REVIEW : I, AI (PS4)
I, AI is a vertically scrolling shoot ’em up from Satur play who earlier caused us the complex twin-sticker Stellatum. Much like its ancestor, this is a play with a focus on upgrading but is a much easier affair to concede.
After a short bit of plot that demonstrates that you are a scoundrel AI that takes over a ship in a bid to flee from humans who were using you to build weapons of mass devastation. A simple first level has you travelling through circuit boards as you fly but after that, there are 19 levels of reasonably honest shoot ’em up action for you to take on.
Each level is exactly what you’d expect from this genre. You climb upwards as rebels drop in from the ceiling with the aim of either crashing into you or destroying you. You can take some of the shots but anything more than that will destroy you and that’ll be your match ended.
As you kill enemies, they’ll leave blue coins that can be obtained and spent between levels on upgrades and this is important as the levels do get progressively harder. Your basic ship has no hope of staying active after a few levels and so you’ll require to bolster its terrible powers.
You can upgrade your ship’s main blaster and two other forward-firing weaponry that are all triggered by pressing R2 as well as trivial weapons which include a fairly rubbish electricity weapon, A handy quick bomb and a decent laser beam weapon. Armour can also be upgraded, providing you with a bit more strength and you can even buy and improve a shield, however, armour and shields can seldom seem a bit counterproductive in the face of some larger attacks no matter what you do but it is usually helpful.
The problem with this method is one that is well-known to a lot of shoot ’em ups that use those almost rogue-lite mechanics. Defeating a stage becomes more about upgrading your way through them, almost brute-forcing it, than actually using skills and learning the levels. That’s kind of the case here, at least on Normal difficulty, but dropping it down to Easy does help the progress flow better and makes for a more enjoyable game. No matter the difficulty though, you’ll need to upgrade and that means going out of your way to getting the coins. If you fail a level, you only get half the coins and if you destroy every enemy you’ll get a 50% bonus. This doesn’t offer a huge amount of insight though as you see your coin total during play and at the end you don’t resemble to get compensated or penalised.
As with Stellatum, the game is a little staid at first. You start armed with just your standard-issue space peashooter but once you’ve upgraded that a few times, you’ll start to feel a lot more powerful. Upgrades are exponentially more expensive though and do take a while to earn. There’s an irritating trophy in there to earn all the upgrades which is something that will need at least six hours of pounding long after you’ve seen off the game’s twenty levels. which is never a sensible choice for awards and achievements as it colours your impression of the game by replaying fond memories with those of grinding.
Compared to Stellatum, this is a much simpler affair. The basic gameplay is easier to understand, there are a lot fewer levels and the upgrade system is far less complex. As such it’s a very good place to start if you want to get into shoot ’em ups. The controls are reasonably intuitive and the gameplay flows quite well. Even the end of level bosses isn’t too bad when it comes to difficulty spikes, although some of them have very cheap, untelegraphed attacks (such as lasers) that can end your run instantly. But every level is only a few moments long and so you’ll be able to correct any errors and provide for any of these wonderments pretty quickly.
When it comes to performance, I, AI isn’t too bad at all. The visuals share the dark aesthetic of Stellatum with detailed but understated backdrops mainly highlighting rocky or hard backdrops. While it won’t turn many heads, it does help the bullets and collectables to stand out nicely from the background. The bosses are suitably imposing, if a little generic, and everything moves along nice and smoothly. The unique real disappointment is that the narrative is told in inactive cutscenes which don’t add significant value. The game’s music isn’t amazing but it does a job. The most useful thing is that you can freely turn down the incessant sound effect that plays when you shoot. That’s a very smart option. The other music effects are pretty standard and if we’re grieving, it’s odd that larger foes often make the quietest sounds when they erupt. The other niggle here is the terrible voice effect that plays when your AI character talks. It seems like a poorly digitised Arnold Schwarzenegger.