It's been a while since I've played a new twin-stick shooter, and what would you know? This week, two of them arrived on PS4 in the form of Tachyon Project from Eclipse Games, and AIPD: Artificial Intelligence Police Department by Blazing Badger. Both are also available on PC and Xbox One.
The two games are similar in quite a few respects. They each hearken back to the genre's roots in terms of their design, playing similarly to Robotron 2084 in that they feature enemies that mostly don't fire. These are both games where the bulk of the time you're flying around trying to avoid and shoot large swarms of enemies that are attempting to crash into you. Both games also feature similar aesthetics (neon bright colorful graphics that are crisp and pin-sharp), have local co-op play, and boast thumping good techno soundtracks.
The similarities don't end there! Both games feature score multipliers, and both also eschew the traditional power-up, and instead feature configurable avatars whose primary and secondary weapons can be swapped out between games to deliver different kinds of firing mechanics and perks. This customizable aspect adds some layers of strategy to each game, as some mechanics are more suited to certain levels than others. Oh, and both games cost $9.99 apiece.
But what of the differences?
Tachyon Project is interesting in that time is of the essence. In an unusual twist to the gameplay, you're playing against a clock that's constantly ticking down. Getting hit by enemies depletes the timer by a few seconds, while shooting them increases the time available to you. It's a fun mechanic that works really well. Levels feature a challenge of some sort, such as shooting a certain number of an enemy type, or simply surviving for a specific period of time. This leads to tight gameplay where you're constantly trying to blast enemies to keep your timer replenished, while trying to avoid getting nailed. Sure, it sounds the same as other shooters in terms of the fundamental mechanics, but it's subtly different. It basically forces you to rush – you need to be very aggressive about going after enemies and ensure that your kill rate is high enough to keep the timer going, because as soon as it expires, the game is over.
The main game plays out over ten levels, each of which is comprised of a number of the aforementioned challenges. As you progress, you uncover the game's story, which is actually quite comprehensive for what is ostensibly a fairly simple and straightforward arcade shooter. There are also additional standalone challenges to play above and beyond the story mode, which help add a little extra lasting appeal to the game.
I really like the overall gameplay of Tachyon Project. It's very fast, has a good movement feel, and its kill rate is extremely high, making the action feel dense and exciting. Where it does fall a little flat is in its difficulty curve. There are a few challenges during the mid to latter stages where the difficulty spikes to the point of frustration. Maybe it's just me, but I found I got stuck on certain challenges, and had to replay them repeatedly before I managed to get past them – and this was after fairly smooth sailing most of the way through the game. I'm always up for a challenge, but these difficulty bumps just seemed out of sync with the rest of the game, and after besting them, I continued to make progress until I hit the next one. It just feels like the level design needed a little more finessing to smooth out the spikes a little.
AIPD is a little more straightforward in that it plays in a traditional sense. Unlike Tachyon Project's square playfield, AIPD's action takes place on a scrolling circular arena. Swarms of enemies appear from the sides and start homing in on your avatar with murderous intent, and it's up to you to take them out in a hail of laser fire. Or shotgun blasts – or whatever weapon you decide to choose when you build out your ship.
The action plays out in waves, and you have but one ship equipped with a shield that's slowly whittled away when you collide with enemies. There's no shield replenishment or extra lives, and the objective is to simply get as far as you can before you're inevitably destroyed. This game is essentially all about leaderboard scores.
It took me a little while to warm up to APID. Its general gameplay isn't quite as tight as Tachyon Project, and the movement feels just a little bit heavy and wooden. However, the more I played it, the more I began to enjoy myself. The different configurations of the space ship are more interesting and varied than Tachyon Project's, and the difficulty is smoother and more progressive - I feel like I'm continually improving game after game.
To be blunt, choosing between the two is a tricky proposition. Both games are ultimately solid – but not truly outstanding. They're essentially fairly derivative, and owe a lot to Geometry Wars in terms of their look and feel. Sure, they're fun to play, but neither brings much to the table in the way of new features. Being able to configure your ship between levels is a novelty, but other than that, they're quite standard twin stick shooters.
Tachyon Project is fun, but its biggest drawback is its difficulty spikes, which can make the game frustrating at times. However, it's the better game overall – but not by a particularly large margin. It has better feel, and more engaging gameplay thanks to the way it uses its timer – and its storyline also adds a layer of interest.
AIPD has smoother, more progressive gameplay. This works well with its focus on highscores, and it's entertaining enough to keep you coming back for more - for a while at least. However, over the long term, its gameplay does become a little repetitive. Despite being able to configure the game a number of different ways, AIPD's lack of variety over the long term means its appeal wears off sooner than that of Tachyon Project.
Ultimately, I'd separate the two like this: If you're driven by highscores, AIPD is a good choice, while Tachyon Project is for those who like their twin stick shooters tough and challenging.