We have no qualms with comparing this colourful and chaotic vertical shooter to an arcade game. Unfortunately for fans of the genre, the comparison is with one of those modern child-sized novelty cabinets that dish out prize tickets. Bright colours, big explosions, simple gameplay, and little else. Pop in a pound and walk away five minutes later with enough prize tickets for either a pencil or a tiny bag of Haribo, feelingly only mildly satisfied either way.
Like most arcade games, it’s able to lure you in for a closer look. The premise is original, involving missile-toting boats sailing upstream while blasting mutated sea life. The bright colour palette, fast pace, and constant explosions are pleasing, and taking down several enemies at once with a well-aimed torpedo is satisfying. Achievements unlock rapidly – digital prize tickets, if you will.
But those thrills are remarkably short-lived. It took us around 25 minutes to beat the campaign, continuing only twice. This left just a few extra modes to dabble with, including the score-chasing arcade mode, and a passive ‘rafting’ mode that unlocked after beating the main game. Some thirty minutes on, we felt as if we had seen everything on offer, with every achievement unlocking during the story.
While it’s true that some of the most cherished retro shooters can be completed in half an hour, After Wave: Downfall has some glaring faults. The tutorial sets it up as something more complex than it actually is, detailing the ability to adjust the craft’s speed to avoid hazards. This skill came into play just once – right towards the end. Outside of boss battles, holding down A while drifting left to right will see you take minimal damage. Bosses up the ante, but not by a great deal.
There’s a choice of cutesy characters to play as, each with their own skill trees, but each upgrade is vastly expensive in relation to tokens earned. To fully upgrade a character, the game must be beaten several times over – with no incentive to do so. We managed to blitz through it with a single firepower upgrade, pouring the remaining tokens into unlocking a bonus character.
The surplus skill trees appear to link to something more severe – the final ranking screen suggests eight stages were originally planned, instead of just four. While this is just speculation on our part, it would explain the brevity of the experience, and why the upgrades are so unevenly paced.
Shoot’em up loving children – if such a thing exists – may get a kick out of this for an hour, but other than that, it’s difficult to know who it’s aimed at. Outside of the extremely easy Gamerscore boost, you’ll be left with nothing to show for your £12.49. No satisfaction, no glory. And no tiny bag of Haribo either.
7 Raven Studios’ After Wave: Downfall is out now on all formats.