Certain gamers, of a similar vintage – gamers like myself, i.e. extremely old – will remember the glory days of SEGA arcade from way back in the day. The reason that I mention this era is that the latest from 7 Raven Studios reminds an awful lot of Space Harrier, a classic arcade game from the past. This is largely based on the way the game looks, rather than the story or anything similar, but the big question is this: can After Wave: Downfall hold a candle to the titans of the past?
We’ll admit that story always takes a back seat when there is some shooting to do, and After Wave: Downfall is no exception. Featuring some of the most inadvertently humorous dodgy translation, the story is a single screen of text. The Deathrix have sent a purple meteorite to the Earth, which has had a strange effect on the local wildlife, but seemingly only those that live in rivers. Which is lucky as our heroes all drive various different flavours of battleship, with huge guns strapped to the outside. It seems these ships are also only just big enough for the pilots’ lower bodies to fit in, as their heads are hanging out in the danger zone. And that’s about all you’re getting for the story.
Thankfully then, in terms of the visuals and audio, it is all pretty good; it’s here where that comparison to Space Harrier should start to make sense. You see, the action is viewed from behind your chosen battleship as the game scrolls into the screen, with enemies coming thick and fast in an attempt to make you give up your quest. The graphics are bright and cartoony, and the way that the various bosses are introduced is pretty cool. The screen does get pretty busy at times, and while there isn’t any slow down to be seen, sometimes it does all get a bit overwhelming. It’s nice that the designs of the enemies are all in keeping with the river theme as well, with giant fish, beavers on surfboards and even bosses such as a massive plant to shoot until they give up.
Sound wise it is all as you’d expect – nice enough music and more shooting and explosion effects than you can shake a battleship at. All in all, After Wave: Downfall makes a decent fist of being a good looking title that draws you in.
The gameplay is almost exactly as you would expect from a shoot ‘em up. You have a gun, some enemies, and lots of ammo, and you have to bring them into contact with each other. As you destroy enemies, some will drop stars, which will get you extra points, and some will drop canisters of some description; it is these that are arguably the better reward. See, what these canisters do is charge up a meter on the left of the screen, and when it is full, you have access to more powerful attacks, including a standard issue smart bomb that will destroy all the enemies on the screen. Each character has a different attack too, and there are a couple of other missile attacks that can be charged up as well, which while not as powerful as the main smart bomb can still turn the tide of battle in your favour.
As you move through what After Wave: Downfall is able to provide, killing bosses and baddies alike, you will begin to accrue points. And we all know what points make, don’t we? That’s right, they unlock new abilities in the skill tree for the characters. If you can somehow save up a large amount of them, you can even unlock new characters as well.
The skill trees are divided up into categories, with a general tab that affects all players, and a tab for each character to be able to improve their individual stats. Anything you unlock in these skill trees stays unlocked, so there is an element of rogue-like about the whole proceedings as well. Saving up enough points to increase your health or damage output can be quite the incentive, but don’t go nuts: if you happen to die in a level and want to continue, then this also will cost points. It is wise to hold some back just in case.
Are there any downsides to what is delivered here in After Wave: Downfall? Well, apart from the aforementioned screen getting really cluttered, and enemies that block your view of the action as they bounce towards the screen, the only slightly odd design decision relates to the achievements on offer. There are a whole raft of game modes, including co-op, and multiple difficulty levels to have a go at. There are rafting levels, where you have to complete a level against the clock, in addition to the arcade mode and so on. These are only unlocked when you finish the game on the normal difficulty. The co-op mode also works really well as you and a mate can spend many happy minutes floating down a pretend river shooting catfish in the face.
So the question that sits is why, in the name of all that’s holy, is it possible to unlock all the Xbox achievements inside twenty minutes of playing, inside the first section of the game? There’s no need to play it on harder difficulties, there’s no need to play any of the extra modes, or even co-op – if you’re a hunter of Gamerscore, you can get all the 1000G on offer in After Wave: Downfall by shooting a few baddies and playing through. I can never understand why games companies choose to hamstring their own games like this.
Despite this, After Wave: Downfall does have a dash of that gaming X-Factor; that desire to play and play again, just to see what is around the next bend. It’s fast and fairly good fun, so if you like easy Gamerscore and want to shoot some fish, this could be the game for you.
After Wave: Downfall is available from the Xbox Store