Sorcery Games is the ideal example of the Xbox Indie scene and they've just released their fourth game, A Shooter. As one might deduct, the game involves some kind of firepower. For those who are fans of the old Asteroid game series, they are sure to find themselves taking a nice stroll down memory lane. However, how does the game pan out overall?
A Shooter has absolutely no story behind it; the game dumps the player into the outer space action with the sole goal of shooting down enemy ships and earning the most points possible. Like other familiar outer space shoot 'em ups, one can only assume that the galactic police department is experiencing severe budget cuts and are only able to assign one space policeman to undertake the destruction of the proverbial evil space gang. Not to worry though as weapon power-ups are scattered throughout the different levels.
The gameplay is simple and predictable. The fighter ship moves across the screen and enemies move in to intercept; in earlier levels the enemies all move in from one side, but later on, they show up in all directions. The ship can move up, down, left and right and the different weapon power-ups not only increase weapon strength, but also allow the ship to shoot from its sides and eventually, its back. New types of enemies are introduced each level, all of which implement more chaos on screen. The focus on each level quickly turns from blowing everything up to simply avoiding the enemy fire. For the most part, all of this is par for the course in a shoot em up. However, Sorcery Games added a cool feature called the bomb; simply put, activating a bomb clears the screen of all enemy firepower and prevents them from shooting for a brief moment. They seem to be most effective and useful in boss fights. As the level intensity increases, they become valuable and since the ship can only carry three at a time, it becomes important for the player to manage their resources wisely.
Each level is very short and can be completed in just a minute or two, but even though there are only a few levels, the game doesn't end immediately. Those who play will experience a very sharp curve in the difficulty; it's first noticeable in the end bosses and then moves into the levels themselves. Success in the game relies on perseverance, pattern recognition, and a fair amount of luck. The good news is that A Shooter auto saves progress after each level and offers unlimited continues. When the player takes into consideration that their ship can only take three direct hits from firepower or collisions, those small additions make all the difference in keeping someone from rage quitting early on.
The presentation of the game is nothing out of the ordinary. Each level uses the same color-star filled scenery which moves to make it seem like the ship is moving. Players have the option of turning the stars white or getting rid of them all together; turning them off does seem to make it easier for concentrating on the incoming projectiles which was helpful. All the ships and special effects are sprite based, which is fine, but it does seem to clash with color-star background. The music is a simple mixture of orchestral with an electronic flair, and some rock thrown in. It sounds nice but they've been compressed so much that the quality of the sound suffers greatly; it might not seem like much, but it would increase the quality level of the entire gaming experience if the sound wasn't so lossy.
A Shooter offers a Cooperative mode to play with up to four players; apparently the lone space policeman can recruit his friends. It can be fun, but also chaotic. The levels are augmented by increasing the number of enemies and the health of the main boss to accommodate the additional players. The extra firepower is nice but some levels provide more than one weapon upgrade for each team member while others make the players fight over just one. The ships can't pass through each other which can add an additional complication to dodging the boss artillery. A well coordinated group could easily wipe out all the enemies on a stage and can coordinate their bombs so no one gets hit by the boss, but it can be tricky and getting tag teamed by the bad guys is still very possible. Bottom line, some people might like playing with others and some might rather play solo. Sorcery Games also allows players to post their scores online.
A Shooter certainly isn't a bad title, but it doesn't really offer anything new either. The gameplay is very familiar to other space shoot 'em ups that have come before it. It feels as though with a little more attention to the music, some of the visual elements, and more levels that could even out the difficulty curve, the game would have been more attractive. Fans of this genre will find something to enjoy, but people on the fence won't lose any sleep if they let this one pass them by.