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AIPD / 7th of February 2016

There appears to be another renaissance for the old twin-stick shooter right now, Eclipse Games released their story driven, Tachyon Project on PC and Xbox One back in July (it’s since been ported to PS4 and is currently in development for Wii U), the recently reviewed Slybots: Frantic Zone is available on Steam and now this, AIPD, or Artificial Intelligence Police Department. From the outset it has everything that gamers are going to look for in such a release; with its trippy, neon, Tron inspired visuals powered by Unreal Engine 4, a thumping soundtrack and a ton of enemies to destroy, it surely sounds like a dream come true. Yet sadly, AIPD fails on several other levels which make it a rather tricky release to recommend, though that’s not to say that it may still offer value for money, but only just.

You see, there’s not a lot to AIPD, there’s no narrative driven campaign mode, like Tachyon Project, no sequence of challenges like Geometry Wars: Dimensions and no separate challenge/traditional play modes that both of these titles offer. Instead what it does have is a game that is played out eternally within the same circular arena time and time again, with the gameplay evolving thanks to modifiers that are applied each time a wave ends. At this point, the player is asked to choose from two of them, each offers a boost to the score multiplier, leaving it up to the player to weigh up the risk versus reward. When you realise that this is the core foundation of the game, and begin to see some of the changes in action, the way they can effectively up the action a notch (or two), making it all the more frantic, you begin to appreciate what the developer, Blazing Badger, has done. Sadly, though, this feeling does not last.

From the outset, the presentation itself is a rather curious case, with menus navigated via a cursor controlled with the left stick, aping the PC version’s interface, which as you can imagine, does not feel quite at home on a console platform. Yet putting that aside, what one finds after booting up the game is a simple, Geometry Wars-like menu that offers four game modes and an option to design one yourself, along with three separate save slots for these custom games to be stored on. This seems pretty fair until you realise that each mode still offers the exact same game experience, just differentiated by the various modifiers that are activated from the get-go, so whilst they may offer some slight variation, these will be rather quickly ignored in favour of the custom option.

Here the player chooses what modifiers are present from the start of the game, given that there are a total of twenty-four different modifiers present, this does allow some variation to be achieved, yet it would have undoubtedly benefitted from allowing the player even more freedom to tinker with the game set-up in more adventurous ways. Particularly as, when you finally realise that there is little point to the game beyond the search for the high score, you’ll probably just create a mode with every modifier active to ensure that the optimum point values can be earned from the very start of the game.

For me, AIPD seemed to have a lot more in common with Eclipse Games’ Tachyon Project rather than the twin-stick shooters of Bizarre Creations and Lucid Games, for one thing, the weapons, when fired, generate recoil, sending the ship stuttering backwards, though this is by no means utilised in the same way. In Tachyon Project, Eclipse Games added the feature to allow the player to give themselves a speed boost by firing in the opposite direction from the one that they were facing, here, well, it serves no purpose at all. Both games feature similar new weapons and upgrades to unlock, though in AIPD, these are single use, power-ups that allow the player to slow down time, replenish their shields and cool down their weapons. Yes, when firing rapidly, all of the weaponry generates a certain amount of heat which will eventually cause them to overload and temporarily shut down, upon doing so, the ship will eject a timed explosive, the trapped energy from the guns, which can actually harm the player as well as the various enemies that swarm around them when it finally detonates. I have to admit, I think that this is a pretty nifty idea, it just would have been nice to see it used more imaginatively in challenge maps or a campaign mode.

The control scheme is also a tad strange for a game from this genre, with the right stick not controlling the weapons as such, but rather where the player is aiming, the actual firing mechanism is handled with the right trigger. Personally, I attribute this to the fact that the weapons overheat, so the developer was obviously hoping to be able to force the player into consciously thinking about how often they rely upon their destructive abilities to get them out of situations. Again though, this could have been a good feature if it was utilised differently, but as it is, it’s just a means of making the single arena based gameplay slightly more frenzied to distract the player from the rather limited scope of the game. Who knows though, perhaps if AIPD warrants a sequel, the interesting concepts that the team have created might very well be used in more interesting ways than they have been here, fingers crossed anyway.

Ultimately then, there just isn’t a heck of a lot to AIPD, it’s certainly enjoyable enough to play, but there certainly isn’t enough about it to warrant deeper investment from any player, though for the relatively low price of £7.99, it may just about offer enough to warrant a purchase for fans of the genre. There are other twin-stick shooters out there though, and they should probably come first on the shopping list, but with a bit of work, I have no doubt that AIPD could challenge the big boys, just not in its present form.
James Paton
 
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