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Intrusion 2 Review (PC)

I’ve heard a lot of people talk about a huge game drought this summer. Over and over, I’ve heard the familiar lament, “there’s nothing to play!”. To someone like me, who always has far more great games to play than time to play them, this always seems like a strange attitude. I think maybe it’s more prevalent amongst those who game on only one platform, or who stick to a few prescribed genres. If you only play Xbox games, perhaps this years weaker summer of arcade and lack of huge blockbuster titles will make you feel like the games industry is slowing and creativity and originality have dried up. It’s only in such a slower period that I get the chance to play smaller indie games like Intrusion 2. At those times I occasionally come across something thats original, well made and fun, but also completely unexpected. Games like The Mount and Blade series, Lone Survivor and even the first incarnation of Minecraft were like this. Games so good they put big budget mainstream releases to shame, and make anyone complaining about a games drought sound like a fool. Intrusion 2 is that type of game. For me, it’s also far better than any of the others I’ve mentioned. It’s the best game of the summer, on any format.

I went to see the Expendables 2 last night. It’s terrible, but absolutely brilliant. Completely lacking self awareness, when it’s serious it’s funny, and when it tries to be funny it’s embarrassing, but crucially everything blows up, all the time. In the world of the Expendables, dropping a pillow onto a cloud would cause both to explode in a ball of fire. There’s not a moment of that movie though where it rivals the sheer ridiculous, balls-out action that Intrusion 2 squeezes into every single second of its gameplay.

Its a simple game at heart. Like Contra or Metal Slug, you run and jump your way through a 2D world filled with enemy soldiers, jeeps, tanks and giant robot dragons, all the while dodging bullets and firing hundreds of thousands of bullets, missiles and weird blue plasma bolts. The gameplay oscillates between mildly challenging platforming – as you fight a few enemies at a time – to moments of veritable bullet-hell where death is all around you and quick reactions combined with split-second timing are your only defence against incoming seas of bullets, rockets and giant robotic fists bigger than cars.

You can play with control pad or mouse and keyboard. With control pad it plays a bit like a twin stick shooter, albeit one where you view the world side on rather than top down. I found it far preferable to play with mouse and keyboard though, directing my relentless streams of hot lead with the mouse cross-hair and moving with the WASD keys. I am a control pad lover at heart, but the accuracy and responsiveness of the mouse and keyboard seems much more effective during the toughest parts of Intrusion 2, and those tough parts really don’t mess around.

While the game plays a lot like classic 16 bit side scrolling shooters, it has one big difference: physics. Superficially it might look like Gunstar Heroes or Metal Slug X, but the addition of so many physics enabled objects in the levels makes a huge difference to the game. It makes for a very dynamic experience, where each encounter with an enemy feels unique and can surprise you. For example, when fighting a huge robotic enemy that looked a lot like the sentinels from the Matrix movies, I was dodging crates, metal girders and huge blocks that it tore from the scenery and threw at me. As these objects were picked up and thrown, my bullets deflected them away, and I even jumped on them and used them as springboards to rocket above the enemy and shoot it in its more vulnerable head. None of this was scripted, it was all dynamic. As the creature I fought scrabbled around to find objects to throw, its long robot limbs snaking across the environment looking for appropriate weapons as all the while my plasma rifle beat it backwards.

Each shot you fire feels solid; every time you hit an enemy with a bullet or bomb or missile there’s a kineticism to it. Enemies rag-doll in a way that’s not realistic, but is incredibly satisfying and cinematic. Even the simplest enemies have complex dynamics associated with them. Whether its grappling hooks that shoot out to grab you or use objects in the environment to shield themselves, every encounter with an enemy plays out differently. While the average enemy within a level runs the gamut from ED-209 style robot to rail gun firing para-trooper, the boss enemies really are something else. I mean they really need to be seen to be believed.

Giant, screen filling bosses may sound somewhat prosaic, but somehow Intrusion 2 makes them fresh and relevant again. Each encounter with these stage destroying behemoths is structured like a complex level to traverse, a puzzle to solve and an adversary to overcome all at once. Each boss fight is made up of a series of stages, whether you are slowly blowing the enemy to pieces or he is ripping the level to pieces, or more likely both. While boss fights in most games boil down to pattern recognition, the AI of the enemies and all the dynamic objects in the environment make these encounters feel like you really are fighting and out-thinking an enemy rather than just learning where to move to be safe at set times.

Now I am a nostalgic retro gamer as much as the next man, but I’ve never been a huge fan of games like Metal Slug. While its undeniable that this game looks and plays remarkably like those Neo Geo classics, I found myself liking this far more. Maybe its the analogue aiming, the physics or just the absolutely brilliant level design, but for me Intrusion 2 surpassed its genre. This isn’t just a great side scroller, its a great game.

The pixel art is simply gorgeous, and the animation is brilliant. The whole experience is slick and watching the scaling and scrolling of the pixelated enemies is glorious. If you has simply taken the classic games of the 16 it era and extrapolated them into he future, you would get something that looked like Intrusion 2. It’s a “Back to the Future Part 2” alternative present, but with more amazing side scrolling action and less Biff Tanen.

Its not all perfect. The music throughout the game is uniformly bad. Grating and repetitive, it feels like a single riff played over and over until it drive you mad. I would have settled for some basic-but-functional chip tunes, but this generic-yet-infuriating soundtrack made me play the game with my own music on.

But other than the music I can barely find anything to fault in the game. At times you can become a bit hooked up on loose pieces of debris or objects, but this is just part of having so many dynamic pieces of scenery in play, and in truth the game handles it very gracefully most of the time. Everything else, from the level design to the difficulty level to the games controls and visual aesthetic are pitch perfect.The weapons meanwhile are a “greatest hits” of popular games and movies. While the plasma rifle (Doom) and grenade launcher (Terminator 2) are both great, it’s the rail gun (Quake) that really steal the show. Shooting through scenery and enemies alike, it’s the most strategic weapon to use as well as the most satisfying. To me, its more fun here than it was in Quake.

Intrusion 2 is something special. It’s the kind of game that shows everything that’s right about gaming today. A passion project made by essentially one creative genius making the kind of game he wants to play, it combines the best of classic games and new technology to create something wonderful. If it had included some kick ass chiptunes, it would have been a perfect score. As it is, Intrusion 3 can fix this one small complaint and Aleksey Abramenko can create the best side scrolling shooter of all time. Intrusion 2 is my game of the summer.

9 punishing pixels of pure perfection out of 10

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