Physics is fun. I know this because, when I was 15, my friend and I smashed a bunch of old furniture with a big-ass rock. It was great, I felt like Godzilla. Or maybe King Kong, since Godzilla, with his tiny arms, wouldn’t be very good at throwing rocks. Whatever, that’s not important. What is important is this: Hammerfight taps into that same part of my brain and I like it because I like smashing things with rocks.
In Hammerfight, you fly around in a barrel-shaped helicopter with a rock tied to it and try to smash things with said rock. The barrel-copter’s movements are tied directly to the movements of your mouse. Swirl the mouse around in tight circles and centripetal force gets the rock moving. It’s a very instinctual method of control that makes each successful strike extremely thrilling and (if you’re me) you spend a lot of time flailing around wildly. It’s a simple correlation, but I can’t think of anyone else that’s done it and it’s hell of a lot of fun.
Rocks on chains are all well and good, but Hammerfight offers a huge variety of weapons to attach to your barrel-copter. There are swords, maces, hammers, axes, pick axes and guns, all of which have different advantages and disadvantages. Flails and maces do tons of damage to exposed enemies, but have a fairly small impact zone. Swords are effect against enemy shields and are easier to score hits with, but they have a very short range. Weapon size also plays into your pre-game strategy—large, high damage weapons have more momentum and make your ship more difficult to control. The barrel-copters can equip any two weapons, so to succeed in battle you need to experiment and pick combinations that are both effective against the enemy type you’re fighting and accentuate your strengths as a player.
There are also an enormous amount of accessories that attach to your ship, but these are war trophies automatically determined by the game’s plot. And that’s where Hammerfight starts to go off the rails, in a good way. It offers branching paths and a fucking wild and bewildering story of vengeance and a struggle for control of a powerful empire. It’s inscrutable and nonsensical, like a JRPG, but it’s way more MANLY, because there is much talk of warrior’s spirits and the purity of battle. The story vignettes are overwrought and the dialog is bad in an entertaining way (“Danger and valor are closely related. To arm!”). It’s a little like watching Conan the Barbarian, though none of the villains have a name as cool as Thusla Doom.
The vastness of Hammerfight’s fictitious empire can be gleaned from the diversity of the character’s clothing and weapons. There are dudes in Arabian robes, others in the purple togas of ancient Rome and even a tribe of warriors clearly fashioned after the Aztecs. After certain battles, your character gains a vaguely Arabian sounding title, like Grush-Ash-Sharif. There are otherworldly creations as well, such as flying maggots that are outfitted with armor and used as zeppelins (seriously). It’s a mishmash of warrior cliches and steam punk, but it clearly illustrates the culture’s focus on glorious battle. The most efficient and manly things are kept, everything else is discarded. In fact, I don’t remember meeting any women in the game. Maybe the world of Hammefight has simply evolved beyond the need for two sexes and the people are hermaphroditic, like snails.
A word of warning though, the game’s developer, Konstantin Koshutin, is Russian and Hammerfight shares the harshness and steep learning curve of other eastern European games, like Stalker and Cryostasis. It can be frustrating at times, since the unique control scheme takes a lot of time to master and some early battles take place against multiple enemies in small arenas. Those battles can feel impossible, especially with all the visual noise of the kinda crummy HUD, the barrel-copter war banners and hunks of exploded enemies flying around. With proper weapon choices and a lot of practice, you will overcome those obstacles, but the challenge can be brutal. After three failed attempts, the game will offer to allow you skip a stage for all your money, which is a tough but fair concession for anyone that really gets hung up. Oh, and if you come to a branch in the story’s path that’s labeled HARD, you should expect to have your dick punched. Don’t pick those paths the first time through the game, because you will fail.
So yeah, it’s hard and a little cluttered, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s a mere test of my manliness. Either you can hang in a world of hermaphroditic barrel-copter warriors or you can’t. Honestly, I’d only change two things about the game. It needs a higher resolution mode, because that would alleviate some of the clutter. A small indie developer like Konstantin Koshutin gets a pass on that one, but I really hate that my only options on my 1680×1050 monitor are a tiny windowed mode and a stretched, ugly full screen mode. The other thing is the title. It’s fantastic, but it needs an exclamation point. You aren’t just fighting with hammers, it’s a fucking HAMMERFIGHT!
- System: PC
- Released: 2009
- Developer: Konstantin Koshutin
- Publisher: Kranx Productions
- Try the demo, or buy it for $10 on Steam