell: emergence, a little girl living in Spanish-speaking country becomes stricken with a deadly and violent disease. Players are given control of a nanite and fight off the infection on a microscopic level using a variety of offensive and defensive tools. The nanite is armed with a laser-like weapon which can target and destroy the purple growth, which spreads much like cancer but on a much smaller scale.

The story behind the game is penned by famed Deus Ex writer Sheldon Pacotti. And yet, even with that pedigree, I wasn’t able to follow the story very easily. There is a lot of philosophy and even some racial profiling by a disheveled character aptly named the “Hippie.” The story itself really serves no purpose beyond giving the player the necessary drive needed to continue the game. As a fan of Deus Ex, I rarely noticed Pacotti’s handiwork until the very end of the game where our hippie friend talks vacantly on philosophy and “kings.” It’s a story told through comic book style cutscenes that ultimately fails to keep interest. The real story of the game is the struggle of a little nanobot against some serious odds.

There is a subtle beauty in the way the voxels, small pixel-like cubes, grow and spread through the area. Even the destruction of the voxels can be hypnotic. A cut of the bio-laser on a large growth creates a ripple effect that can quickly destroy hundreds, sometimes thousands, of the purple cubes. The growth is completely random by design, creating a unique experience with every battle. Defenses can be built to contain the deadly disease but those defenses can just as quickly be turned against you in a moment of distraction. By combining shooting elements and strategy defense, players must us a variety of tools to fend off germs and purple growth.

Pictured: your nightmare.

Using “buckyfiber” players can create strands that connect to T-cells which can be used as barriers or as pathways that route antibodies to parts of the membrane that can eliminate massive amounts of the purple growth. However the fiber can be infected by flying germs which soon turn the life-giving pathways into disease which grow and shoot off if not contained. The game is fast-paced and I recall there were many times in which I sat close to my monitor, wide-eyed as I held my breath as I desperately chipped the growth off of membrane and put up new walls to the sound of the girl breathing deeply in her suffering.

But mistakes can happen and a hard fight will often prove to be unconquerable. The game itself offers no solace as the player will be thrust into battles with little hint as what to do or how to use the tools effectively. The game also doesn’t specify what creates a victory in each level. There are several gauges in the HUD that serve some purpose, but only one I ever actually understood and that was the one which showed how close the disease was to winning the fight. Some levels I was able to breeze through without a sweat. Others took at least a dozen tries and some head-to-wall interaction before I was able to come out victorious.

I’ll admit that at first I was angry during these moments. I blamed the game for my shortcomings and wished only for someone to come by and tell me what to do in order to win. It wasn’t until I was half-way through the game, and there was a head-shaped hole in the wall, when it struck me. Within Cell: emergence beats the heart of an old-school shooter. It draws its influence from the days in which players won not by following a glowing path or by constant hand-holding, but by grit and experience. Some levels can only be completed by doing everything wrong before realizing what has to be done right. The game isn’t cheap. There is no artificial difficulty involved here–a loss only comes from the player’s inability to react to the constantly changing action. There are multiple ways to use the tools against the deadly illness, some ways which can only be conceived from constant attempts. It’s easy for us pampered gamers to give up and move onto other games which support the easy win, but a win that comes in Cell: emergence is a victory that is worth the struggle and immediately satisfying.

I don't know what the hell I'm doing.

Final Truth:

Cell: emergence isn’t perfect, but it is most definitely worth a try. Beating the game’s 17 levels doesn’t take a lot of time, but the randomness of its design rewards replays with unique gameplay experiences each of the game’s “iterations.” The story itself is hard to follow, but the main draw of the game is the fast-paced action and old-school shooting that is blended expertly with the subtle beauty of its voxelated world. If you’re looking for a game that is challenging, providing an enemy relentless in its defiance, but provides satisfaction with progress, then Cell: emergence is worth the price.

[xrr label=”Rating: 7.5/10″ rating=7.5/10]

+ Fast, furious old-school shooting action
+ Challenging without being impossible
Can get frustrating at times
Story is confusing
+/- The game is short but has high replayability

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About the Author

Video game journalist since 2006, and gaming since he was old enough to use an Atari joystick. Follow me: @Cam_is_16bit

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