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1917 - The Alien Invasion DX (PC) artwork

1917 - The Alien Invasion DX (PC) review

"The ugly truth."

Don't confuse 1917: The Alien Invasion DX with Capcom's 19XX series as I initially did. Yes, 1917 is a top-down shooter featuring an old red warplane, but that's where the similarities end. This indie shoot-em-up is... odd, to say the least. Obviously, aliens have arrived, and they mean business, as they usually do. Here, though, they appear to be an unsightly assemblage of demon spawn. There are a ton of references to Satan and 'God's failures,' leaving man to turn inward for strength; the imagery is even more arresting, with skulls abound, enemies who fire glowing crosses, and bosses who die in a plume of blood, often as they lose their heads. Between levels too, there is usually a barely readable devil-worship diatribe.

So no, this isn't 1942. And for argument's sake, let's say you were still holding out hope that this was an indie tribute. Gone are the moderately paced bullets that flew at you willy-nilly in Capcom's games, troubling you mainly by virtue of the fact your plane was so slow -- say hello to quick bullet volleys and languid bullet hell blankets. Within any one of the eight levels, memorization is the key to success -- knowing what's coming allows you to get set up for your preemptive strikes. Youíll want to know from whence enemy formations are descending, and you'll want to get there fast and be as up close and personal as you can manage. Because once in-level enemies have time to establish their front, the trouble starts: they drop swaths of fast moving, difficult to penetrate bullets which are best dodged en masse rather than trying to give them the slip.

Bosses, on the other hand, are all about offering up colourful globes of unhurried death for you to parse or to be hypnotized by. You've got unlimited lives to rail against the devil, but the game offers no checkpoints. You read that correctly -- if you die at an end-of-level boss, itís all the way back to the beginning of that level for you. You mightn't realize it right away, but this is really the only thing that gives 1917 some teeth.

Luckily for those who are not fans of the frustration that this kind of repetition can bring about, the game is very generous with doling out shields; and since they can absorb one hit before dissipating, you're effectively permitted to take two hits before dying (or grabbing another shield!). The power up system is also a boon -- you start off with a light gun and a heavy gun. As you collect the power up icons hanging ubiquitous in the dark sky, both of these guns are improved. And they get potent fast. In general terms, the light gun is obviously weaker and provides more coverage, while the heavy gun is more focused and also slows down your ship while youíre firing.

Ostensibly, this looked to be a handicap, implemented to keep you from spamming heavy attacks, but the slowdown is actually helpful more often than not -- especially when going up against bosses, who are, as mentioned, big on bullet hell style attacks which require precision movements to evade. Thatís a lot more easily accomplished when when moving slowly and carrying a big weapon.

1917 features three unlockable aircraft aside from the default plane, each with their own benefits and quirks, in an attempt to encourage some replayability. This works to a degree; I found myself trying out the hardest of the hardcore ships which prohibits shield pick-ups while also boasting crushing firepower. That plane's loadout emphasizes all that is wrong with the game, as you immediately get a sense for how flimsy the challenge feels once you've got things memorized and enemies fall like flies, and how simultaneously frustrating it can be without being able to consistently snatch up and save that extra hit in your back pocket.

An easy saving grace or point of pride for many flawed shooters are their scores, and 1917ís music is certainly interesting, offering up a couple of real eclectic gems. But, and you knew there was a but, there are also a couple of head-scratchers, where attempts at spare and haunting themes went terribly wrong and manifested in bare bones stinkers. Fortunately, the graphics are bright and crisp and from a detail standpoint donít look out of place alongside 32-bit retro offerings like Layer Section, or even some of the slicker 16-bit fare.

The trouble with the visuals (there had to be trouble) has more to do with the direction in which the design team (of one?) went. Curious palette choices have resulted in garish, unappealing backdrops, and sure, that may have been intentional, to give us a sense of what 'alien' might look like. But really, thatís no excuse. You can be going for weird, and you can be going for alien, but that doesnít mean your game has to look gross. And 1917 looks gross a lot of the time. Worse yet, a lot of the time, it also looks very busy, making it easy to lose track of your projectiles as well as those of your enemies, in the lurid layers of foreground.

1917 is a fun distraction with its own unapologetic and distinct theme and aesthetic, and for that alone it must be applauded. That said, chances are, like me, youíll find both the look and the earnest satanic ramblings between stages off-putting. Or you might dismiss them as shmup vets tend to when confronted with disagreeable or unremarkable shooter motifs, as negligible white noise that shouldnít distract us from the crux of the thing: how intense the damn thing plays. 1917 plays pretty well because youíre on edge due to your 'one life plight,' but it's not controller breaking on edge, and actually a bit of fun, because, well, shields. If it's on sale and you're a shmup fan, try it. Itís definitely ugly and a bit dark, but otherwise has an okay personality.


Masters's avatar
Staff review by Marc Golding (November 18, 2018)

There was a bio here once. It's gone now.

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