Ion Assault Review
Ion Assault is a perfectly balanced combination of classic gameplay and modern graphics. The game, developed by CorePlay and released on Xbox Live Arcade last year, clearly owes a debt to the arcade games of yore. You'll control a small spaceship, from above, and be tasked with shooting down asteroids in a small area. Additional challenge is provided by aggressive enemy ships, while help comes from powerups. In other words, a very standard setup, with the only goal being the high score. Old school, indeed.
The game's hook is its “Ion Particle” system. Each stage is loaded with these particles, which charge your ship's weapons. In order to shoot, you'll have to navigate around areas rich with particles and hold down the left mouse button in order to gather them. Releasing the mouse button fires, the power of the blast dependent on how much Ion you gathered. It's a simple mechanic, but adds an extra layer of thought to the furious gameplay. Because you'll be relying on Ion Particles, you'll have to pay extra close attention to where you maneuver. You might try to flank around your enemies, only to find that area devoid of Ion Particles, leaving you unable to fire. Of course, you'll also have to decide things like how much to gather, and where to focus your fire. These are simple things that add a lot to the experience.
The graphical effects for the Ion Particles are excellent. The game is a small, independently developed affair, and the graphics largely reflect that. Many of the effects, however, give Ion Assault a real vibrancy. The way the Ion Particles are sucked towards your ship as you gather them, then burst around the map as you fire them is impressive. Other objects, such as enemy ships and asteroids, are simple designs, but are effective enough as they are pretty small on-screen.
The game's soundtrack is made up of techno and dance music. Your appreciation of this will be very much down to personal taste, but I found it cheesy in the best possible way. I've always associated electronic music with space, and the fast beats are entirely appropriate to the pace of the gameplay.
The pace of the gameplay is what makes it so addictive, but it is also the cause of much frustration. The control layout of mouse and keyboard just doesn't seem intuitive. The W, A, S and D keys move your vessel (up, down, left and right relative to your on-screen position, rather than which direction you're facing, which makes sense). The mouse rotates your ship clockwise and anti-clockwise, which largely works, though there are times where the ship can't decide which direction you mean and just spasms a little instead. This is a rare occurance, but in a tight spot can ruin your campaign progress.
Which leads neatly on to another issue: the length of the campaigns. Each campaign ranges from half an hour to over two hours, depending on, essentially, how good you are. If you die regularly and have to restart, you could be going for a while. The problem stems from the fact that your campaign progress can't be saved: you have to finish it in one sitting. If you die, your score counter starts again, though you can try again from the same mission. This is fair enough, except it makes the game a little inaccessible for those with less skill in the genre, or those with less time to spend gaming. Having said that, there is always survival mode, where the player has to survive waves of enemy fighters in order to fight to the high score.
Ion Assault is a well polished, frantic and addictive little game. Unfortunately it comes with plenty of little frustrations, not least of which is that if you want to play, you have to be able to dedicate enough time to make it to the end of the campaign, else you'll lose your progress. This may well be a welcome challenge to the more hardcore, and the campaigns are short enough for most to be able to complete them within an hour, if an hour is all you have to spare then it's probably not even worth starting a game. But, for those with more time to dedicate, and for those who love climbing their way up the leaderboards, Ion Assault is a fun, distracting game.