Thursday, March 16, 2006

Titan Attacks Review

Titan Attacks, developed and published by PuppyGames.
The Good: Weapon and ship upgrades add a strategic component, multiple enemies spice up the action, available on three platforms
The Not So Good: Unoriginal
What say you? A Space Invaders clone with some remarkable elements that makes it fun to play: 6/8

Oh, those wacky aliens! They always seem to attack Earth for no apparent reason, although it’s probably because of Courtney Love. Whatever the reason, you are the last hope for humanity, and using your trusty spacecraft, must drive back the invaders from space to their home world. They think they’re so special just because they’re from the largest moon of Saturn and may have active plate tectonics just like Earth. Jerks! Thus is the premise of Titan Attacks, a successor of the classic arcade shooters such as Space Invaders or Galaga. Since these games have been around for quite a while, what improvements does Titan Attacks offer to the gaming community?

Titan Attacks features some old style graphics that hearken back to the old days of pixilated Atari action. This was probably intentional, creating a distinct visual style that makes the game easily identifiable. Of course, you could argue that the 2-D graphics are just a result of a limited budget and are behind the times, but I tend to think the choice was a conscious one. Either way, I like the overall feel of Titan Attacks; it promotes the classic arcade mantra of easy to identify objects with little flash to distract from the intense action. As I say time and time again, it’s better to have good-looking 2-D graphics than horrible 3-D graphics, and Titan Attacks has fortunately chosen the former. The sound is largely along the same lines, filled with bleeps and other assorted effects that fit the genre. The background music is pretty good (though annoying at times) and keeps the arcade feel alive. I do enjoy the scream aliens make when you shoot their escape pod: it makes me laugh every time. The presentation of Titan Attacks certainly falls within the realm of classic arcade game, and the graphics and sound squarely peg the game in this classification.

The premise of Titan Attacks is to destroy the incoming alien hordes by shooting them as they fly around the 2-D screen from your ship located on the ground. By shooting the enemies, you earn points and cash throughout the game’s 100 levels. The levels differ according to the enemy types and the background image (you start out defending Earth and slowly make your way outward towards the outer planets). There are a good number of varied enemies: fast, swooping, spinning, armored, most of which are quite challenging when grouped together. The number of different AI types breaks the gameplay up enough where it’s not totally repetitious. Sometimes when you shoot the AI, they bail out of their craft and their damaged ship careens towards the ground. You can get a bonus for completely destroying a crippled ship and a cash bounty for capturing an alien pilot. If you don’t capture the alien, you actually lose money, so it’s important to keep tabs on any pilots who have ejected from their ships. If you last a certain amount of time without being hit, you can get a multiplier that increases your score and leads to big cash and big scores. Every once in a while, you enter a challenge stage where you try to engage non-combative enemies as they cross the screen; doing well results in a special bonus, such as improved weaponry. You’ll also engage some bosses during the game, who provide somewhat of a challenge. You can also compare your high score to the rest of the world, as a central high score list is kept and is able to be accessed from within the game.

The game ends when you run out of shields; shields deplete as you get shot or run over by the aliens. You earn more shields and other upgrades by spending the cash you earn during the game. The upgrade component of Titan Attacks is quite interesting and adds a strategic layer to the game. You can spend your cash on additional shields, improved gun power, extra bullets, smart bombs (that destroy all the enemies on the screen), additional sidearms, and faster ship speed. The strategy comes on what to spend your cash on. How many shields do you need to navigate the next level? Would you rather move faster or have more powerful guns? Should you save your money for more powerful sidearms? As you can see, you can be in a large amount of trouble if you make the wrong decision (especially if you could have afforded additional shields but were saving money). This feature of Titan Attacks is above and beyond anything I remember seeing in other arcade shooters: if they did include upgrades, it was usually a linear selection rather than leaving the choice up to the user. Like other elements of the game, the ship upgrade system makes playing Titan Attacks more than once a viable option.

Sure, Titan Attacks is not very original, but the game does add a lot of new innovations to make the game seem somewhat fresh and new. The actual gameplay is pretty standard: move your ship and shoot at enemies. But the various additions to the game make it distinct: diverse enemies, ejecting alien pilots, and most importantly ship upgrades. Successfully choosing the ship upgrades is almost a game in itself and can determine whether you win or lose. The whole package Titan Attacks offers is certainly enough to make it a distinct arcade shooter, plus its available on Windows, Mac, and Linux. The graphical style of the game works well, and I feel that having Titan Attacks in 3-D would just add a layer of confusion that’s not necessary in a fast-paced action game. It may not have the depth of other games, but Titan Attacks does have some good action with extras that result in a complete game.