Review – Production Panic

Production Panic is an action game from Mike Enoch, one of the developers behind Crackdown. I’m loathe to call it a puzzle game but it seems inevitable that that’s what the world will decide it is.

Well, with a Crackdown developer on board you’ll know what to expect. Guns, criminals and, oh, what? Cakes and chairs you say? Alright then.

Production Panic is easiest to explain with the aid of a screenshot. Caecilius, if you please:

Ignoring the large-eyed lady, you’ll probably focus on the octopus. Ignore that too. Focus on the conveyor belts. Each section has an arrow and this is the direction in which it moves. The white sections are switches, these can flow in two different ways, much like how train lines work. In this level, fish are sent in through the openings at the top of the level and its up to the player to change the switches around so that the fish are led to Caecilius from the belt he wants them on.

That’s simple enough.

Later in this level, you’ll be asked for different coloured fish. When this happens you need to send the fish through the coloured gates first to change their colour and then direct them to Caecilius. Juggling three or four fish at once with some that need their colours changing and some that don’t with all of them due at different exit points quickly becomes a delicate balancing act and it’s moments like this that mean the game can’t really be a puzzle game. Not that that stops it from being very good indeed.

In other levels there will be sections of belt missing, and the player must complete the track to ensure that everything that needs delivering is delivered safely and to the correct exits, moving the track around constantly to keep everything moving at once. Your aim in these levels is precisely the same as it is in the switching levels, but the change of technique means that the levels don’t get tiresome because there’s always something different to contend with next time round.

Collisions between items will affect your rank, as will allowing objects through the wrong exits or to fall off a gap in the belt. In fact, there’s so much that can go wrong you really have to question the efficiency of the factory. Designing a line that makes cakes as well as sorting pieces of wood seems peculiar at best, which I suppose can only be expected from a company owned by an octopus. In seriousness, though, with so much that can go wrong and so much to keep track of at any one time, levels can go away from the player very quickly after a mistake. Sending one cake in the wrong direction can start a chain reaction that makes everything go wrong and the level will be failed.

A “rewind” option would have been a wonderful addition for these instances, but unfortunately the game misses it and failure means that you’ll have to start again from scratch. The levels are reasonably short, though, so no failure feels like much of a disaster.

When things go wrong, they go very wrong, but it’s always the player’s fault and it’s always obvious where it went wrong. It’s a game where learning from mistakes pays dividends. S-Ranking a level that had been causing trouble is a great feeling and the mechanics mean that that always feels possible, no matter how difficult it first seems and no matter how bad you might think you are at games like this.

Production Panic is yours for 240 Microsoft Points.

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