Friday, April 19, 2013

Intrusion 2 Review

     Intrusion 2 (henceforth simply Intrusion) is a 2012 sidescrolling run & gun game made by Aleksey Abramenko. In it, you play as a ninja with various guns and a massive red scarf. I personally think he kinda looks like Professor Oak from Pokemon.

     I still not quite sure what it was that inspired me to buy this game. I mean, I'm always up for a good 2D platform shooter, but beyond the awesome sprites there was nothing that really grabbed me about the game's trailer. Nonetheless, either by capriciousness or some twist of fate, I found myself with a few hours on hand, bought the game, and. . .

     . . .it turns out I should either start being capricious a hell of a lot more, or start praying that fate comes through like this more often.

     How can I describe Intrusion? If I'm drawing comparisons, then it's a lot like if you took Metal Slug, level design, and a physics engine and tossed them all in a blender. Actually, Metal Slug was a pretty good series to use (way to go, me), because both those games and Intrusion share the common element of how fun the mere spectacle of the games are. Fighting zombies, aliens, and they're-pretty-much-Nazi tanks with rockets, blood laser grenades, and airplanes in Metal Slug? Total blast. Fighting a giant Transformer robot in a sword-wielding mech in Intrusion? Awesome in an indescribably giddy way. That's something that Intrusion really nailed that you don't see much anymore; it's just plain cool.

     You can ride on wolves and shoot down giant tiger robots and fight helicopters with mechanical arms and survive an onslaught of snow dragons (that are a lot like sand worms in Dune) while sledding down a massive hill on the broken hull of the aforementioned helicopter and, and. . .it's just so exciting! The game is a genuinely thrilling experience in a way not many games are. The sense of childlike imagination and wonder it instilled in me only increased this. The last boss can shoot fireballs AND rockets from his fingertips and can create electricity between his two fists, because why not? The game abandons reality for spectacle, and I love it so, so much.

I rest my case.

     Ironic that the gameplay this is a part of is otherwise very. . .I'm hesitant to use the word "standard," since Intrusion is most certainly not, but I can't find a better word. There's not much to confuse you here if you've played any platform shooters before. You jump, go right, defeat enemies, and have fun. The two things that stand out most about the gameplay (aside from awesome things like stealing enemies' robot suits and running around with their massive artillery guns) are the weapons and the inclusion of physics.

     There are only 5 weapons in the game, which is noteworthy for its decided lack of gratuity. The double rifle is a better (but more ammo consuming) version of the assault rifle, which in turn is basically a better pistol. The other two weapons are the laser rifle that shoots through walls, and the grenade launcher, which is useful for its arcing capabilities. And that's it. See, I much prefer this limited selection to the overwhelming amount of strikingly forgettable weapons in many other games. Rather than a selection of 20 different rifles that are largely the same for the purposes of the game, Intrusion has a suitably sized, very clear hierarchy of "main" weapons, followed by a couple others that provide distinct tactical advantages. Because there are so few, they all occupy their own unique place in your arsenal, which I thought was a nice touch. Another feature of the weapons I liked was the relative scarcity of ammunition. While you're almost never going to run out of assault rifle ammo, you can go through your reserves for the rest quite quickly if you're not paying attention, which requires you to make a choice of using a better weapon as soon as a threat appears, or saving it for later.

     As for Intrusion's physics mechanics, they're both my favorite and least favorite part of the game. On the one hand, they can be really, really annoying at times. I was never made unable to finish a level by objects-were-flung-into-the-air-and-are-now-crushing-me syndrome, but there were a couple cheap deaths and platforming irks caused by bothersome object-environment interactions (and don't even get me starting on the wolves). On the other hand, they also allow for some really cool things. I was able to turn a crate into a weapon by suspending it in the air with a machine gun and shooting it over the wall an enemy was using as cover. Do I really have to say more? Between neat things like that, a couple of inventive stages for the multi-stage bosses, and creating a genuinely cool object-environment system (when it wasn't being asinine), I can only complement the physics mechanics in Intrusion - I just have to make it a qualified complement, first.

