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Review: God Won't Bless America
PRESENTATION: Let me just state this right up front: this game was made to piss off a lot of people, while leaving others snickering in spitefulness. It's another one of those "love it or hate it" pop-culture games disguised as a flashy indie shoot-em-up with solid graphics and music, and an overwhelmingly anti-American theme.
Fortunately for me (and for the content of this review), I am quite fond of the game despite its thematic content, and as opposed to many who might scoff at a game where you shoot a portrait of Jesus as it launches lethal blasts of energy at you, destroy the World Trade Towers a second time, and finally gun down Air Force One...Well, let's just say I was right at home.
GAMEPLAY: Another thing I must state right up front...GWBA fails to offer a responsive movement control engine: something I typically consider essential for any quality shmup. You'll find yourself cursing at the computer as your alien ship sluggishly lopes around the game field, running into the constant spray of bullets flying all around you.
The theme of the game saves this category, along with the innovative and creative boss/end-of-level challenge designs. Players will want to make their way to the end of each level and forge on, if only to see what the next outrageous boss is going to be...or better yet, how to beat it. Another welcome change is in the final stage, where you race through the subterranean landscape in first-person view. It's an exciting climax to a challenging (and sometimes truly frustrating) game experience.
GRAPHICS: A surefire sign that this is an indie game effort: non-functioning display options. Windowed mode works fine; but I was relieved when I checked the comments section of GWBA's download page and found several other users who were having trouble with the full-screen mode of the game. Although the author mentioned that he's found a fix for the issue, I have yet to make it display properly. It's a comfort to know that the author is still working to solve this display issue, but in the meantime play the game in Windowed mode, activate the Lighting and Shader options that are available if you have a graphics card that supports them, and prepare to be dazzled.
Particle effects, 3D rendered objects, and gorgeous textures abound in this game, and if you're turned off by the subject matter you can always focus on the artistic effort that has gone into making this game. Although each stage seems to take place in one long, straight, underground tunnel, you'll find tons of enemy ships to blast before you're knocked out by an incoming, comet-like cannon blast. You'll also appreciate the minute detail that has gone into key set pieces of the game at significant points...The detail of the McDonald's sign, or the metal framework supporting the "Hollywood" signs.
The menu screens and other graphics are another "love it or hate it" affair, with photoshopped portraits of Uncle Sam with alien eyes and other such goofiness. Your mileage may vary with these little touches of the author's humour.
MUSIC & SOUND: There are two significant music tracks in the game, as well as an evocative introductory sound collage featuring marching band music and a voice-over segment by former US President George W. Bush. As it's possible to make it through the game in a single sitting, you'll tolerate the background music well enough.
I really enjoyed the sound effects in this game; there's a satisfying POP of explosion when the player hits an enemy ship with their powered-up laser in the later stages, and when the tanks explode and careen through the air towards you, you'll have heard it as well as seen it. Nice job with this category.
LASTABILITY: I'm not completely sold on this game, to be honest. I love the theme and subject matter, and I adore shmups, but this game is so damn difficult...! On the one hand stubborn players who appreciate a challenge will stick with it and be rewarded with a satisfying challenge. But as a veteran shmup fan, I was dismayed that I have yet to beat Stage 1 on the Normal difficulty level. Even worse, I was only able to beat the game so far in the "Very Easy" game mode...
With future play-throughs, I just might be able to beat the game on "Normal." I just might. But why bother slogging through that when there's no indication that there's more to the game? I don't see any unlockable content, and nothing is mentioned in the sparse documentation regarding incentives for completing the game at the various difficulty levels.
The game is best served to those who thirst for a true challenge of their shoot-em-up skills. If you think you can handle the heat, then there's a seat in this kitchen for you, so to speak. Others will walk away, frustrated with the knowledge that they like the humour, but can't go further because the game is so unforgiving.
OVERALL: Because I like this game, I'll most likely be branded a jerk. Too many sacred cows are slaughtered in this shoot-em-up, along with some game control slip-ups. This is normally a recipe for disaster, but the game is graphically appealing, and can be appreciated by anti-authoritarians and history buffs alike for its confrontational and satirical tone.
Devotees to fringe politics and dauntingly difficult shoot-em-ups will flock to this game...unfortunately, that seems to be too exclusive an audience to merit a broad appeal for God Won't Bless America. But then again, I have a feeling the author is sitting back in their chair, chuckling to themselves with satisfaction at creating such an elaborate joke, no matter how small their appreciative audience might be.
Have fun blowing up the USA. I sure did.
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