As you may have noticed, there’s been an increase in twin-stick shooters as of late, with titles like Geometry Wars 3, Tachyon Project, Sixty Second Shooter Prime and Polychromatic leading the way. Now, German indie developer Blazing Badger has added to this chaos with its debut release, AIPD: Artificial Intelligence Police Department. Available soon for Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Windows PC, it’s yet another take on the style of gameplay that Geometry Wars helped make famous.
Like most of its genre — save for Tachyon Project and a few others — AIPD is a story-less game that doesn’t boast any sort of narrative element. It’s simply an arcade-style twin-stick shooter, and it doesn’t deviate from that at all. The result is a game that is fun to play in short spurts, albeit one that doesn’t have the longevity to keep people coming back for weeks or months to come. It’s impressive as a debut effort, but just doesn’t have the amount of variety one would hope for.
Upon starting AIPD, you’ll be greeted by a basic menu, which features predictable choices like Start, Options, Leaderboards and Achievements (if you’re playing on Xbox One like we did). Hitting Start brings you to another menu, where, as expected, all of the game’s modes are listed. There are several, too, although none of them really stand out from the pack. All present standard, wave-based fare, but one introduces harder-hitting environmental dangers (like weapon blocking EMPs) from the beginning, while another gives enemies their entire toolkit from the word go.
At its core, the gameplay here encompasses everything you’d expect from a traditional twin-stick shooter. You move around a three-hundred-and-sixty-degree space, shooting everything that comes near you and trying to get a high score through that. Multipliers exist, as do pick-ups and special weapons, although they don’t work in the same way as we’re used to. You see, you can hold onto one power-up (be it a shield, a time-stalling clock or something of that ilk) and can deploy it as you see fit, while special weapons also need to be picked up and equipped.
Unlike in Geometry Wars or Polychromatic, you don’t start with a certain amount of bombs. Once you get a special weapon, it’s good for a few shots and that’s it, so it’s important to be strategic. They’re not all that plentiful, either, so make sure to be smart in how you use your powered-up shotgun, super bombs and rockets, because you may regret wasting them when you’re shit out of luck later on.
To be honest, I found this design somewhat frustrating. I like knowing that I have a certain amount of bombs at my disposal, so it took some time to get used to this new system. I didn’t have too much trouble with the game, though, because I’ve managed to get pretty far and post some solid scores. Of course, I know that people will dwarf my accomplishments once it goes live.
This twin-stick’s ‘campaign’ is limited to fifteen waves in any one of its modes, with the latter being a battle against a boss. In order to get there (even on the lowest difficulty), you’ll need to be smart and take advantage of openings, because this isn’t an incredibly easy game, nor does it allow you to replenish your health bar. Once you take damage, you’re hurt for good, and when it’s all gone, you’re toast. That said, you do get a good amount of health to start out with, and there’s one ship type that offers extra defence in exchange for less mobility.
One of AIPD‘s boldest bullet points is how it allows its players to ‘customize’ their ship before every battle against its viruses, which take the form of snakes, jellyfish and geometrical grunts. That term is used loosely, though, because all you get to do is pick your weapon and ship build, with each offering its own pros and cons. One may be faster, while another is more of a brute, but there’s also the all-rounder that you start off with. Also, keep in mind that each new weapon (shotguns, lasers, rockets, etc.) needs to be unlocked, much like the ships themselves, and that to do so you’ll need to earn high scores. After each round, your score tally is added to your career number and at every plateau a new item becomes available.
It doesn’t take too long to unlock everything, which is both a good and bad thing. It’s good for those who don’t want to have to spend hours grinding, while it’s a con because it doesn’t help to promote replay value, which this game could’ve used more of. Sure, you can create your own game mode, but even then the experience feels too similar to its base form.
Speaking of creating your own modes, it’s important to note how that works and how elements from it tie into the core game. You see, this particular brand of twin-stick shooter employs a wave-based system like Tachyon Project did, and between every wave you’re tasked with choosing a way in which to make the next ones tougher. Examples include making the arena’s barrier harmful, introducing deadly saws into the environment at random, making it so that enemies don’t blow up as fast, or allowing enemies to drop bombs when defeated. The list goes on to include shielders accompanying certain foes, and mega bombs that are dropped at random and must be ‘collected’ before they explode. It is a neat system, but it’s still not enough to keep the core experience from becoming repetitive rather quickly, which is too bad.
To its credit, this game does offer local co-op for four players, and it also boasts a nice, neon art style, which is pleasing for the eyes. It also doesn’t skimp on difficulty, offering four different options to its users, though it isn’t afraid to get things going quickly by introducing big bads early on. The music isn’t much to write home about, however, as it’s very similar throughout and far from memorable overall.
In the end, AIPD: Artificial Intelligence Police Department is a title that will appeal most to those who love to spend hours battling others on online leaderboards. It’s a solid and polished twin-stick shooter, but it doesn’t offer enough to keep casual players or those who aren’t heavily invested in the twin-stick shooter genre coming back.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game, which we were provided with.
AIPD: Artificial Intelligence Police Department is a solid twin-stick shooter, which takes a lot of inspiration from Geometry Wars. However, while it's fun to play in short spurts and can be made quite challenging, there's little variety to be found and the game's replayability suffers as a result.