     Equally surprising as the rest of the game were its aesthetics. Granted, I have a bit of a crush of sprite art, but even taking that into account I think this game looks really nice. There are tons of enemy models, the attacks and other special effects (like loose snow being crushed) are superb, and the game in general just. . ."feels" great, if that makes sense. The thing that I loved most, it being me, was the backgrounds. There's something about really well made backgrounds in games that I love - they can draw me into a game's world (even one so non-existent as Intrusion's) like nothing else. Slightly less impressive was the music, though that likely has more to do with the fact I'm more of an alternative metal fan than a straight-up heavy rock follower. That said, I'll easily admit to enjoying fighting a really cool, intimidating boss with heavy metal in the background, if only for how cliche such a combination might seem. All in all, the game incorporated the soundtrack fairly well, and I think the fact I still got enjoyment out of it despite not being a fan of the genre says a lot.

     Overall: That Mr. Abramenko was able to make a game with exceptional boss battles, fun gameplay, cool (if at times frustrating) physics mechanics, and a great aesthetic is an amazing thing in its own right. That he did so on his own (well, he outsourced the music) is outright staggering. I can only applaud him in a state of dazed amazement for making a nine level game about a winter ninja fighting robots this great an experience.

          Gameplay: Thrilling action, strong mechanics, and wonder-inducing spectacle (though I feel as though I've overused that word) make Intrusion 2 stand out as one of the more fun games in recent history. I had a significantly better time with this game than I was expecting, and I even came into it with some expectations.

          Aesthetic: I admit it; I love sprite art. Even so, I can't help but feel that this game would win over those who don't. Everything is just so well done that I can't fathom someone thinking this game doesn't look nice. While I was not so enamored with the audio, to say it was lacking would be unfair of me. Assuming you aren't predisposed to not like it (and maybe even if you are), the audio/visual experience of Intrusion 2 should be a good one.

Game Rating: 8.5/10          There's not much more I can say that I haven't already said. If you want a game that provides a good challenge while still being fun to experience, Intrusion 2 is a great choice. I bought it on sale on Steam, and I honestly wish I'd paid full price (still only a mere $10) instead. That's how much I enjoyed it; I encourage you to see if you'll feel the same way.

     Edit (4/23/13): Discussion below about the pricing and value of this game reminded me that there is a free demo on Steam, should you wish to test the waters beforehand. Also, you can get the game for the same price (and DRM free, I believe) on the game's website. Apologies to all for not mentioning this initially!


  1. Hey John,

    Reviews don't exactly invite discussion, since they're opinion pieces by definition, but since I bought it at your recommendation, I thought I'd mention what I thought of this game.

    I agree with most of your review. The gameplay is straightforward and well-done; I heartily concur with your points about the heirarchy of weapons and (relative) scarcity of ammunition. (When I defeated the final boss on Hard, I had ammo for my assault rifle--nothing else was left.) The boss battles are excellent; the second and third reminded me of Mega Man and Devil May Cry, respectively.

    The physics engine was wonderfully fun; every tiny detail, from wires you can cut to snowballs that get bigger when you roll them, adds something to play with. The game's character and style are ridiculously, excessively fun; one of the bosses shakes a "naughty finger" at you for hurting it, and when you catch up to its (ejected) pilot, he sweatdrops while calling "NEED BACKUP!!!111"

    And the aesthetics were, of course, gorgeous--not just gorgeous, but effective. I never lost track of my character, even in the flashiest firefights, because the visuals are designed to be unambiguous. That's a huge plus in any game that fills the screen with ammo.

