The trouble with sequels is that everyone expects more. While bigger does occasionally equate to better for videogames, that approach isn’t necessarily the wisest course to take with one as taut and lean as Velocity. When a game is built for speed, as this one undoubtedly is, it can’t afford any flab. It’s a shame, then, that Velocity 2X has reported for duty carrying a few extra pounds. This is still a very fine game, but at times it’s also a cautionary tale: it turns out you really can have too much of a good thing.
Not that you’d necessarily notice from its snappy opening, or the way its new ideas steadily unfurl over the first two dozen or so stages. For the most part, this is the Velocity we know and love: you’ll weave and boost your way through a series of elaborately constructed stages, bombing turrets, blasting ships and teleporting past apparent cul-de-sacs, rescuing survivors in floating blue space pods as you go. As before, you’ll have to disable energy barriers by shooting security gates in numerical order, the twist being that this time you won’t always be able to see the number.
Happily, there will always be a nearby port at which to dock your ship so you can determine the missing digit. These sidescrolling platforming sections see Lt Kai Tana, the space pilot who fleetingly appeared in the previous game’s interstitial comic panels, using a series of biomechanical augmentations to run faster and jump farther than would otherwise be possible. Her suit is powered by energy from a mineral known as Rekenium; handily, she’ll find plenty of crystals indoors, which she can dislodge from the floor and ceiling with blasts from her palm cannon. It’s not long before she’s able to mirror her ship’s teleportation ability, although her tele-dashes are comparatively short-ranged. At first, she’ll blink through walls, then through hazards, and finally through guards from a malevolent alien race whose weak spot is on their backs. Dash, turn and fire: it’s enormously satisfying every time. Likewise, the slide that Tana employs to skid beneath low walls, and whenever you pull off a perfect jump-dash to escape the laser hazards that mean instant death.
As these obstacles get increasingly difficult to bypass, you’ll be grateful that FuturLab has removed the original game’s lives mechanic, as if it understood that some sections here are likely to kill players repeatedly. That perhaps says much about how exacting these interior sequences can be. In some, there’s not much leeway when it comes to the tele-dash, though the absence of any instantly apparent punishment for death means that some of the earlier game’s tension is lost.
The later addition of teleporter pods that Tana can throw, however, is more problematic, entirely disrupting the game’s sense of flow. You’ll have to stop, hold Triangle, move the analogue stick until you find the right arc, and then release the button to throw.
This is a very fine game, but at times it’s also a cautionary tale: it turns out you really can have too much of a good thing
Sometimes you’ll have to target specific points on the floor or ceiling, clumsily denoted by icons to highlight exactly where you need to aim. Velocity 2X is at its best when you’re allowed to build up thrilling momentum; these sections bring you to a juddering halt.
It’s telling that only carelessness or haste will get you killed when you’re back inside the cockpit – there are few moments that require the same kind of intricate manoeuvring as Velocity demanded – whereas on foot something as simple as an unfortunate telepod bounce or a split-second error on a jump-dash is enough to lose you that perfect ranking. And while the gold medal standards are as strict as ever, the par times for silver are too generous – if you don’t surpass bronze on your first attempt, you surely will on your second. By this stage, having likely rescued all the pods, collected all the crystals, and earned the maximum points tally (each of which gives you an XP bonus towards unlocking later levels), you’ll be forced to consider whether the gold medal is truly worth it. On a stage like Level 47, in which a silver medal performance might take you 20 minutes, you may come to feel the reward isn’t quite commensurate with the effort.
It’s testament to the high standards set by the rest of the game that these problems don’t derail it for too long. Velocity favoured substance over style, but there’s an abundance of the latter in FuturLab’s art here. With five very different areas to explore – from the verdant planet of a pacifist alien race to the Mirror’s Edge
inspired architecture of Tiracas, the paradise home of the antagonists – Velocity 2X doesn’t lack for visual variety. And while you’ll hear familiar themes in the soundtrack, you’ll struggle to find any game with better sound effects for beam weapons and shattering glass.
While a speedrun attempt never quite feels as instinctual as its forerunner, with a few too many variables to consider at any one time, Velocity 2X remains astonishingly satisfying at its core. It’s easy to get the basics wrong, but FuturLab knows that controls should be responsive, framerates should be smooth and consistent, and explosions should be large and noisy.
Velocity 2X is a game that allows you to be nimble and powerful all at once, whether it’s weaving through a hail of bullets in your ship or sprinting through a room while eradicating a swarm of insectoid foes with a barrage of three-way fire from your palm.
As a sequel, Velocity 2X is rarely short of ideas. A recurring boss has a new trick every time you meet him, while one terrific late flourish arrives just three levels before the end. If it’s a lesser game than Velocity, it’s not for a lack of effort on FuturLab’s part. That it leaves even the faintest taste of disappointment speaks volumes about the quality of the original design, and the consistently evident talent of its makers.