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|Review of Invasion
The Amiga-Anywhere © scene has been relatively quite over the past twelve months. For a product that offers content portability across many different platforms, it seems to be having a hard time finding converts. All is not lost however and there are individuals, groups and companies working hard in the background. One such company is Zeoneo Ltd, who are soon to release their fourth Amiga-Anywhere based game. I was very impressed with their third product, Crossword Evolution © and it was thus with great anticipation that I accepted an invitation to be a beta tester for their fourth product, Invasion ©. All that was required was a Windows computer and a PocketPC © PDA.
The mission: save the Earth.
The background story is hardly original but it does create a connection between the past and the present. Humans have been living in blissful peace for years, but it wasn't always so. A few gnarly old types can remember back to the Eighties, the decade of men wearing eyeliner, deely boppers and of course the last time aliens attempted to destroy mankind. Hordes of Space Invaders attacked from the skies, relentlessly marching backwards and forwards, slowly moving towards us as we tried in vain to blow them from the skies. Many people from around the world fought together, standing up and sitting down until we managed to drive the pixellated menace from our space. We celebrated our victory and then forgot about the threat. A few days ago the Terrasat surveillance system detected some unusual activity in our solar system. Intelligence suggested that it was an old Eurovision Song Contest competition bouncing back from Saturn but one old timer claimed it bore the same signature last seen in the Eighties - Alien hordes are gathering behind the moon.
As a talented (and surviving) pilot from the last war, your services have been requested (at gunpoint) by those in authority. Moreover, your good knowledge of aliens (you are a X-Files fan and regular at Star Trek conventions :o) will allow you to anticipate and deal with any new troops and strategies that the aliens may have developed. Taking your courage in both hands, you put on your fetish flying suit, your spatial boots and your favourite Buzz Lightyear helmet. You run to your ship cockpit, one of the original SF-7 Barracudas from the last war, switch on the ignition and go out to save our lovely planet.
A highly polished product.
Zeoneo games always had the highest of production values and Invasion is the most polished to date. This game, a worthy successor to the "Space Invader" games of the Eighties is very well put together. From the start, the sumptuous splash screen sets the scene and the storytelling never stops. General design is well thought out and consistent with the backstory; for example each mission presentation is displayed on a dumb eighties-styled terminal complete with glitches and on the blink CRT. Each mission takes place in a different location on Earth and the background pictures that illustrate this (megalopolis, desert, arctic etc) are of the highest quality. All ships, from the Barracuda to the alien craft and the lethal mothership have an impressive level of detail and they work very well against the backgrounds, standing out well enough not to hinder gameplay but working with the scenery to create a realistic visual experience.
They haven't skimped on the animation either and even with a lot going on arond the screen, the frame rate is rock solid. On a lower specced PDA, there is very occasionally some jerkiness but given that some of the visual effects need a lot of power, this is an impressive achievement. If a player does find it a problem, the game includes an options screen where individual effects can be turned off and on, allowing for each person to customise the game to suit their own tastes and computer or PDA. The numerous visual effects are very well designed, from explosions and fireworks to realtime volumetric smoke and debris. There are also regular scrolling text messages which give advice and status to the player.
The audio aspects of the game are high quality without being revolutionary. Invasion splash screen appears progressively with a solemn intro music, quickly followed by a stoned space-like passage during menu. A lot of sound effects accompany certain events and actions and most are very well choosen, fitting in perfectly with the style of the game. We'd like to have ingame music but we know that there is an issue with many PDAs failing to provide more than one audio channel; we hear that the desktop version will feature this and look forwards to it.
A classic improved.
The "Space Invader" concept was a huge success in the Eighties, so much so that new versions of the original are being produced for sale. With Invasion, Zeoneo has succeeded in building a gripping game that not only captures the spirit of the original but which moves it forwards several levels. After a short mission presentation, the first alien wave arrives on screen. From this moment, the player is on his own (or her) own, having to destroy the whole wave before the next one arrives, with there being three waves to each mission. But be careful, you will not win by just blasting away; quite the opossite in fact. Accuracy is recorded, with good shooting allowing you to earn extra pulses for your plasma cannon whilst bad shooting sees you losing pulses - a nice twist. The alien craft have had a makeover, evolving both in terms of looks and behaviour. Each enemy has its own unique strategy with the left right two step considered last century. For example, the "jelly entity" will often drop from the squadron and zip backwards and forwards as it homes in on the player whilst the "flame birds" follow a similar trajectory to the fowl ones. A good variety of enemies - "flying saucers", "twister craft", "destroyers" and the mothership itself make an appearance and the various waves mix them in such a way that different player strategies are required for almost every wave. Great replay value.
As with other classics such as Arkanoid, Invasion allows the player to upgrade, even if only temporarily. Shooting the mothership will cause superweapon capsules to fall from its cargo bay and if caught give the player that superweapon for a short time; you can even change the weapon in the capsule by shooting at it on the way down. Each superweapon has its own characteristics that require careful thought and use; many times they can be as dangerous to the player as to the aliens. All provide for some spectacular effects and are very well balanced. The classic but beautiful star mortar, the multi-shot spheres (like multi-ball in pinball) and the lethal twin cannon are just a few of them and the sight of a laserblade cutting through a squadron of "twister craft" is a sight to behold (and avoid). Your duty is to destroy the alien invaders but you also have to beware of other things, such as their own varied weapon systems, their crashing hulks after an explosion :o) and some of them even have suicidal tendencies. Fortunately Zeoneo thought of everything and your ship can fly up and down as well as left and right, giving you maximum scope for evasion and attack. Control of the ship has been carefully considered with different modes for both desktop and PDA. Indeed, for PDA users, the player can steer the ship either with the directional pad or the stylus, which solves the problem of certain PDAs that do not support the pressing of both a button and the direction pad at the same time.
The increase in difficulty as the game progresses is well managed for first timers, occasional players and serious space heros. A feature called mission skip allows seasoned Invasion players to skip over some of the earlier missions when they have become too familiar with them, allowing them to go straight into the thick of the action. The game itself has no end, simply becoming harder, faster, and with more enemy destruction aimed at you. There is a comprehensive help document (unfortunatly only in english) which has hidden and optional spoilers that you can show or hide if you don't want to read them. Rankings are kept both for score and for progress through the various missions and their on screen presentation allows you to actively go after the one above your current ranking.
Invasion is an excellent game that proves yet again that 3D is not required for an addictive experience. Its beauty, its playability, the comprehensive preferences and immersive presentation are some of the high points of the game. It misses perhaps a two-players mode (difficult to manage on a PDA) but that is the only thing I can say in criticism. Zeoneo and its product go from strength to strength, as Team 17 did a few years ago - each new game is better than the last and Invasion deserves to becomes a hit! Thanks you, Zeoneo!
Invasion © is a registered trademark of Zeoneo.