I’d be lying if I said that my best experiences with the PlayStation 4 have come from the huge blockbuster titles that are being paraded around to try and sell the system. They’re nice, in their own way, but I’ve spent most of my PS4 time with the indie lineup and, to be honest, I don’t regret that choice at all. My first game this generation ended up being XGen Studio’s Super Motherload and, to be frank, I hope that it’s set the tone of what’s to come.
Super Motherload (PlayStation 4)
Developed by XGen Studios – Published by XGen Studios
Super Motherload offers a simple premise: you’re a prospector hired by the Solarus Corporation to mine the deep underground expanses of Mars and restore communications with existing operations, which have mysteriously gone silent. As you dig through layers of earth, you start to uncover more than just minerals as the story unfolds through a series of radio transmissions, hinting at sinister dealings deep below the planet’s surface. The story is fun a mix of campy B-movie sci-fi with Cold War themes that manages to be endearing without being overbearing and offers more narrative than you’d expect from the game, even going so far as to feature multiple endings.
While the story is definitely a pleasant surprise, the real draw to Super Motherload is the gameplay. Admittedly, it’s also a very make-or-break factor, as mining isn’t the most interesting work. You pilot your drill beneath the surface, load up on minerals, and then return to base to sell and refuel. Strategy comes into play as you chain together mineral types or pick up certain minerals in order to smelt more valuable ones. The procedurally generated planet will also throw puzzles at you, requiring you to think of how you’ll need to dig in order to reach minerals, sometimes requiring very particular placement of the game’s five bombs to clear paths without destroying precious resources.
Digging can be slow going work, but it’s simple gameplay that can become highly addictive. Even with an upgraded drill, you can still challenge yourself by trying to get every procedurally generated mineral, should you be daring enough. Those wanting to take the gameplay to the next level can play hardcore mode, which adds permanent death to prospectors that run out of health or fuel on a dig, requiring you to send a new character down to brave the depths of Mars with each failure. There’s also a local co-op mode that lets up to four players prospect the Red Planet while sharing fuel and balancing personal greed against the greater good.
If you were curious as to what the “Super” in Super Motherload meant, the answer is that it refers to the game being an upgraded version of the Flash title Motherload, also developed by XGen Studios. While the gameplay has seen a hefty upgrade, the new visuals are the most striking difference, as the game looks markedly modern and is a much more polished product than the phrase “upgraded Flash game” makes you think. It’s not necessarily something we couldn’t have seen last generation (in fact, PC and PlayStation 3 versions are in the works), but it definitely looks the part of a modern game.
Both my favorite and least favorite aspects of the game end up being related to the sound. The effects are great and the voice acting is above and beyond the quality you’d expect from a game with a B-movie vibe. By far, though, the soundtrack is the star of the package. It’s an amazing tracklist full of catchy tunes that grabs you the moment you start the game. The only problem is that sometimes the soundtrack lets you go. There are moments where the music will stop playing and sometimes it seems intentional, that the music has been toned down to build tension, but other times it just seems to stop until you reload your save. It’s a double-edged sword: because the soundtrack stands out so much and is so gripping, its absence becomes all the more noticeable and unwelcome on long digs away from home.
Sony made it very clear at E3 this year that they wanted the PlayStation 4 to be the premier console for indie developers this generation and the system’s launch is reflecting that philosophy, offering a solid mix of titles both old and new. Retail releases may seem sparse, but with indies able to self-publish, the PS4 could keep a strong momentum with digital titles. Honestly, I’d be absolutely fine with that, as Super Motherload has shown that you don’t need a huge budget or first-party backing to become one of the best games on a system. It’s something I can honestly see myself playing, if only for an hour a day, for months to come.