Monday, March 8, 2010

Aegis Wing Review

Aegis Wing is a free (no, really, it's free!) horizontal scrolling shoot em up (shmup) available to North American xbox Live members on the xbox Live Arcade. The game was released in 2007, and developed by three interns at Microsoft, who spent three months building the game. They then handed it over to Carbonated Games to add some finishing touches.

Your ship is only equipped with one gun, and, unfortunately, it cannot be upgraded. However, by grabbing powerups that enemies drop upon death, you can pick up secondary weaponry to utilize in your quest to rid the galaxy of the galactic scum who re trying to take you out. Among the available secondary weapons you will find a beam which shoots straight and in a fixed path, but destroys enemies and enemy fire on contact, an EMP pulse which disables enemies, a shield which deflects enemy fire back at them, and heat seeking missiles.

In a bit of a twist for the genre, one hit does not result in automatic death; rather, you have a health bar, and can take a few hits before you meet your demise. This does serve to diminish the challenge somewhat, although it remains far from easy. This was likely a concession on the part of the developers for the behalf of players new to the genre. Once you do die, you lose a life, and respawn right where you were at the time of death. However, lose all of your lives, your score resets to zero, and it's back to the start of the level with you. On Normal mode. On Insane mode, you have no lives.

Another, much more interesting (and significant) twist is that, during multiplayer (more on that later) you and the other players can link your ships together at the press of a button. In linked mode, one player controls movement, and the rest of the players control the shooting. This is advantageous in that the combined fire is stronger than one ships single firepower; however, this comes at the price of reduced navigational speed.

In typical old school shmup fashion, the game presents you with a high level of challenge and pattern based AI. The enemies fill the screen, shooting at you in tandem. The game also uses the environment to add to the challenge. In addition to the enemies, you must also look out for the mines that are placed throughout the levels. These detonate on contact, and serve to further keep you on your toes. This may not be the hardest shmup ever conceived, due in part to the aforementioned health system, and also the fact that the enemies don't fill the screen with fire as they do in many other games of this type, but it will definitely present a tough challenge to anyone who plays it. The hardest difficulty should suffice to present even those hardest of the hardened genre vets with some difficulty.

Graphically, this is a simple looking game. While there are some neat background effects present, everything looks fairly simplistic and somewhat bland. The poly count for ship models seems a bit low, and they aren't terribly detailed. This doesn't detract from the gameplay of course, but things don't exactly pop, either. Sound design is fine. The music serves to punctuate the action, but nothing is terribly memorable.

As I alluded to earlier, Aegis Wing features multiplayer. Both local and online co-op modes are available for up to four players. The way lives are handled is as follows: if a player loses all of their lives, they can re-enter the game upon another player picking up a powerup (which is then discarded). If all of the players die at the same time, or the last remaining player dies before reaching a powerup, the players are returned to the start of the level, and their combined score is reset to zero (as it is in the single player mode). Online runs well enough, no major issues are present, although there have been a few instances where it seemed as though a player was killed by something that seemed to miss them. This is likely due to lag, but fortunately, it doesn't seem to be a very common occurrence.

All in all, this is a fairly entertaining game. The boss and enemy designs suffice, but don't wow, the main gun cannot be upgraded, and the graphics aren't anything to write home about. However, the linking mechanic is a nice feature, there is a fully functional multiplayer mode which allows for up to 4 people to play in tandem, the game presents a good level of challenge, the controls work flawlessly, and, it's free. You can't really go wrong with free.

Overall Score: 8/10

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