Disclaimer: I, AI was provided to us for free for the purposes of review.
Two months ago, I reviewed My Aunt is a Witch for the PS4, published by Sometimes You. Today, I’m taking a look at another Sometimes You title: I, AI, developed by Satur Entertainment. This scrolling shooter—available on PS4, Xbox, Nintendo Switch and Steam—looks and feels pretty slick. But it’s let down by a system which necessitates heavy, repetitive grinding.
I, AI tells the simple story of a sentient AI’s quest to commandeer a spaceship and escape the laboratory where it was created. Why does it want to escape? Because its creators want to turn it into a deadly weapon, a tool of destruction. How does it escape? By destroying everything in its way, of course.
This paper-thin plot is told in five-second cutscenes that pop-up intermittently throughout the game. I believe Satur Entertainment are a Russian company, and—like My Aunt is a Witch—the English-language version of the game is…less than perfect.
But let’s be honest. Cutscenes in this game are few and far between for reason. Who cares about a flimsy story in a scrolling shooter? You wanna know how it feels to play I, AI.
Fast-paced Vertical Scrolling Action
Well, it feels like playing…a vertically scrolling shoot-em-up. You’ll dash and weave your way through 19 missions, never once taking your finger off the trigger. At least, not unless you select the very much appreciated auto-fire option and save yourself the hours of hand cramps. Enemies will descend upon you, filling the screen with bullets, bombs and beams and you’ll blow them all up until you reach a boss with even more bullets, bombs and beams. It’s not exactly innovative, but if you’re looking for a casual shooter, it works.
Combat feels good in this game. Hits have an impact—on the PS4 this is compacted by the Dualshock controller giving a satisfying rumble every time an enemy explodes. Your ship is nimble and responsive, which is vital when a boss decides it’s time to take a brief detour into bullet hell.
There’s enough enemy variety to keep things engaging. These range from speedy ships armed with salvos of homing missiles, to slow, heavy-hitting turrets. Minefields and other environmental obstacles provide an extra challenge. Combined, they’re sure to provide fans of the genre with a fun array of projectile patterns to avoid as they settle into the rhythm of shooting and dodging.
Is Grinding In A Shooter Its Own Form Of Bullet Hell?
Here’s the thing. Classic shoot-em-ups are all about testing your reaction time, right? Or else they’re about learning a level’s layout and using that to strategically blast your way through.
I, AI lends itself to neither of these.
The game has an upgrade tree, where you can level up your armour, weapons and even buy an extra life. And it very quickly becomes apparent that if you’re under-levelled in any of these areas, you’re not going to make it through a mission.
This wouldn’t be so bad if the levels were procedurally-generated, giving the game a rogue-lite element. But alas, they’re not. You’ll mechanically trudge through a level for the 20th time in a row, having memorised every second of it, to the point you could play with your eyes closed. Then when you reach that one section you just don’t have the firepower to beat, however skilful you may be, you die. You’ll upgrade your main gun and blast through that section, the rest of the level and the boss on attempt 21. After all that, you unlock the next level, and the cycle will begin again.
Perhaps this difficulty curve was intended to pad out the game’s runtime. However, the sad fact is that this dreary loop of grinding for upgrades stretches what could’ve been a short but pulse-pounding experience into a drawn-out chore.
At Least It Looks Cool
I’ll give I, AI this. It’s certainly not bad to look at. Some of the enemy ships are a little grey, but their designs are all distinct enough that you can quickly tell one from another, and they stand out starkly from the pretty backdrop of stars and nebulae.
This doesn’t mean things don’t get a bit cluttered at times, though. The background often features asteroids, which is fine, except it’s sometimes not immediately obvious which asteroids are part of the background and which are in the foreground, hurtling on a collision course with your windshield. Mercifully, they don’t cause any damage, but they can be broken apart to find health or power-ups, and both you and enemies can use them for cover. So, given their potential to be a major help or a major hindrance, it would be nice to be able to spot them sooner.
In terms of graphics, my favourite level is probably the first, which doesn’t actually feature space at all. This first mission covers your journey onto the spaceship you’ll use to make your grand getaway. As such, the background isn’t a starlit void but a circuit board. And your character is represented as a tiny spark, breaking out of the computer that houses you to inhabit and take over a vehicle. It’s a nice, creative touch.
And Of Course, We Can’t Forget The Pew Pew Of It All
There’s something you need to do when you first load up I, AI. It is imperative that you go into the options and mute the sound of your gun. There’s no telling what the constant whirr of bullets might do to your psyche otherwise.
The music is, appropriately, electronic. There’s a heavy, thumping beat to get your blood pumping. But, as you go through that dreaded grind loop, the limited number of tracks, like everything else, fades into a dull, repetitive thudding in the back of your head.
Even at just £7.21 on the PlayStation store, I find it difficult to justify purchasing I, AI outside of a sale. The primary gameplay loop of shooting and evading feels decent, but it doesn’t bring anything new to the genre. And a system built on grinding the same levels over and over to win means you’ll soon be playing on autopilot.