AIPD – Artificial Intelligence Police Department
AIPD is the harrowing tale of a brave police officer battling insurmountable odds to save the world from almost certain disaster. Actually, since the game doesn’t appear to have any form of story whatsoever, that would be our best guess as to what is happening. According to the developers you are thrust into the “AI arena” to do battle with evil artificial intelligences, but that is about it as far as the plot is concerned. Thankfully the game is a twin stick shooter with a decidedly old school neon art style, so no motivation beyond chasing a higher score is required to enjoy it.
What APID lacks in story it makes up for with excitement as it is possible to jump straight in and start blasting. There is a help screen to explain some of the basics, but it boils down to shooting everything that moves and dodging everything heading in your direction. The action is viewed from a top down perspective and the arenas are round, so there is nowhere to hide. Geometry Wars players will feel right at home here, but there are a couple of things that set AIPD apart from its peers.
First up is the customization options. The game starts you off with a Gatling gun as your primary weapon and an “All Rounder” modification for your ship, but amass enough points and you start unlocking new ones. This means that in order to get your hands on weapons like the shotgun and howitzer you are going to have to earn them. The same goes for the modifications which allows you to choose between speed and defense or abilities such as automatically using collected items. These unlocks are tied to your lifetime score, which is tallied each time your ship is destroyed, but it doesn’t take too long to get your hands on everything.
The game also allows you to choose how you want to play it. In “Standard” mode you start out with your chosen weapon and modification before taking on fifteen increasingly tough waves of enemies. For a bigger challenge you can choose “Tough Transporters” to fully upgrade all the superweapon transporter enemies you encounter.
There is also “Hostile Space” for playing with all the environmental dangers present and “High-tech Armada” for taking on enemies that start with all their abilities. If this wasn’t enough you can even customize your own challenge by selecting which modules must be active from the start. Modules are rules that increases the challenge of the game, but rewards you with extra multipliers, which is vital for attaining higher scores. For example, the “Overdrive” module grants a 75 multiplier, but means you will be facing faster enemies. The “Bad Weather” module on the other hand causes an EMP to rock the arena every now and then, disabling your primary weapons, but has a whopping 125 multiplier. After each wave you face, no matter which mode you are playing, you have to choose between two different modules, so the game becomes harder the further you get. If you manage to complete all 15 waves of a mode you face a boss battle and receive your final score. With four difficulty settings and separate leaderboards the game is accessible for newcomers and veterans.
If you do ever tire of chasing highscores on your own you can team up with up to three other players in the local coop mode, which is every bit as chaotic as it sounds. Sadly there is no online coop and the lack of a campaign mode of some type is also a bit disappointing. The game is incredibly addictive in short bursts, but repetition can set in after a couple of hours.
Visually the developers were inspired by games like Minestorm on the Vectrex and the art direction of films like Tron, so expect plenty of 80s style neon glow. The game is actually powered by the Unreal Engine 4, which allows all those glowing wireframe enemies to zoom about in buttery smooth high definition. The quality settings for antialiasing, textures, post-processing and effects can be adjusted and when maxed out the game is a thing of beauty. Enemies include drones and bombers, as well as battleships with massive beam cannons, cruisers, interceptors and more. In the heat of battle with bullets, lasers and enemies everywhere things can get quite chaotic, but the clean interface makes a bit easier to keep track of what is going on. Weapon heat as well as player health is displayed right next to the ship as well as the currently super weapon and item, so there is no need to ever take your eyes off the action.
Speaking of weapon heat, this feature prevents you from simply holding down the fire button all the time. You can still do it, but the result is that your weapon will overheat causing it to stop firing for a moment. Overheating also causes your ship to drop a “heat bomb” that can cause damage if you don’t move clear of the explosion. Destroying enemies causes them to drop multipliers, represented by small, glowing pyramids. The game does not feature any form of health restoration and you only get one life, so avoiding damage is very important if you want to clear all the waves. Fortunately your ship is equipped with an emergency shield that activates when you take damage, so at least you won’t lose big chunks of health at once. The Transporter enemies drop superweapons like torpedoes, bombs, missiles and shockguns, but these have limited shots so are best saved for emergencies. Power-ups like the ability to slow down time briefly, reducing your heat level and increasing your score multiplier can also be collected, but watch out for the bad pickup that disables your primary weapons for a few moments.
Complementing the sharp visuals of AIPD is a very fitting electronic soundtrack. Personally we would have liked to hear a bit more bass in the tunes, but overall the music is a great match for the action. The game is also very easy to control and while the keyboard and mouse controls are serviceable it feels best with a dual analog stick controller. One thing worth noting is that when playing with a controller you have to use a trigger button to fire and the right stick for aiming, which feels a bit odd at first. We are used to firing directly using the right analog stick, but it doesn’t take long to get used to the method used in AIPD.
Overall, APID is very enjoyable and while it doesn’t exactly revolutionize the genre it provides an addictive experience. The visuals are top notch and trying out the four player coop mode is a must. It is definitely not a game that you will be playing for hours on end, but is perfect for taking a break and enjoying a few minutes of mindless shooting.