    Unfortunately, I wasn't impressed. Not, to be clear, that I was dissatisfied; I spent $10 and got 10 hours out of the game (Normal took four hours, Hard took three, and the rest was going back to explore or unlock achievements). While I prefer to get closer to four hours of game entertainment per dollar spent, a game is more than the time you spend playing it. Portal, for instance, is a remarkably short game, but such a great experience that it hardly made it less worth playing if you could finish it in ten to fifteen hours.

    Therein lies the problem. The game was exactly what it needed to be. The experience was, for me, remarkable. There were only a few outright flaws: imperfect (but still good) AI, pathing glitchiness*, and the music in the penultimate level doesn't loop smoothly. And there were only a few outright marvels: the three boss fights and the physics engine**.

    With only nine levels, I'd hoped for a memorable experience. As it was, I didn't find the game particularly challenging, leaving me with little desire to replay it.

    Let me offer Ikaruga for contrast's sake. If you're not familiar, Ikaruga is a classic 2D bullet hell with a mechanic that allows you to switch your ship's polarity to absorb similarly-polarized enemy fire. Ikaruga is about style and challenge; it's beautiful, and it's hard.

    * I actually found the wolves easy to control, once I remembered to use my cursor. The pathing glitchiness I mean is a couple spots where I've either fallen through or teleported across the stage.

    ** The vehicles were particularly fun. The wolves and the Harpoon allowed exploration of off-limits areas, and the physics engine allowed downright impossible feats. On one occasion, I killed a jetpack guy on the ground, so he started zooming along the ground toward a ledge. I was on a wolf. I ran for the ledge, jumped off, landed on the jetpack guy's corpse in midair, jumped off from it, and jumped off my wolf (a la Yoshi double-jump) to scale a cliff and bypass a major battle zone. A game that lets you do this is a game that lets you do stuff.

  2. These two games are radically different, obviously. Ikaruga lacks exploration, focuses on survival, and possesses minimally variegated gameplay options (shoot, don't shoot, launch missiles, repolarize). There's nothing to play with, and at only five (I think) levels, there's not even that much to play. But it's freakishly challenging. You don't berate yourself for dying--you congratulate yourself for surviving.

    In Intrusion, I feel clumsy when I die to mooks. Mechs are another matter, but I don't feel like normal enemies should pose a challenge, even the ones that do (double rifle guys, I'm looking at you). I didn't worry about survival--I thought about how I could turn the world into a weapon. The options appear endless despite being very limited, which is the ideal illusion from a game design standpoint. Intrusion also permits a great deal of exploration, though it wasn't usually very rewarding.

    So why to compare them? Because Ikaruga is about the spectacle, too, but Intrusion is *only* about the spectacle. It's fun to try things and see what happens, but it's not like Portal, where the whole point of the game is to get you to think unconventionally. You can make it through Intrusion by shooting people with guns. And it's not like Ikaruga, because it's simply not designed to be intensely challenging.

    There's nothing wrong with a game that isn't hellishly difficult. (Some of my favorite games are RPGs, and a completionist play style renders my party perpetually overpowered.) However, when I start a new game, I have exactly one expectation: if the game ends, then when I get there, it will have been worth the effort.

    Tough games make you earn your victory. This is good. It makes them rewarding. Easier games don't do that, so they have to do something else just as good. I'm not exactly sure what. I've been rambling again, and if I start trying to turn this into a coherent essay, I'll end up never posting it.

    To sum up, when Intrusion ended, my reaction was not, "YES!" Or, "Wow, that was great!" My reaction was, "...That's it?" Maybe I've been spoiled by Ikaruga and Devil May Cry, but I was left wanting something the game never gave me.

    Oh, two more things. First, there's a major upside to its brevity. Intrusion's gameplay isn't particularly special, though the level design is quite creative. If it had gone on for too much longer, it could easily have become monotonous. As it was, the in-between levels were forgettable, but they weren't dull.

