Reviews - Updated on April 8, 2022

“Ha-ha-ha-ha! Burn! Burn! Burn! Physics is driving! ” – This joyful exclamation ended the episode of the Internet series “Freeman’s Mind”, where Gordon burned the tentacles of an alien monster by dousing them with rocket fuel. The Half-Life series, the main game promoter of physics, has died out, but its business lives on: in almost all modern shooters, the physics engine plays an important role. This fall, Noita, a physics-based rogue-lite, was released in Steam Early Access on Steam. The very next day after the launch, the game soared to the top sales of the store. According to SteamSpy, at least 100 thousand people bought it in a month. Physics still rules.

Applied Mechanics vs. Cascade Resonance

Computers and physics have a long history of relationship. The very first computer, the Z3, was used for aerodynamic calculations, and the first supercomputers for simulating nuclear explosions. Most of the then programmers were trained as physicists, and this was reflected, among other things, in the entertainment they created: already in Spacewar!, one of the first games in the world, stars had gravity, and spaceships had inertia.

In the 80s and 90s, when the world was raving about “virtual realities” and “immersive spaces”, it was assumed that one of their components would someday be a simulation of the real interaction of objects. The power of computers, however, then obviously did not keep pace with the fantasies of programmers, so the implementation of ambitious ideas had to be postponed indefinitely. Game objects are still endowed with physical models selectively – only in those cases where it is required for special effects, realism or puzzles.

Puzzles are just one of the genres where physics has been used. Simulating the interaction of objects is the basis for a number of exciting tasks: for example, building rickety structures (Bridge Constructor) and destroying them (Angry Birds), space flight (Kerbal Space Program) and Rube Goldberg machines (Crazy Machines). Among the puzzles based on physics, Crayon Physics Deluxe stands out in particular – there objects that the player draws interact with each other.

One of the basic tasks in Crayon Physics Deluxe is to catapult the ball so that it reaches the star. This can be done in a thousand different ways, and at the beginning the game warns: “It’s not enough to find a solution that just works – look for the coolest.”

Potential difference

Crayon Physics Deluxe was created by Finnish developer Petri Purho. The game sold well, and he moved on to a more ambitious vision: his new big project takes place in a two-dimensional world, where each pixel is physically simulated individually. This time, Petri had to assemble a team – he founded the Nolla Games studio, which was joined by Olli Harjola, one of the authors of The Swapper, and Arvi Teikari, game designer of Environmental Station Alpha and Baba is You.

Of course, the task of simulating individual pixels was of interest not only to Petri. For example, not so long ago The Powder Toy was released, which, however, bears little resemblance to a game – rather, to Microsoft Paint with an integrated physics engine. The engine, albeit innovative, is only half the battle; great technology needs equally great designers to unleash its potential. Fortunately for us, the Finns from Nolla coped with both tasks excellently.

Noita demonstrates the capabilities of its engine right away. At the very beginning of the game, there is a cart that, if kicked, will fly head over heels down. But if you make a few shots at it before that, then its physical model will change, and it will move along a completely different trajectory, if at all.

We went to the blue sea, lit the blue sea

Noita means “witch” in Finnish. Wrapped in a cloak and covering her face with a hood, she stands in front of the entrance to an abandoned mine, in the depths of which there is a mechanism that can turn the whole world into gold. Why she would do this is unknown: Noita is stingy with words, and the plot in it, as in the films of Michael Bay, is far from being in the foreground. The most important component of the game is its physics engine, and there is no better demonstration of its capabilities than fires and explosions.

Barrels of dynamite are scattered throughout the dungeons. Mountains of coal are scattered here and there, puddles of oil are spilled next to them – both of them burn beautifully. The path of the witch is illuminated by unextinguished kerosene lamps – a couple of shots from a magic wand, and the lamps break and fly down, spilling fuel that sets fire to the wooden supports. Every second something on the screen burns and explodes; the main pyromaniac is the witch herself, but her opponents seem only too happy to fan the fire.

Out of the fire and into the frying pan – having set one fire, I almost became a victim of the second.

We make fire for a reason – burning lamps need to be dropped on enemies. There are a great many of them here: in the mine, the witch is attacked by ghouls who have lost their human form, zombie miners with shotguns and flying green slugs spitting acid. As you move down, abandoned deposits give way to ice caves, where armed goblins and mechanical turrets hunt the witch. Caves give way to even more dangerous underground jungles and so on.

