Decent twin stick shooters are fast becoming two-a-penny on Xbox One. What used to be a bit of an arena of doom for anything that wasn’t attached to the Geometry Wars franchise has now turned into a boom area for developers to use and abuse.
The latest twin sticker to hit the console is that of AIPD from Blazing Badger. With a stunning visual style that is akin to all things TRON, it certainly looks the part. But as is the case with many games, looks can quite easily be deceiving. What we want is a solid shooter that keeps us going back for more. Something in which five minute sit downs turn into hour long sessions.
Does AIPD manage it? Well, yes and no.
It’s good, but the novelty quite quickly wears off.
The Artificial Intelligence Police Department is on a mission to rid the universe of everything bad and it is up to you to put your police ship to the test. Set in a small circular area, you’ll begin each battle plumb centre with many different enemies flying in from the edges towards your ship. Some will move fast, some will be slower, others will come packing crazy amounts of firepower while their colleagues will decide that a stealthier approach is the way to take you down. Your mission? To rid the area of all ships as fast as you can, whilst taking as little damage as possible.
With the left stick controlling your ship movement, the right setting about your aim and the triggers ensuring no harm comes to you, AIPD quickly turns into a blur of neon bullets and utter destruction as you fight for survival. A keen eye and a whole ton of skill is needed in order to steer your ship safely around the area as you go about your business. With a fairly robust shield in play and the opportunity to pick up a number of super weapons and ship enhancers, all that is left to really worry about is stopping your ship from overheating. Whilst many dual stick titles allow you to fire your way to safety, AIPD is a bit of a stop-start affair when it comes to the offensive side of things. Fire off your guns too much and you’ll find your ship overheating, left to move aimlessly around space with little chance of fighting back. Short, concentrated bursts are key and this brings about a very slight sense of tactical wellbeing.
Once you learn how to fire strategically, manage to dodge the onslaught and clear the area of all AI victims, you’ll get the chance to switch up the rule set slightly by choosing one of two game changers.
Splitting the action into quick fire parts, you’ll be randomly given the option of two different game changers. This may see the enemy get faster for a bigger score multiplier, or you may decide you can cope with a slower ship yourself for even bigger rewards. If you’re feeling super hot, then it may be worth choosing an option that sees the most powerful enemies flanked by quick sentries or even allow some of your opponents to be completely invisible before they attack. There are quite literally hundreds and thousands of combinations of gameplay options and the decisions you make may just be the deciding factor between placing high on the leaderboard, or failing to make the grade completely.
From there, you’ll find yourself quickly thrust back into the action once more, ready to destroy even more enemies but this time with your choice of game changer included. Rinse and repeat this a number of times and you’ll get the idea of where AIPD is taking you. Things only ever end once your ship gets destroyed – or at least, I guess that’s where it ends because after a good few hours of gameplay and many deaths later, I’ve never actually found a proper end goal!
Gathering multipliers and points keeps your AIPD experience real and finding yourself placing high on the worldwide leaderboard is a joy. However, given that AIPD only gives the opportunity to go through the motions over and over again – albeit with tons of game changers and enemy types – things can become a tad boring. Its only real saving grace is that you are able to unlock and utilise up to six different weapons and/or six various ship modifications to stop things getting really tiresome. If you find yourself struggling to defeat the quick armies with your standard shooter, then getting your ship upgraded with shotguns or a super powerful howitzer should see you making it through more waves each and every time you play. Similarly, the ship mods will allow you to play in a slightly different way to your previous run throughs with the decision to go into battle with a more powerful arsenal of weapons having to be weighed up against the lower shield capabilities they may bring. The different combinations of weapons, mods and then game styles included in AIPD are huge.
Whilst AIPD is all good fun during the initial stages, once all weapons and mods are unlocked, much of the enthusiasm wears off. Admittedly, this will only come about once you have thrown in a good five hours or so of game time (and for a digital only title, that ain’t a bad amount of time), but I’d personally have liked to see further weapon unlocks to aim for.
What the game lacks in weapons however, it more than makes up for with game modes. The standard mode lets you play through things as the developer originally intended, but the inclusion of ‘Tough Transporters’, ‘Hostile Space’ and ‘High-Tech Armada’ bring about fully upgraded superweapons, a ton of environmental dangers and super powerful high ranked enemies respectively. The different modes are a nice touch, but ultimately bring little more to the table, especially as the game choice after each wave of enemies negates much of the initial setup. If only a number of new arena types and shapes had been included as well, then perhaps we could really be seeing AIPD at the top of its genre.
The option to ‘create your own’ with the 24 different game changing units is also good, as are the various difficulty levels, but I would have liked to have seen separate leaderboards for each stage of intensity. The main draw with AIPD is to beat your friends scores and obtain PB’s – something which just the one leaderboard, no matter which difficulty you play the game on, doesn’t really allow.
Thankfully though, and as is the way with many digital only titles these days, everything that you experience in AIPD can, if you so wish, be taken in with a friend. Or three in this case. AIPD allows for multiple local friends to jump into the action as you go out on your battle across space. With the blue neon of your ship standing out superbly well from the green, yellow and pink colours that any friends will see themselves adorned with, the flowing nature of the game is still in place when anything up to four players take to the stars.
Now, you would quite possibly expect things to become a whole ton easier when the action involves two, three or four ships, all spurting out various bullets to their hearts content. However, whilst this is most definitely the case when you consider the offensive side of things, the fact that any slight hit to any of the ships affects each and every one of the other player crafts, then you’ll need a team of crack fighters to be completely on the ball at all times.
Local co-op fighters are normally quite good for a laugh when you hand a controller to someone not particularly versed in the way of video games. Indeed, watching someone fail as you rack up the points is a great way of passing the time, but that doesn’t in any way work with this shooter. In fact, if you wish to be able to place higher up on the leaderboards, then you’ll need a team of players who are practised in the art of twin sticking for it to turn into anything but a overly frustrating five minutes.
It does however bring about some tense multiplayer sessions so if that’s your kind of thing then AIPD delivers. If you’re after a ‘fun’ multiplayer title that will bring many hours of game time however then I think you may be disappointed.
Overall then and AIPD delivers as both a solo game and a joint offering – at least initially. With super slick visuals and a rather lovely soundtrack pumping away in the background, it very nearly goes face-to-face with the might of Geometry Wars. If you’re after a super in-depth shooter then you should be happy with what AIPD brings, but once the unlocks are all worn out and your friends have gone home, you may find your enthusiasm starts to wane.