The saying goes that “you only get one chance to make a first impression”. Unfortunately Otterman Empire, the debut game from Manchester based indie developer Tri-Heart Interactive, leaves an atrocious first impression. When you first boot up the game you’re treated to a tutorial which is utterly broken. The on screen instructions don’t match up with the criteria needed to move on to the next step and eventually the text on screen starts to overlap until you’re not entirely sure what you’re supposed to be doing. Once you’ve managed to muddle through by pressing random buttons until something works you arrive at a scene setting battle between the face of the game Astrid and the nefarious villain Tiko. Because the tutorial taught you next to nothing, this fight is over in 2 minutes and you’re sent back to the main menu with the message “You’ll need to bring some friends to defeat Tiko” or something like that.
Thankfully, the rest of Otterman Empire is better than the first impression would lead you to believe. An objective based 3D arena shooter that borrows a page from Splatoon, there’s some fun to be had beyond the tutorial.
Otterman Empire’s campaign can be played in solo or 4 player split screen co-op. Set across 8 maps, each with 3 different missions to complete on them, the idea is to win points by defeating turrets, drones or tanks while completing objectives. Earn enough points and you’ll unlock stars with 3 available per mission. These stars limit progress, preventing the player from moving onto new levels until you’ve earned enough of them. Each map has a theme and is associated with one of the 8 hero characters in the game. As each mission begins, you’re treated to a short cut scene which describes the objective and shows off Tiko’s nefarious plan you’re out to thwart.
A colourful and charming over-the-shoulder third person shooter, Otterman Empire will be instantly familiar to anyone who’s played any other game from the genre. The cast of characters, all space otters, astrological marine life or water loving animals like bears or turtles, have their own unique primary weapons and a jetpack which can zip them around the map. The jetpack essentially extends a jump and slows decent. Combined with a dash – double tap on the jump button – and you can leap from one side of a map tot he other. The weaponry they wield determines the way each character should be played. A crocodile with a flying boxing glove does massive damage but at short range. A water vole that wears a colander on its head has a long range rifle that does a lot of damage but takes a little time to reload. A fish in a space suit has a rapid fire mini-gun strapped to its arm that fires quickly and for as long as you keep your finger down but a single shot doesn’t do a lot of damage. Because each character is supposed to have strengths and weaknesses, it’s supposed to change the way you play the game – only the balancing is off and some characters are vastly better than the others . The turtle is simply the best. Packing a shotgun that can clear just short of half of a level and can destroy a tank in a third of the time it takes any other character, the hero in a half shell feels like the Oddjob of Otterman Empire. My kids picked this up quickly and there were races to see who could choose him first. Using this character made very quick work of the single player content too.
No matter what character you choose, their weaponry and jetpack is powered by water and it’s here that the Splatoon influence shines through. On each of Otterman Empire’s maps there are small streams of water. A gauge at the bottom of the screen indicates how much water you have in your jetpack and for your weapon, working like ammunition. To refill these meters, you have to head to the streams and press X to submerge yourself in them. Doing so refills your tanks and once you’ve resurfaced you can fire and fly away at will. At least until the gauge is empty again. Finding these bodies of water on some of the levels can be a challenge, specifically on the ice level when the blue floors look identical to the blue waterways.
Each of the 24 campaign missions in Otterman Empire asks you to unravel Tiko’s plan with window dressing like “Destroy Tiko’s lasers by dashing through them”, “repair the robots by standing next to them for long enough”, “destroy bombers and the bombs they drop” and more. While each mission is built up differently, they’re all subtle twists on a small pool of game play types. They’re all “Shoot this”, “Go to the way point marker and do something” or “Pick this up and take it here”. There’s only 2 types of mission that feel at all unique and they’re the boss battles and a basketball style task. Both of these missions task you to collect bombs and then to use the jetpack to fly upwards then fall through flying rings, blowing up the explosive. These are by far and away the most enjoyable activities in the Otterman Empire campaign because they offer up something of a challenge while still being achievable.
The majority of the other missions are either simplistic, overtly easy or frustratingly difficult. One mission type – destroying lasers by dashing through a ring on a pole – is initially quite fun and my kids really enjoyed it. By the end of the game, this same mission type had evolved so that the hoops would spin in place. Dashing isn’t an accurate or exact science in this game so this added level of complexity to the hoops meant it became almost impossible for my kids to do.
There’s a general lack of polish in Otterman Empire outside of the tutorial too. Visual effects, like a circular multi-coloured area that indicates where to stand to earn a point, can stop your projectiles. After you’ve died, the game can respawn you right in the path of a level specific threat which can kill you or sap most of your health almost instantly. Despite having enough stars to open the next level, the game presented the image of a padlock over the next level screen (this cleared after I quit to the main menu and reloaded the campaign). The way point markers have simply not appeared during some missions, forcing a restart. When playing as villain Tiko, he simply stops moving when running up some ramps, like he’s got snagged on the level.
The Versus mode, played by 2-4 players, saves Otterman Empire from being utterly mundane. Played in teams of 1 or 2 you complete the same activities you do in the campaign but rather than co-operating to earn enough points for stars, you’re competing against one another to earn the most points. It’s here, where everyone is blasting one another while trying to survive the map’s turrets and trying to capture a zone, does this game really come into its own. It’s fast and frantic with players zipping up and down the maps but because of the objective focused nature of the game, the play is still focused. With enough maps and aesthetically customisable characters thanks to unlocks, there’s fun to be had here for a few hours. Maybe more.
A colourful third person party shooter with adorable aquatic characters, Otterman Empire is rough around the edges with a tutorial that does more harm than good. The single player and co-op game play flits between fun and pedestrian while the Versus mode might as well be the games saving grace. A decent multiplayer mode that’ll have you laughing at a party or with family, it’s the best part of Otterman Empire by a long way. It’s just a shame that a lot of small issues sour the rest of the experience.
Otterman Empire is available now on PC, Nintendo Switch and Xbox One (review version).
Developer: Tri-Heart Interactive
Publisher: Tri-Heart Interactive
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.