Survivor 115 is a challenging mouse avoider with a handsome, spare presentation from German developer Felix Reidl. You may remember him as the author of the mysterious and controversial Absolute Awesome Ball Game, winner of 2nd place in Casual Game Design Competition #4 (CGDC4). The attraction in AABG's case was the seemingly limitless layers of complexity hidden behind the simple guise of a pinball-oriented board game; and true to form, that is what makes Survivor 115 more than a mere Plain Jane game about collecting treasure and dodging bullets. It is, rather, a relatively deep and textured game about collecting treasure and getting constantly blown up.
Let's start from the beginning. There is a whisper of a plot line—some Shadowrun-esque malarkey about "dives" and "wetware"—but all you need to know is that you are controlling a little triangle with your mouse. You have two minutes to collect as many yellow squares ("data") as possible, while various gun turrets ("proactive intruder detection") try to mow you down. Whenever you start to feel overwhelmed, you should hit [Space], which instantly ends your game and adds up your score. If you don't hit the space bar in time—and this is important—you don't get any points. You have only one life, and if you die, your score is zero.
The interesting part is the way you can adjust the game's intensity on the fly. On top of the regular data squares, you can collect large circles marked with exclamation points. These will net you a significant score bonus, but they also act as booby traps, upgrading the firepower of the turret underneath for a while. A shotgun might fire a spray of four bullets rather than three, for example, or a missile launcher might switch from single missiles to clusters. If you really want to make your life difficult, try grabbing the prize that appears on the main central turret some time.
The other interesting part is that this 2-minute challenge is entirely scripted. The data squares always appear in the same patterns and sequence, and the gun turrets always turn on and off at the same time. So theoretically, you could memorize every twist and turn on the ride and come out okay in the end. If you want to compete for a higher score, however, you'll have to hit some trip-wires, which can totally scramble your game plan.
Analysis: If you're planning on playing this with a laptop touch-pad, don't. It's a bad plan. As plans go, it's up there with putting a toddler on a treadmill so it can work off some of that baby fat. You see that screenshot of your ship exploding? If you insist on playing with a touch-pad, that's your whole game right there. No, you're going to need a mouse, preferably one made of titanium, so it can survive when you chuck it through a wall. Because if you're the kind of score-hound who is willing to put serious effort into this game, you're going to spend half your time in a white hot rage.
The reasons for this are threefold. First of all: GAME REAL HARD. I am not kidding. This sonovagun is hard like the hammer of Thor. It is hard like a frozen rhinoceros wearing a vest made of bricks. Playing Survivor 115 right after any normal, reasonably pitched action game is the equivalent of having a house dropped on you in the midst of a hailstorm. You go from gritting your teeth to missing them.
Second of all, every death comes with the knowledge that you could have saved yourself, if you weren't such a greedy, grasping magpie. The space bar is an instant escape hatch, but if you're anything like me, you won't use it. Ever. You'll continue to believe you can dodge three giant lasers, a shotgun blast, and five guided missiles right up to the point when your ship scatters into a million pieces. Only then, as the remnants of your fragile, beautiful triangle avatar fade away, will you jam on the space bar like some cross-eyed, arthritic panther. Regret will fill your soul, joined shortly afterward by the irrational conviction that you can Do Better Next Time; that you can predict your own death; that your space bar hand will be quicker, smarter, stronger, prettier! Well, good luck, delusional human. This game was made for some artificial brand of future people, with photon matrix brains and cybernetic reflexes.
Third of all is a problem, one that creeps like a plague rat into too many mouse-controlled flash games. When you move the pointer outside the frame, your ship freezes in place until you restore focus. In a game like this, where a momentary lapse of control comes with an instant side order of death, that's a serious flaw. I don't know how to solve this problem exactly, but something must be done, because I nearly headbutted my monitor the 9th time it happened. If you don't see any more reviews from me, it's because I finally surrendered my impulse control and stuffed my logic board down the garbage disposal.
In most other respects, Survivor 115 is nothing but quality, an excellent example of how to tattoo fine details onto a simple play structure. It's worth playing at least once just to hear the cool soundtrack and see how everything fits together. But I write this review knowing that
some most all many of you will quit after the third time you die within 20 seconds of clicking "Start". C'est la vie. This is a unique, skillfully-mixed shot of adrenaline cocktail that just so happens to require superhuman hand-eye co-ordination. There are worse things in life.