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A City Sleeps hands-on: This musical shoot-em-up will give you nightmares

Hayden Dingman | Sept. 3, 2014
Rock Band creator Harmonix has another new game and this time it's an ultra-hard shoot-em-up. Plus it comes out in October. We got a chance to try it out at PAX.

A City Sleeps

The words I said while playing A City Sleeps, Harmonix's new bullet-hell game, cannot and should not be reprinted, so we can make some up. "Mother-finger!" I yelled after dying ten seconds into the game. "Son of a birch beer!" I said after the boss swatted me down for the tenth time. "Bucking rod plan it!" I said as the entire screen filled with bullets for me to dodge.

I sat with Harmonix's Nick Chester near the Dance Central stage at PAX, hunched over a laptop trying not to die. And failing. And failing. And failing. And cursing. And cursing. And cursing.

"Yeah, the game gets hard really fast," was the only sympathy I got from Chester.

Holy mother of funk.


Remember Chroma, the music-based first-person shooter Harmonix announced earlier this year? In case you hadn't heard, that project is on hold--a move that, coincidentally or not, timed up with Harmonix laying off a ton of people earlier this year.

Chester says Chroma isn't gone for good--fans loved the concept, but that it required a lot more work than they initially anticipated. The fallout? A group of five people at Harmonix took some of those concepts and reworked them into a 2D side-scrolling shoot-em-up, the aforementioned A City Sleeps.

And they did it in only three or four months. The game's set to release this October.

You play as Poe, who has the power to enter people's dreams and fight off nightmares. As you might've guessed from the title, Poe's entire city has fallen into a hellish, unnatural sleep and it's up to her to wake them up. I'm hoping the concept isn't just set-dressing and we actually get some interesting Psychonauts-esque explorations of people's subconscious fears in A City Sleeps, though I didn't see much of that from my one-level demo.

A City Sleeps controls like a twin-stick shooter. The left stick flies Poe around the screen, while the right stick fires shots. Getting in close to an enemy makes it so Poe's projectile attack turns into a sword-based melee attack, charging her special move (an enormous sword that basically wipes out everything on screen). Of course, getting in close to an enemy also makes Poe more vulnerable to attack.

The catch is, of course, that the game was made by Harmonix. Music is in the company's name. Poe only shoots (or slashes) at enemies on the beat, with each shot producing a drum sound. Stop firing, and the drums stop too. Enemies function the same way--shots are timed to cascading synth notes and the like. You can see the Chroma DNA, though A City Sleeps obviously plays differently. It's more akin to Soundodger, really.


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