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 a 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 a couple of things set AIPD apart from its peers.
First up are 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 to get your hands on weapons like the shotgun and howitzer, you will have to earn them. The same goes for the modifications, which allow 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 with your chosen weapon and modification before taking on fifteen increasingly tough waves of enemies. For a more significant challenge, you can select “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 could even customize your own challenge by selecting which modules must be active from the start. Modules are rules that increase the game’s challenge but reward 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 now and then, disabling your primary weapons, but it has a whopping 125 multiplier. After each wave you face, no matter which mode you are playing, you must choose between two different modules, so the game becomes harder the further you get. Finally, if you manage to complete all 15 waves of a mode, you face a boss battle and receive your final score. The game is accessible for newcomers and veterans with four difficulty settings and separate leaderboards.
If you ever tire of chasing high scores 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. However, 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 it a bit easier to track what is happening. Weapon heat and player health are displayed right next to the ship along with the currently super weapon and item, so there is no need to 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. Unfortunately, the game does not feature any form of health restoration; 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 they are best saved for emergencies. Power-ups like the ability to slow down time briefly, reduce your heat level, and increase 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. 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 you will be playing for hours on end, but it is perfect for taking a break and enjoying a few minutes of mindless shooting.