Bears in Space Review – Spaceballs Meets Serious Sam

Bears in Space Review - Spaceballs Meets Serious Sam

It is easy to become jaded when writing about video games. There is a constant bombardment of PR that is trying to convince me to write about and say nice things about the dozens of games released every day. As a result, certain things stand out in PR emails that act as warnings, key phrases that immediately make me think “This isn’t going to be very good.” For example, “Labour of love” or “small development team has spent X many years as on the side developing” are immediate red flags indicating things aren’t going to be great. Bears in Space, included both of these phrases in its press releases so I was immediately concerned. But, as always, there is an exception that proves the rule, because Bears in Space is a whole lot of fun. 

bears in space

For those that have perhaps missed the insane trailers, silly tweets and the excellent showing at PAX AUS, Bears in Space is a fast-paced FPS that focuses on an aging space captain who is somehow fused with a sentient bear. Thrust into adventure, this weird hybrid character just wants to get back to earth and will kill any and all robots in their way to do so. Look, this story simply exists to give the developers a chance to throw a whole bunch of jokes at the player. It is relentless. There are stabs at pop culture (The Limp Bizket one was a highlight) constant one-liners and a running commentary from the bear side of the main character keep the yuks coming thick and fast. It is very much like one of Mel Brooks’ lesser movies like Dracula: Dead and Loving it. I don’t say that to disparage the game in any way, but there is a lot of throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks. The hit rate is pretty solid and for every misfire, a joke lands perfectly on target. 

Predominantly, the gameplay consists of the twitch FPS shooting you would expect from a Serious Sam game. Hordes and hordes of enemies in giant open locations broken up by some light exploring and surprisingly competent platforming. The shooting is bang on point, with the game controlling fantastically. Due to the pace of the game, a mouse and keyboard are easily the best way to play, but it does work well on a controller. I played almost equal parts on my PC and my ROG Ally and while the Ally made some of the bigger, more chaotic battles tougher, it was still a solid way to play, so don’t stress too much if a controller is your only option.

bears in space
bears in space

As I said previously, the platforming deserves special mention. There are a host of platforming sections in the game, some built around puzzles, some that take players to secrets and others that are just a part of getting from A to B. FPS platforming can be a tricky thing to get right but Bears in Space nails it. The puzzles in particular are quite satisfying and once a few of the gadgets, like the magnetic grappling hook turn up, things get really entertaining. It is a huge sign of just how talented the developers are when they can get the sort of thing right that big AAA productions often struggle with. 

Bears in Space also includes a number of fantastic boss battles that feel like they are perfectly balanced as far as difficulty is concerned. They all use the grand video game tradition of memorising patterns and dodging attacks while blasting away, but there is more than enough variety and challenge to keep players entertained and not frustrated by these battles. Once again this is an area that AAA games can struggle with, but three guys from Aus managed to nail. Credit where well-deserved credit is due. 

Sadly though, things aren’t as exciting when it comes to the general enemies running around. It is all very, similar with the robots all looking like variations of 1950s toys. I get that this was intentional and added to the B-grade sci/fi schtick the game is going for, but after a little while all the enemies seem to blend together and the lack of variety really comes to the fore. The same can be said of the backgrounds and environments, with many of them feeling similar there is often little to distinguish one level from the next. Of course, all of this comes down to budget and resources, I have no doubt, but it is worth mentioning. 

What does break up the somewhat generic levels is the range of secrets and mini-games that populate the game. From Time Crisis clones to a version of Whack-a-mole, Bears in Space is absolutely littered with little side activities and silly secrets that feel like the perfect break between the action. They always seem to appear at the right moment, just when the gameplay is starting to get a little monotonous, refreshing the player for the continued onslaught ahead. 

bears in space

Finally, I need to talk about the weapons. There are 20 odd weapons in the game ranging from space variations of classic FPS guns like a shotgun or assault rifle, to insane (yet surprisingly useful) weapons like a spinning top cap or a bouncing cube. As the game progresses the weapons move more and more in the direction of the absurd so there was a real hook in pushing forward to see just what sort of insane death-dealing implement was next. All of the weapons can be upgraded too. All players need to do is use a weapon and it will eventually upgrade with added damage, extra bullets and a range of other benefits. It is a great system that keeps even the early-game weapons useful for the entirety of the game. 

Bears in Space is not a groundbreaking masterpiece. It isn’t going to rewrite the rules of indie releases and it isn’t going to be thought of in the same breath as games like Braid or Limbo. It is however going to give players an honestly good time with tight FPS gameplay, an absurd sense of humour and some genuinely fantastic platforming. It really comes across as the aforementioned “labour of love” and exudes the sense that the developers are a genuine group of mates who had a blast building a ridiculous game together. So while this may not be a Game of the Year contender, Bears in Space is a game that always remembers a simple truism, silly fun is something the world could use more of. 

Bears in space

Bears in Space was reviewed on the PC with code kindly supplied by the publisher.

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