Review – I, AI

Here am I reviewing yet another bullet hell shooter. I love this genre to death, but I’ll be the first one to admit that this genre has been starving for innovation for, well, basically ever since Ikaruga‘s release almost twenty years ago. Upon hearing about the weirdly named I, AI, I wasn’t expecting for it to be the solution for the genre’s problems. A budget shooter published by Sometimes You, the king of uneventful budget indies? Yep, this was never going to move any mountains for the bullet hell community, but I still ended up enjoying it way more than expected.

A story-focused introductory level in a bullet hell shooter? Bold, albeit boring.

The overwhelming majority of bullet hell shooters are completely devoid of plot, often featuring the bare minimum amount of information just to inform you who you are, where you are, and who you should be shooting at. The shocking thing about I, AI is that, right from the beginning of the game, I was presented with… cutscenes! Granted, they were cheap and the voice acting was so unbelievably bad I ended up loving it for the wrong reasons, but cutscenes nonetheless.

The game even features a prologue mission completely devoid of enemies to shoot, just to properly set you up with the plot. As the title implies, you are a rogue artificial intelligent hell-bent on escaping a space station by uploading its consciousness into a starship. As you progress through the campaign, you’ll be greeted with more (laughably bad) cutscenes. The story is far from being interesting, but I was just impressed with the effort put into the game’s overall presentation and setting, even though you can clearly notice this was developed with the tiniest of budgets.

Some interesting boss fights in here.

As a game itself, well, this is just your run of the mill bullet hell shooter. You control a ship, you see other things flying towards you, and you gotta shoot them down before they do the same to you, all while dealing with some really questionable hitboxes. Your ship has a health bar, but it’s basically there for show, you’ll still be destroying in one, possibly two hits, depending on the type of projectile attacking you. Just like any other bullet hell game, it’s all about avoiding projectiles in a zen-like manner, and the game clearly expects for you to die over and over again.

That’s the thing, though: dying isn’t exactly punishing. You will constantly collect small gems whenever you destroy an enemy, and you keep half of them whenever you die. You then use these gems to power up your ship, be it by increasing your damage output, range, armor, or even by attaching new side weapons, such as laser beam or your typical screen-clearing bomb.

I actually liked this upgrade system a lot, because it encouraged me to keep playing the same levels over and over again, even if I would end up dying in every single attempt. I would eventually rack up enough gems to improve my main laser or upgrade my armor to the point it would possibly withstand maybe three or four shots instead of just one. It’s not exactly a roguelite, nor a soulslike. It’s just a simple but effective way to encourage players to not give up so quickly. The more you play, the more upgrades you’ll be able to afford, and the easier the game will become. This is by no means a revolutionary feature, but it was surprisingly well-implemented in a game I certainly wasn’t expecting to include any semblance of depth at all.

A buffet of bullets.

Presentation-wise, this game clearly showcases its small budget. Some of I, AI‘s designs aren’t bad at all, but none of the game’s assets are animated. They are decently crafted PNGs, there’s no discussion about it, but they are completely devoid of animations. Ships just spin around, lasers and rockets just move around with the grace of an Adobe Flash animation.

And then there’s the sound design. Here’s the thing about it: the game occasionally sounds great, and occasionally sounds terrible. There’s no middle ground. Whenever the game decides to throw an epic boss fight at you, it’s usually accompanied by a surprisingly good song that makes everything feel even more dramatic. Other times, the game either decides to play a bad song in the background, or just forgets to play a song at all. Finally there’s the aforementioned voice acting. It’s really cheap, it’s stupidly amateurish, and it’s chock-full of grammar mistakes. And I loved it because of these issues, not despite of them.

If you don’t know who’s you’re enemy, do the following: if it moves, shoot it. If it doesn’t, still shoot it just to make sure.

I, AI is far from being one of the most innovative shooters in recent memory, and it clearly suffers a bit in its presentation department as a result of a pretty obvious microscopic budget. Still, what the developers managed to pull off with such limited resources is commendable. It is a surprisingly fun, albeit massively generic bullet hell shooter with a decent upgrade system that encourages you to keep playing the same level over and over again, despite controlling such a weak and frail ship at first.

 

Graphics: 5.5

Ships and backgrounds are well-designed, but the game suffers from a complete lack of animated assets. It feels incredibly cheap as a result.

Gameplay: 8.0

Fast-paced bullet hell gameplay with responsive controls, although it suffers from having some questionable hit detection. The interesting upgrade system encourages replayability.

Sound: 6.0

A mixed bag. Either the game will throw a really good song at you, or it will basically forget to play a song during a level. Then there’s the voice acting, which is so bad I ended up loving it.

Fun Factor: 7.0

I, AI is a generic shooter at its core, but it’s still quite fun due to its fast-paced gameplay and very interesting upgrade system.

Final Verdict: 7.0

I, AI is available now on PS4, Xbox One, PC and Switch.

Reviewed on PS4

A copy of I, AI was provided by the publisher.