Freakout: Calamity TV Show offers a little Smash TV, a little Hotline Miami, and an unfortunate amount of problems. It attempts to offer an addictive top-down twin-stick shooter but is it worth trudging through those issues for the gem underneath?
Freakout opens up rather unceremoniously. After clicking A, you are greeted to a simple level select, and then by clicking the first level, the only one available to you, the game starts. The controls are taught through a pretty simple tutorial that subtly works as a way of acclimating you to the story. You are being trained by a voice com that wants you to survive longer than the last guy. An evil corporation, Fizz Corp, has set up a reality TV show where people fight waves of mutants for their entertainment. After killing a few mutants and showing you know the controls, your earpiece is intercepted by someone claiming to be part of a resistance force. Having little other options, you decide to follow their commands to fight back. It’s like if someone played Smash TV and decided “what if, instead of getting cool prizes, they did something else?”.
This is a pretty good preamble to the game but the most important part of any twin-stick shooter is in the gameplay loop. Luckily, Freakout has some solid gameplay. It has a standard movement, controlled with the left stick, and you shoot with the right stick. It could end here and be pretty decent but it also adds a little something extra in its customization and powers. Canisters are randomly dropped around that affect a bar on the top left corner. This is essentially the juice needed to use powers. These come in the form of a dash ability, a spinning attack, slowing everything down, and more. The slowdown ability is a particularly cool one, feeling somewhere in between Max Payne and My Friend Pedro. It doesn’t offer invulnerability like the others but that increased difficulty is worth it for the feel of shooting mutants in slow motion. And then the level of customization is enhanced more than this. At the start of levels, you must choose your loadout, which consists of your weapon choice, a passive ability and a triggered ability. A great combo is the dual pistols, passive speed ability and the slow motion power.
None of this would be any good if the enemies weren’t satisfying to mow down. Luckily, they add a decent level of strategy whilst still allowing you to mindlessly slaughter them all. You start with a basic unit that swings at you to kill you. They don’t have any ranged ability and take you down in numbers alone. This isn’t all Freakout offers though and there is also a “big daddy” unit who takes more damage and fires projectiles at random when attacked, a chicken who moves erratically to disturb your sense of strategy, a bomber who blows themself up when killed or close enough, a Spartan-style unit with accompanying spear and shield and a few more. They all work well to constantly change up the way you play. It often pays off to hold out areas until they are overrun then run away to another vantage point. The most important rule is to stay vigilant of every angle, something Freakout practically promotes through its design.
Freakout: Calamity TV Show also heavily involves the use of Boss fights – a singular, strong unit used to change up the way you structure your gameplay. These involve multiple angry trains, a big man with a TV on his head and walls slowly attempting to crush you. Some of these are noticeably worse than others, but at their strongest they are pretty great. One particularly strong boss is a weaponised helicopter that quickly devolves into what is essentially bullet-hell combat. This paired with the slowdown power-up is perhaps one of the greatest moments in the entirety of Freakout. Not every boss is this strong however and some of them over-rely on game cliches, whilst others are just a little bit dull in contrast to how they could have been made. It doesn’t help that whilst the gameplay, for the most part, is rather solid there is a definitely floaty feel to the movement. I would liken this to Dead Ops Arcade from Black Ops 1 – enemies and characters have a lack of weight to their actions which sometimes lessens a bit of the punch made on a tough boss or group of enemies.
This naturally brings us on to the issues Freakout has. It is not a majorly stable title and you’ll find that it features a multitude of glitches requiring a restart, or those which will just leave you ending in a little bit of frustration. In fact, through my time with Freakout on Xbox One every single boss battle had to be restarted as the level and character would load but the boss and dialogue would not. This let me wander around a barren battlefield until I restarted or fell through the floor.
The issue of falling through floors has been prevalent with enemies too. Occasionally an enemy would appear slightly off-screen so they could be seen but not killed, halting progression. Unfortunately, Freakout does not have a restart button but this could be circumnavigated by changing equipment, forcing the level to start again. Levels in themself aren’t majorly long though, opting instead for a handful of rounds before moving on. This means that, whilst repeating or restarting levels is annoying, it doesn’t really deter from playing on.
From my time with Freakout: Calamity TV Show on Xbox One, there has been a multitude of issues that required restarting levels, but the general gameplay structure is interesting enough to account for it. The gameplay itself is solid, and this could be a fantastic title if it had just a little bit more care put into it.