    Second, this was made by one guy, more or less, and that is flat-out amazing. It's not a perfect game, but it's still well above average. I would've given it a 7.5, with the stipulation that it's only good for about ten hours and lacks much in the way of replay value. I'm glad I played it, but I would've preferred to pay a little less. (That, of course, is founded in how much I value my time and money relative to the entertainment value of the game, which is even more subjective than an ordinary review.)

    I feel like I've missed something in terms of what disappointed me about this game. Oh, well. Perhaps I'll remember later.

    At any rate, thanks for your patience. Concluding this wall of text,

    Chris (I really like parentheses) T

    P.S. Of course, Ikaruga doesn't have ninjas. Intrusion has ninjas. That's worth, like, fifty-out-of-ten review points right there.

    1. Hmmm. . .Thanks for sharing, I'm glad to have a second opinion. Give me a few days to let my schedule calm down and to formulate a halfway decent response. (And I say that mainly as a commitment for myself - I believe you've experienced first hand how terrible I can be with replies when I let them get away from me.) In the meantime, you've jogged my memory enough for me to recall that there was, in fact, a free demo for the game as while as a store on the creator's website, both which I neglected to mention. In any event, I'm glad you enjoyed it (problems aside)!

      Actually, as it will probably help prevent me from wasting your time. . .would it be fair to say that your main "problem" (though that may not be the most accurate word) with Intrusion is that it lacks anything to make it "special," shall we say? Just so that we're on the same page.

      P.S. Concerning the problems with the music looping, I had that happen too, though it only occurred sometimes. Never had the game teleport me, though!

      P.P.S. As a totally random thought, I'm getting the sneaking suspicion that you might be considerably better at arcade games than I am. . .

    2. Ah! I should mention, in turn, that I tried the demo first, and I found it an adequate demonstration of the game's nature. I liked it enough to buy the game--I wanted to see where it would lead--and (I reiterate) I don't regret the purchase. I felt like the game could've given me more of what it had, but then, that's an issue of expectations. Mostly, it left me craving Ikaruga and Gunstar Heroes*.

      No conversation we've had thus far qualifies as a waste of time**, so don't worry about it. Your restatement of my concern with the game is accurate. I feel like there's something else bothering me, but since I still can't pinpoint it, I can't express it. By extension, it would be downright amazing if you could figure that out, too. =P

      There's one thing I totally forgot to mention! It is this: thanks for reviewing the game! I've really enjoyed it, and it's genuinely fun in both concept and execution. I simply, as you say, didn't find the game -exceptional-.

      Wishing you well,

      Chris T

      P.S. It's just the one track, as far as I can tell. The teleport was a minor inconvenience--I suddenly transported across a room during a mech battle--but falling through the floor was severely annoying. Thankfully, it only happened once.

      P.P.S. Possible, but I wouldn't make the assumption. It took me consecutive days of extended play to get to the third level of Ikaruga, and I still haven't beaten the second boss (it is possible to advance in Ikaruga without defeating enemies). As for Intrusion, I spent my first playthrough fooling around and trying things out as a research expedition, which prepared me for my second, hard-mode playthrough. It seems more likely to me that our respective play styles lend themselves unequally well to this particular game; I tend to make the most of manipulating the system.

      For example, I scouted ahead on foot to kill mooks, then went back to get my mech for bosses, and when I reached the sphere towers in the Harpoon, I used rocks and physics to send it rolling across the stage like a giant, deadly hamster ball, killing everything in my path with next to no effort. Or, possibly, that's less an example of differing play styles and more a flimsy excuse to share another fun Intrusion story. One thing is sure about this game--it's the kind that, like the multiplayer Mario games, generates stories.

      * Holy cow! Gunstar Heroes is available on Steam! Excuse me for a bit...

      ** Plus, time spent waiting for a reply is actually just time spent doing other things, so it's not like it costs either of us anything to delay our responses. I think.