An elderberry wand will bring you to trouble

The main weapon of a witch is her magic wands. At first there are two of them: one works on the principle of a pistol, the other resembles a grenade launcher. Others can be found in the dungeons, and in the Sacred Mountain – the buffer zone where the witch enters after passing through each biome – both the wands themselves and the shells for them are sold.

One of the most destructive projectiles is called the “black gigadyra”. This game does not suffer from excessive modesty.

The weapon customization system is extremely flexible. Each wand has several unchangeable parameters – rate of fire, reload time, projectile angle, and so on. The projectiles themselves and their modifiers can be placed in any order by removing them from one stick and inserting them into another. You can, for example, add an acid trail to grenades and combine them with a rain generator. You can give fireballs auto-targeting and teleport to their place. You can alternate launching vials of holy water, circular saw blades and nuclear warheads – however, in this way you will surely kill yourself quickly.

There are two restrictions: the number of slots for wands is limited, and launching each projectile costs mana. Its total amount also depends on the wand – in order to use the most powerful abilities, you will first have to acquire a weapon worthy of them.

After passing each biome, the witch can choose a perk for herself. One of them is called “Glass Cannon” – it, among other things, increases the damage and radius of destruction of grenades by five times.

blood sauna

As versatile and effective as wands are, it’s still more fun to kill monsters with the help of surrounding objects. You can kick carts on them. You can drop fragments of giant icicles on them. You can look for puddles of acid and drill holes in the ground so that the poisonous liquid pours out on unsuspecting enemies. You can lure them into lakes of oil or whiskey (yes, there are lakes of whiskey in this game!) and host Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood. You can blow up the approaches to the sea of ​​lava so that it overflows its banks and the streams of boiling liquid boil alive everyone who gets in their way. You can arm yourself with fire projectiles and break ice under enemies – it will instantly turn into steam and rise to the ceiling of the dungeon, but over time it will cool and settle.

The Noita engine processes each pixel individually – thanks to it, the behavior of loose bodies and liquids is implemented in the game. It cannot be called truly realistic (for example, water splashes are rather conditional here), but an incomplete simulation is enough for the purposes of the game. Arranging countless explosions, you feel like an omnipotent scientist, able to build rockets and turn rivers back.

Nature, however, always strikes back, and these same rivers kill the hapless witch as easily as they kill those she seeks to drown. Falling into lava is deadly, you can suffocate in water, and acid, if it hits the body, deals periodic damage. However, it can be washed off with any other liquid – for example, the blood of dead enemies. In its attitude to death, Noita is as brutal as Finnish death metal.

There is a perk in the game called Teleportitis – by taking it, the witch becomes more tenacious, but every time she takes damage, she moves to a different place. It is necessary to carelessly step into the acid, and the game will turn into chaos – if the random number generator does not throw the witch into the reservoir, death is guaranteed.

Get up, witch! It’s time to burn this world

The game periodically releases patches, and many of them simplify certain of its components, but Noita nevertheless remains difficult to pass. The player’s main enemy is his own mortido; in second place are the enemies that the witch has to shoot in huge numbers. Some of them greatly outnumber the heroine in size and survivability. The difficulty of a single run in Noita, as in other rogue-lites, is strongly influenced by randomness, but going down the mine will never be an easy walk.

However, it is not necessary to go down there. You can go, for example, in the opposite direction – there is a scroll with the inscription: “Self-sacrifice in the pursuit of knowledge is the highest offering to the gods”. Take this text as a guide to action: the inhospitable world of the game is much larger than it seems, and hides a huge number of secrets. Armed with cheat codes, researchers are still discovering hidden places and tablets with plot information on the map. Don’t ignore them, even if you don’t care about history: they can be thrown at enemies.

Noita is often compared to Terraria, and their similarities don’t stop at looks: for example, they both have gigantic carnivorous worms that neither gravity nor walls can contain.

***

On the game page on Steam, its authors write that all key mechanics have already been implemented, and early access is needed to find bugs (I met only one), balance changes and collect feedback. A full release is scheduled for 2020, but putting Noita “Amazing” itchy hands right now is a unique game that I am ready to recommend to everyone and everyone. The industry has not yet seen anything like it and will not see it for a long time – at least until the release of Teardown, which promises to transfer the festival of destruction of everything and everything to a three-dimensional world with voxels and ray tracing.

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