SPACE INVADERS: INVASION DAY
(PS2: Taito/Sammy) Bought in Safeway, Bath for 9.99

Let's get something clear at the start. There's a truly vast amount of stuff to hate about this game. Like the cynical tie-in with Space Invaders, for a start. As far as this reviewer knows, Invasion Day had nothing to do with SI until the last minute, when it had a hasty licence tacked on. Certainly, there's not the slightest attempt to tie it in with the Space Invaders "universe", despite the neat central premise, which is that after the failure of the original game's Laser Bases to prevent the invasion, you're now dealing with the bug-eyed alien monsters right down at street level, duking it out hand-to-tentacle in desperate combat. There's almost nothing to give a little nod to the original at all - no legacy sound effects, no invaders that resemble ones from the 1978 game even a bit (you'd have thought they'd at least have some that looked like the giant missile-wielding monsters from the cabinet side art). The only suggestion of a connection is the design on the back of one of the characters' jacket, and the only real gameplay similarity is the fact that there are destructible objects that you can hide behind.

Then there's the feeble, quarter-arsed attempt at beefing the action up with some extra weaponry. The "smart bomb" attacks of the three characters are pathetically ineffectual, but even so the game doles them out incredibly stingily. Most of the time you'll be taking potshots at the invaders with your bog-standard pop-gun, which - in a hateful piece of mean-spiritedness on the part of the designers - doesn't even autofire if you hold down the button. (Well, it does, but at such a dismally sluggish rate that you might as well not bother.)


Ah, so that's where Elvis went.

There's also the shabbily-idiotic controls, which somehow manage to make a game which is basically about left, right and fire into one which is uncomfortably awkward to play. Few games can ever have needed analogue control less than Space Invaders: Invasion Day, yet the hapless player is forced to use the analogue stick for movement (the D-pad does nothing), and then stretch his fingers across to man the three fire buttons plus the two upper shoulder buttons which are required for the necessary "dodge" roll. Analogue-plus-shoulders is a clumsy enough hold at the best of times, but when you're required to constantly thumb the fire button around three times a second all the way through the game as well, it's enough to make you want hammer masonry nails into the designer's spiteful little faces.

And then there's the incredibly sloppy amount of loading you're expected to put up with. Each of the game's six stages is divided up into a handful of sub-levels, but all the sub-levels take place against the same scene, and involve no more work for the console than accessing two or three new enemy models. It's beyond belief that it wouldn't be within the PS2's capabilities to store all of the 10 or so different enemies that you'll encounter in an entire multi-level stage in its memory at once, thereby avoiding having the atmosphere intrusively wrecked every 60 seconds or so - this is the console, remember, that can store an entire island of GTA3's Liberty City without the need for a single load.

(Relatedly, the invaders are a real mixed bunch. There are growling humanoid types the size of your character, big triffid-like plants, gigantic crab-like beasties the size of a building, screeching birds and all sorts. Which, if you think about it, is kinda weird. It's like us humans flying across the galaxy to go to war, with an army made up not just of our own species but also killer whales, parrots, leopards and giant squid. The aliens are all pretty well-realised, but the all-creatures-great-and-small approach means they have no cohesive personality, and hence - especially in conjunction with all the loading - you never really feel as if you're fighting one unified invading enemy race in a desperate battle to save the planet, rather than playing a silly videogame.)

And finally, there's the last of the six stages, which would leave all the competition for the Nobel Prize For Unbelievable Tedium trailing hopelessly in its dust. With your little non-repeating popgun, you're forced to wade through a few toughish sub-levels, before - hang on to your hats, viewers, you'll never expect this one - having to take on all the previous stages' bosses one after the other!  Pretty radical, eh? But as if such soul-destroying paucity of imagination wasn't enough in itself, this reviewer estimates that in order to take out all the bosses (which are all stronger than their first incarnations, of course) and then the ultimate boss, you'll have to pound on your PS2's Circle button somewhere in the region of 20,000 times, and that's if you're adopting the sanity-preserving tactic of standing still and shooting at it and making no attempt to evade its fire, so that you'll maximise your own hits but also be killed and can hence get a couple of free smart bombs when you continue, in order to fractionally reduce the time taken to get the whole grim business over with. (The game's Story Mode takes about an hour to play all the way through, roughly half of which is occupied by the battle with all the bosses at the end. I'd rather be nailed upside-down to a garage door by my ankles than play it twice more to see the other characters' endings.)


Sue couldn't help feeling that standing in the big target's bullseye was just asking for it.

So how come this isn't the worst game in the world, then? Well, because of the really neat little plot twist you get if you watch the cutscene before the sixth and final stage, for one thing, and for another thing because of the sheer bliss of booting up a modern-day videogame where you can just pick up the pad and play without having to spend half an hour reading through the instructions or suffering a bastard tutorial mode. But chiefly the reason it isn't the world's worst game is Survival Mode.

Like the under-rated State Of Emergency, SI:ID is hamstrung by a terrible default game mode which masks a far better secondary one. Survival Mode is a straight-out score attack game, exactly the same as the normal one except with a two-player option and no continues. Survival Mode gives Space Invaders: Invasion Day meaning, in a way totally absent from the Story Mode. Suddenly every shot counts, and it's worth building up the consecutive combo hits that power-up your popgun progressively until you take a hit yourself. Suddenly you have to weigh saving your precious smart bombs for moments of extreme danger, against using them tactically to wipe out waves quickly and score the juicy points bonuses awarded for speed. Suddenly you care about learning and dodging the invaders' fire patterns, rather than just shrugging when you get hit and reaching for the Continue button. In two-player mode, suddenly you have to both protect your partner so that they'll cover your back, and simultaneously compete with them for the tastiest power-ups and point-scoring opportunities.

In fact, in Survival Mode, Space Invaders: Invasion Day suddenly transforms into a poster-boy advert for the idea of cheap, fun, accessible games knocked out quickly (aside from the graphics, this really can't have taken more than a week) as an alternative to the overblown, life-consuming 40 blockbusters that all too often loom up in front of gamers like colossal, overbearing monoliths. It doesn't obliterate all the flaws listed above - without which, and with only a small amount of extra care and effort, this game could actually have been something quite special - but it does turn SI:ID into a game that easily justifies the tenner you'll lay out on it.

66 PERCENT
 

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