    3. See, just like I said, a couple of. . .weeks. . .

      To begin, let me better explain what I thought of the game. Intrusion 2 is not what one would call a. . ."special" game, I think. It's not something that will stay with you like the original Fallout, or something that you'll find viscerally affecting like Hotline Miami. For me, though, it got very, very close. As likely came through in the review, I find this game really. . .cool, I guess I'd say? There's just such a charm to it, for me. Things like the last boss making giant lasers from clenched fists or being able to ride giant wolves, just because it could be done, really struck a cord with me. That was exactly the kind of thing I'd come up with as a kid, and even if this game couldn't let me relive those days, it did remind me of them wonderfully. For that, it got the highest score I could in good conscience give it, while holding it back from the rating range reserved for games that are truly special. For me, that's an 8.5.

      This situation does a good job of highlighting a recent conundrum I've been having. As you might have picked up on, I've been including fewer and fewer ratings for things, in part because I've grown tired of associating numbers with quality, and in part because I simply don't consider myself qualified to do so (within the restrictions of my own standards, at least). On the other hand, I've always liked their ability to work with the written review itself and have the two clarify (or perhaps quantify) each other - something that clearly didn't happen here.

      Now then. . .I included those two paragraphs because I felt they did a good job of getting to the root causes of our discrepancy, but to actually respond to your specific points:

      On our differing reactions: Let me give you the context surrounding my playthrough of the game. I bought it on sale for $2.50, was overwhelmed by coursework, and had high hopes but minimal expectations due to a great listlessness. So in other words, it was practically free, the amount of time it took to play it was perfect for interspersing homework with, and I was in a lenient mood.

      Thus, when I finished it, I came away greatly pleased. I had thoroughly enjoyed it and had appreciated the way it hadn't wasted my time and simply got straight to the point and didn't outstay its welcome. As for the pricing, I will fully admit to feeling guilty about not paying full price mainly because I saw that it was a one man project - when they aren't trying to be funny (and I use that word loosely) with spoof games, I have quite a bit of admiration and love for indie developers. While I stand by my stance of wanting to pay full price, then, the context surrounding why could have been better explained.

      These, of course, weren't the only reasons I liked it - the ones stated in the review, and the way it rekindled some of my greatly diminished childhood spirit were the main factors of my enjoyment. They surely helped my opinion of how *much* I enjoyed the game, however; a fact I should perhaps be more ashamed of than I am, given my fondness for making reviews as objective as possible.

      Hopefully, that sheds some light on why our reactions to the game differed despite our opinions on it as a whole being fairly close (or so I like to believe). You do bring up one point in particular that I've spent a lot of time thinking about, though, and I've been dying to get your opinion on it for a while now, so please pardon me while I try to summarize that into a comment of its own.

    4. So, to put this in brief: I'm talking about the importance of replayability (or re-ability in general, rather). The more I consider it, the less importance I ascribe to it, my line of thought being: "Really, how many times does something have to be good, to be 'good'?" My prime example is the original Deus Ex game. For a while, I considered it one of the best games to exist, and certainly one of my favorites. However, the more I played it, the worse the experience became (I knew how to maximize returns in the game, which had me focusing on that instead of character building, which made the game a bit of a miserable thing - but that's a story for another time). Did that mean it wasn't a good game?

      I thought not. I still think it's an excellent game that everyone should play; the fact that it breaks down after the first few playthroughs doesn't make it less of a fantastic game, at least in my mind. Even if I personally enjoy it less, I can't fault it as a game for that.

      So when I hear things about how games don't have much replayability, I always wonder, "Why does that matter so much? If I have a great time with it for the first few playthroughs, why do I still need more from it?" But on the other hand, I totally understand the desire to get one's money's worth, and that's a massive topic of its own, but sufficient cause for hesitation on my part nonetheless.

      Thoughts, if any?

      J. Sato

    5. Hey John,

      What a great question! And some good thoughts before that, too. I'll respond to your first comment, then discuss replay value.

