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N2O: Nitrous Oxide (PlayStation) artwork

N2O: Nitrous Oxide (PlayStation) review

"Balance. In the end, that is what it is all about. Nothing more, nothing less, than balance. "

Balance. In the end, that is what it is all about. Nothing more, nothing less, than balance.

The balance between mere survival and selective genocide. The balance between reflexes and premeditated response. The balance between living, and living well.

You can shoot that beetle, and that'll be the end of it. You can also not shoot that beetle, and you'll see it again in a minute. Only this time he'll be a bit nastier. Of course, to make up for this, he is also worth twice the points. And, he may not add to your score multiplier until he has mutated. Let him mutate again, and he gets even nastier. Worth more points now, only now there are 3 types of beetle, and that multiplier is getting harder to maintain. Do you shoot on sight, or rack up the points?

Such concerns lie at the very heart of N2O. All the time, you are forced to choose between safety, and style. The temptation is to blast at every thing in sight. And, that is an admirable strategy. A strategy that will keep you alive. Survival is a major part of this game. Survival is an official ''Good Thing''(tm).

Only, there is surviving, and then there is living. A survivor kills everything as soon as he can. To survive is to do the bare minimum you have to do. To live is to shoot only the blue beetles, which are worth more points. Sure, the blue beetles shoot back, that is what makes them worth more. And, because you shoot only the same insect, the score multiplier keeps on getting bigger. To put it in simple terms: Risk = Reward.

So, why are you shooting beetles anyway? Well, because mankind is at war, and you are a tunnel runner. It is your job to get injected into the hatching grounds of the insects in order to destroy them at their source; the gas-filled tunnels that the game is set in. This minimalist plot exists purely to set up the gameplay. This game has no real need of a plot. You enter a tunnel, and loop round it until it is cleared of all enemies. Repeat this in ever more complex tunnels. That is all the story you need, and all the story you ask for.

Shoot an insect, and it burns off a little of the gas. Now that the atmosphere is slightly less dense, you move a little bit faster. Every insect you shoot speeds you up a little. If an insect gets past you, it mutates into a nastier version of the insect. This version is worth more points. Sometimes a dead insect can respawn if you let its corpse get past you. You truly can not let up for even a second. By the end of even the first tunnel, you are feeling an adrenaline rush, and possibly a little motion sickness. By the end of the game, you are feeling exhausted. And more than a little elated. As you speed up, you get less and less time to focus on which enemy to shoot. And, it's not just beetles. Instead you shoot beetles, spiders, ladybirds, bees, basically whichever insect is in your way. Each insect has it's own special kind of attack pattern, and shooting them in certain ways offers bonuses. Collect enough bonuses, and play the bonus levels. Bonus levels are where this game's speed can get to literally eye-burning levels. All of this is done for superficial story reasons. But, all that REALLY matters is the score. To score high you need to learn to ignore the neon-tinged graphics in front of you, and concentrate on the killing of many things extremely quickly.

It would be trite to complain about such a lack of reason to kill bugs. You see, they are BUGS. Humans kill bugs; this is an instinct we are born with. In much the same way you never felt sorry for the cranefly when you removed it's legs, you never feel sorry for the baby spider when you run it into the ground for an extra 1,000 points. All you feel is the rush as you hear the satisfying squish sound. Not that the sound is anything special. Spot effects can be best described as 'adequate'. But, they are not noticed. Who could possibly pay attention to spot effects when your eyes are being assaulted by bright colourful beasties, and your ears are being held hostage by a phenomenal soundtrack courtesy of The Crystal Method? This is not your standard banal rock fare. This is instead banging techno of the highest order. The music really is more than merely fitting, it is quite essential. This complete and utter relentless attack on your senses has the effect of rendering you into a trance state. This is a complete festival of old-school gameplay. The only word that really fits is .... retrogasm!

See, a shooter is about a mindset. The idea is to become engrossed, become absorbed, become one with the controller. To lose all conscious thought, and live firmly in the instant. To get 'in the zone' as they call it, and to not so much think about the game, but to just twitch your way through. In this respect, N2O outclasses almost every other shooter out there. The speed is unmatched. The learning curve is nigh on perfect. The control is responsive. The graphics are impressive. The music is simply astonishing. The thrill is both undeniable, and without equal.

As shooters go, this is a vastly underrated classic. I'm not sure why, but there really seems to be a shortage of people who even know this game exists. It is really odd, because there are elements of some of the finest games of the genre mixed together here. Mention to people that this game can best be described as a cross between Tempest and Radiant Silvergun, and watch them race to get hold of it. Tell them that it has a spectacular 2 player game as well, and watch them salivate at the mouth. Tell them that by the end of it they may well feel as if their eyes have been bleeding, and that their thumb will be blistered, and they might just explode right in front of you. And while that might be cool ..... won't score you any points.

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Featured community review by cheekylee (June 22, 2004)

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