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Ion Assault Review

Developer: CorePlay Publisher: Black Inc.
Release Date: September 23, 2009 Available On: Xbox 360

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In the early 80’s, Asteroids was a huge deal. It was not even the first shooting game of its kind (it was preceded by Space War) yet its long-term impact on the genre is undeniable. Fast forward thirty years, where the term “shooter” encapsulates so many different types of games and the “Asteroids shooter” still holds its own. The Asteroids niche is perpetuated every couple of years by a new top-down, multi-directional shooting game that pays homage to Atari’s classic while adding a few contemporary elements of its own. This year that game is Ion Assault.

The core premise of Ion Assault is roughly identical to that of Asteroids. You control a space ship confined to a small, rectangular area — the objective being to decimate a number of asteroids that happen to occupy the stage. Unlike the original, however, the asteroids in Ion Assault are not the primary threat. During various times in each stage, enemy ships will spawn into the area and attempt to turn your tiny ship into space debris. Ion Assault’s contribution to the formula is that the stage is also filled with an abundance of ion particles which, when absorbed and charged by your ship, provide the ammo you will need to unleash destructive bursts of energy at said enemies…and asteroids.

What sets Ion Assault apart the most from Atari’s classic is, as expected, its visuals. As the on-screen action produces a barrage of vibrant particle effects, there’s no denying where this title’s graphical appeal comes from. With every explosive blast (which grow more powerful the longer you charge your shots), ion particles are strewn across the screen; glowing orange as they charge and slowly dimming into the backdrop after firing. The effect is quite impressive. Although the game’s graphics are otherwise pretty simple, the visuals remain Ion Assault’s greatest feat. Unfortunately, this is the only aspect of the game that isn’t hampered by any obvious flaws.

The audio in Ion Assault is not so much terrible as it is entirely forgettable. It’s hard to say whether its music or sound effects are less spectacular since neither seems to add anything to the experience whatsoever. It’s disappointing because these types of games have a lot to benefit from having aural presentations that match the intensity of the on-screen action. The sole audio highlight is probably the background announcer which bears a slight similarity to the female voiceover on vehicle GPS devices. There’s nothing great about this outside of it not being notably annoying. In all, the sound is about as generic as it gets.

Ion Assault’s single control scheme is simple, albeit a bit disorienting at first. Naturally, the player wields both analog sticks: the left for movement and the right for aiming. Unfortunately, aiming is not the intuitive ‘press a direction and shoot’ setup that works so well for other shooters. Instead, Ion Assault requires the player to slowly rotate their aiming reticule around the ship until it reaches the desired angle before firing. This tends to slow the action considerably, making the controls more sluggish than they need to be. Also awkward is that the ship’s primary ion cannon is charged and shot with the left trigger while special weapons are launched with the right – just the opposite of what anyone who’s ever played a console shooter is accustomed to. While these things are fairly easy to get used to, they hardly feel intuitive. It would’ve been nice if developer CorePlay had offered more conventional control options alongside the default scheme.

Despite its control shortcomings, Ion Assault has the potential to be a very enjoyable shooter — and for a while, it is. Destroying as many objects as possible with heavily-charged shots is a great way to rack up points and can be pretty fun. To mix up the action, a small handful of different power-ups will aid in your offensive assault; these include grenades, shields, attack drones and others. Also adding a fair amount of strategy to the game are four mildly exciting boss battles. Unfortunately, these things only keep the game interesting for so long.

Where things fall apart is with Ion Assault’s severe lack of diversity. After completing just a couple of the game’s 20 stages, you will have about seen all there is to see. Everything thereafter is virtually the same – some meteor reorganization and an increased frequency of enemy waves are about all that distinguish each stage from the one before it. The formula for conquering them is always the same: suck up as many ions as possible to destroy meteors and any enemies that pop up. This ‘stop-and-go’ play style doesn’t require much creative strategy nor does it incite the sense of urgency or intensity that’s necessary for these kinds of shooters to work. There is practically no incentive to keep playing once the short-lived campaign mode is completed.

The game does have a couple of multi-player modes. One is simply a cooperative mode that allows two players to play through the campaign together. The versus mode is a little different. First, your ship isn’t charging ions to shoot; you simply have a laser cannon with an overheat meter that fills as you fire it (and cools as you don’t). Each player has a rotating base that the other players try to destroy by launching drones into it. There becomes more of a focus on defending your own base against the drones (and disabling the other players so they can’t do the same). Like the game at large, multiplayer is enjoyable for a little while but it also grows dull sooner, rather than later.

With some very flashy, particle-heavy visuals, Ion Assault appears to be a worthy inductee to the “Asteroids shooter” legacy that games like Geometry Wars have helped sustain in the current generation. However, this title lacks the intense and addictive gameplay qualities that make the niche genre worth sustaining in the first place. Although briefly enjoyable, Ion Assault doesn’t have enough variety to warrant much replay and at 800 points, it’s a tough sell for all but the most undiscriminating arcade shooter fans.

Graphics: 8.5
Sound: 4
Gameplay: 6.5
Creativity: 5.5
Replay Value/Game Length: 2
Final: 5.7 out of 10
Written by Brian Vines Write a User Review