      That's a solid explanation of why we reacted so differently to the game. In particular, context is key; you were well-struck by a fanciful action game that asked for little commitment and dished itself out nonstop through the play experience.

      Intrusion 2 is rather like a standalone comic book: it requires no background and little involvement, it has a lot of flashy visuals and fun, over-the-top action or dialogue, and it ends conclusively, leaving you free to move on to something else. As comics go, Intrusion 2 is great, but I was expecting something more like a graphic novel (not like Watchmen, but like The Adventures of Dr. McNinja).

      I knew I'd like the visual style, but I expected something that would require some commitment. That, I think, was the challenge I was left craving; the game didn't require me to spend a lot of time on it to enjoy it, and I was actually looking for exactly that. My favorite single-player games are those that require a great deal of effort and involvement, and in contrast with my expectations, Intrusion looked weak and shallow.

      There's nothing wrong with shallow games, of course. I was disappointed only because I had expected the game to resemble my other gaming experiences; far better, as you say, to expect little, but hope a lot. I didn't judge it on its own merit. Nor can I--my lens is too coloured by my past experiences--but I wouldn't have it any other way. There's no reason to be ashamed of the influence your past has on your perspective. The ideal is not to be objective, I think, but to recognize where subjectivity is involved and acknowledge it clearly.

      For instance, I would never be able to fairly review a Leisure Suit Larry game, if for some reason I had to. I take issue with the series' premise, style, content, and presentation, and I have tremendous preconceptions about it that would inevitably alter my review. If I had to review such a game, I would simply do so, noting in the review the things that seem to have come from me, rather than from the game.

      Still, a review is about a presentation of a person's perspective on something. A perfectly objective "review" would mechanically list every part of the subject without making any value statements; this is informative, but dull. One of the nice things about including a rating: it forces the reviewer to evaluate (rather than describe), which can only happen if the reviewer has principles and perspective to begin with.

      Therefore, never discard your subjectivity--without it, what would motivate you to review anything in the first place? The objective (i.e., goal) is not to lack subjectivity, but to recognize and understand where your perspective comes from in the first place.

      Hmm, that digressed a bit. Now, replayability... I have a call to make, so I'll make a new comment for that in the same way you did.

      See you soon,

      Chris T

    6. A wonderful comment! Thank you so much - this offers an invaluable second opinion on something I'd been contemplating.

      First, though, on the subject of fulfillment; I think I very much understand what you mean now. I recently bought the new XCOM game and played through it, and was struck by how empty I found the experience. The cause was that I had been playing on normal and could save at any time, meaning that there was very little effort required on my part. I plan on playing it again at some point on hard with Ironman mode on to see if it changes anything.

      On the note of subjectivity, I wrote a post on this topic. I think a lot of my opinions (excluding what I want my blog, specifically, to be) still hold true, even if they're stated less than eloquently. There are two things you touch on about it that I do very much agree with.

      The first is the idea of being subjective, but being very transparent about it (i.e. acknowledging it where relevant). This agrees very much with my ironclad rule of reviewing (never simply tell that I like/dislike something, but instead tell why I feel that way). I believe that doing so achieves a sort of quasi-objectivity; it allows the audience to at least partially understand the product itself (which is the goal of objectivity in the first place). It's not perfect, but it's a good compromise.

      The second is the idea that subjectivity provides the motivation to and even the allure of a review. That has certainly become the case for me over the past few months. I feel like somewhere along the way, I've shifted from an anime-oriented review lens (i.e. one that uses almost film-like critique) to a game-oriented one (where the focus is on interactivity). It would be insurmountably difficult to talk about the interactive qualities of something without drawing on my own experiences with it, but for some reason I'd never really thought about it that way, so once again thanks for providing that perspective.

      If I think of anything to add as far as ratings go, I'll e-mail you (simply for the sake of keeping all our conversation threads as straight as possible), but for now, that's all I have to add.