There doesn’t seem to have been much to celebrate recently but that certainly doesn’t stop us from being in the mood for a good party game. The Otterman Empire from indie developers Tri-Heart Interactive is one such game. A bright and colourful co-op shooter in which you play as adorable otters, might just be the you need to keep you and your friends cheerful when times are tough.
A l(otter) heart
Set on an intergalactic space colony, The Otterman Empire places players in the shoes of a customisable aquatic warrior who is tasked with defending the planet against the evil mad scientist Dr Tiko by destroying his seemingly endless army of malevolent machines. Players can face this challenge with up to three friends in local co-op play or opt to face it alone in single-player. There are eight selectable characters to choose from, each with a unique design and diverse selection of unlockable cosmetic items to discover.
From a visual standpoint, The Otterman Empire is a pretty good all-rounder. The colour palette is bright and cartoonish, perfectly complimenting the game’s character’s colourful designs. I found all of the eight included maps to be intriguing, each one covering a distinct visual theme. These range from a futuristic sport themed space arena to the gardens of a mediaeval looking castle. My personal favourite was the game’s first map, a sleek futuristic city environment which was both gorgeous to look at and a lot of fun to explore.
Your progress through the game is mapped, if you’ll pardon the pun, by the maps you unlock through playing. Each one has three alternate game-modes to try with a potential of nine total stars to unlock – three stars being the highest obtainable rating per game-mode. By unlocking a sufficient number of stars, you gain access to the next map. In theory, this ensures the player will spend a sufficiently long amount of time in each map to get really to grips with it. but in reality, this system just becomes a bit of a slog after a while; with players forced to repeatedly go over the same maps in order to get a high enough rating to progress.
In spite of the forced repetition, the different game-modes which are on offer in each map are nevertheless pleasantly varied. My personal favourite was ‘squidditch’ a fast-paced mode which challenges players to use their jetpacks to slam dunk as many bombs into enemy spawning portals as possible. Both jetpack fuel and ammunition is replenished through sliding gaily along waterways which are dotted along maps and additionally serve as a quick method of transportation when you’re in a hurry. The other game-modes on offer are similarly unique and all require a distinct set of skills for players to master.
Not quite a party
It is a huge shame that no matter which map or mode you choose to play there seems to be only two total enemy types found throughout the entire campaign. There are stationary turrets which will blast any player unlucky enough to stumble into their field of view with a laser beam and smaller, laser-firing flying drones, which are often equally as stationary. The strategy for tackling both enemy types is the same, unload as many shots into them as quickly as you can, and this tangible lack of enemy variety causes gameplay to become incredibly stale in only a matter of minutes.
Overall, the campaign mode offers a few interesting modes to try out, but the seeming lack of effort put into enemy design and behaviour leaves the whole ordeal feeling like one big wasted opportunity. It can be tackled in both a single player or as part of a local co-op but why anyone would actually want to play the campaign in co-op, and not the far more interesting versus mode which does away with the boring robot enemies, is beyond me.
Sitting down with the versus mode and having your buddies blast away at each other’s otter avatars is an awful lot of fun! It allows you to return to your favourite maps and revitalises the more interesting game modes from the campaign. PC users also have the option of Steam‘s ‘Remote Play Together’ with which you can invite a friend to play a livestreamed version of your game through an integrated browser window. It is entirely reliant on the other player having both a fast internet connection and USB controller on hand, but does you the chance to play the game with people who are not in the immediate vicinity.
I am happy to report that since launch, the game has received numerous patches and small updates – the most significant of which was a fix for the PC version of the title, which launched with a borderline unusable keyboard control scheme. It would be nice to see some further additions to help improve the overall polish of the game.
A notable area for improvement is the audio design. Whilst most of the included original music is good, the audio design of the in-game dialogue definitely needs some work. With no actual sound effects beyond a few frequently repeated, and strangely quiet, soundbites, the character interactions of both the campaign and tutorial feel completely lifeless. Another appreciated addition would be a reworking of the game’s graphics menu, which still doesn’t include basic options like changing the window’s resolution or even just the option of playing the game in windowed mode!
The UI on PC is absolutely huge and there is absolutely no way to resize the text and buttons so that they don’t occupy large areas of the screen. Simply addressing these few basic issues would go a huge way in improving the title’s overall look and feel. It would also be nice if damage taken was more obviously communicated to the player. It’s hard to keep track of your health in the heat of a battle and there were many occasions when I didn’t even know I was taking damage until I had died.
The saddest thing about The Otterman Empire is that the game is almost good. Whilst there has evidently been a lot of love and passion behind the title’s unique art-direction, quirky writing and superb community management over the years; a number of baffling design missteps and a lack of overall polish unfortunately prevents me from being able to wholeheartedly recommend this title. It isn’t an inherently awful option if you’re craving a local co-op fix, but many would-be players will likely find that the game’s current issues are just a little too hard to swallow.
Just so you’re aware! In order to facilitate a review this product was given to our organisation free of charge.