Shoot ’em ups: A classic corner stone of video gaming since the mediums inception. From Space Invaders to R-Type, and progressing to the insane bullet hell games of Japan, piloting an armed craft through alien landscapes whilst blowing the bejeesus out of it’s natives has always been a draw.
Developer OPQAM has obviously played a lot of those titles, and taken on the task of bringing the experience to a new generation of Xbox gamers. Technology has come a long way over the last forty years, however. Is there room for a humble shoot ’em up in the burgeoning Xbox One indie scene?
If DOGOS is it, then I have to say it casually strolls into the scene rather than arriving with a bang. First impressions are actually quite good, once you’ve selected your starting ship from the choice of two available, and find yourself flying at full speed through a canyon of death. It feels similar to the famous ‘trench run’ in Star Wars, although it takes place on terra firma and – like almost the entire game – is viewed from a bird’s eye perspective. The graphics aren’t ground breaking, but the smooth frame rate and simple controls give the impression you’ll be in for an enjoyable ride over the game’s dozen levels. And you are, at first, until you realise you’ve pretty much seen it all a half hour later.
The developers present the game as being an open ended shoot ’em up, but in my opinion this is something of a misnomer. Rather than traditional genre examples which feature forced vertical or horizontal scrolling, DOGOS sees you piloting your ship at your own speed, apart from the odd forced run such as that described above. Thrown into the levels at set spawn points and with set objectives, you’re free to approach them as you wish, and fly around the various fields, engineering plants and enemy bases at your own pace, taking your objectives on as you see fit. This is all well and good, but the game is still split into separate levels as I say, and the objectives are always the same. This means there’s an optimum path through each level so you don’t find yourself needlessly backtracking, and once you find that path, there’s no reason to divert from it.
Flying around is fast, smooth and easy. You don’t have any vertical control over your ship, it’s simply a matter of pushing the left thumbstick in the direction you wish to fly – including strafing – and using the right thumbstick to rotate around. This actually spins the map, or the scenery if you will, rather than the ship. Due to the 60fps gameplay and the speed at which shoot ’em ups require you to move at, you’ll be feeling nauseous by the end of the second level. As you fly around, the embarrassingly named Zeetnuks will be bearing down on you in space craft, tanks and other implements of destruction trying to shoot you out of the sky. Holding down your fire button fills the screen with a ridiculous amount of lasers, bullets and the like, which you can use to take out enemy crafts and bosses. Ground targets require bombing through use of the left trigger, which has it’s own reticle for target aiming, and you’ll find yourself taking part in many good looking battles full of explosions and gun fire as you traverse through the various environments the game throws at you. Importantly, the actual shoot ’em up gameplay is spot on, with tight controls and consistent mechanics which feel satisfying as you down your thousandth enemy ship.
There are a couple of points which bring down the experience as a whole, though. The first of these is the plot. Fifty years ago, the Zeetnuks conquered an unsuspecting Earth in it’s entirety. A rebellion was formed to take back the planet from these biomechanical alien bastards, and your pilot, Phoenix, is the last DOGOS gunman left at the end of a long war. Chats between you and your handler, Europa, reveal the story during gameplay, and a diary like narrative is thrown over the top too. The plot being unremarkable is of no consequence to me in a classic shoot ’em up, but the fact it’s all there and fully (read: badly) voice acted means OPQAM want us to be on board with it. It’s heavily juxtaposed with the tone of the game though, as you blow away thousands of aliens in classic old school gameplay, and takes itself far too seriously. Something light hearted and gung-ho would have been more preferable to the po-faced antics of Phoenix and Europa.
My second bone of contention is just with the game as a whole. Although you get thrown the occasional curve ball, the canyon runs for example, or boss fights which flip the scrolling to the vertical plane (the difference being only an aesthetic one), you’ll likely grow bored of playing before you reach the end. Both of the ships you get to pick from at the start of your campaign have marginally different stats, but it’s a barely noticeable gameplay difference. You can also upgrade your weapons as you plough through the levels, but as the enemies get harder too, the actual feel of the game doesn’t change dramatically enough to keep you invested.
In essence, what you did on the first level is what you’ll be doing over the next dozen, and the relatively open nature of the levels means genre staples, such as learning wave and attack patterns, are entirely absent. The whole thing just starts to feel a bit of a grind, and the reason is largely because the games unique selling point – it’s open ended levels – works against the addictive mechanics found in more classic shoot ’em ups. The gameplay can be as tight as you like, but if there’s nothing to inspire me to boot the game back up of an evening, well… OPQAM, I’m afraid you’re missing the mark.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox One code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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