Growing up between the mid-90s and early-2000s, I witnessed a time where video games were still emerging as a pastime. I was lucky enough to be able to play a range of different consoles; my favorite type of game being the twin-stick shooter. Whether we’re talking old-school Asteroids or something more modern-type Ikaruga, these types of games have always held a special place in my heart. That’s why getting to play Sleepy Spider Studios’ newest game Project Aether: First Contact was exactly the wave of nostalgia I didn’t know I needed.
What Is Project Aether: First Contact?
The game itself is a love letter to old-school shoot-em-ups. It features the classic scrolling map design present in all such games, along with a steady supply of new weapons and a handy arsenal of techniques that can be employed on the fly. Whether you’re taking down an ever-increasing roster of enemies, or even a variety of gigantic bosses, you’re covered.
You play as a test pilot, gaining control over a new experimental combat suit and setting out to stop an alien invasion. With the help of a colorful cast of NPCs providing with all sorts of knowledge, you try to survive the incoming extraterrestrial hordes.
Immediately, Project Aether proves to have solid gameplay. It’s impressive how fluid the movement feels while you’re zipping around the stage.
To start with, you’re armed with three weapons: a blaster, a fusion rifle, and your trusty sword. Both of your ranged weapons have a heat meter that gradually fills up over time. However, as you’re free to swap between the two at any time, there’s virtually no danger of running out of ways to shoot foes down.
With the game being a classic arcade-style shoot-em-up, there’s almost always bullets flying your way. Thankfully, your mech suit comes equipped with advanced thrusters, letting you dodge through enemy beam attacks. Just be sure to plan your movements carefully, lest you jump into the path of another ship’s attack.
Despite how hectic the action can get, Project Aether is pretty forgiving, giving you access to multiple health kits and at least 3 continues during each mission. Don’t worry about this; you can bump up the difficulty of the game if things start getting too easy.
So, What’s Good?
As mentioned above, the game offered me a well crafted and engaging experience right from the start. The level design is detailed, every enemy having a distinctive design and movement pattern that helps you differentiate them amidst the heat of battle.
The soundtrack for the game is also noteworthy. The use of atmospheric techno music sets the mood and immerses you into the world, making the perfect accompaniment to blasting killer alien robots. If you find yourself especially enjoying the soundtrack, you can find each song playable under the “extras” button from the main menu.
The voice acting in the game was a little hard to get used to as first. It’s not often that I get to hear a proper British accent in a video game. But, after the initial surprise, I found the voice acting to be a great addition to Project Aether: First Contact. Its also nice that the game features a diverse cast with people of different nationalities, something that a lot of AAA games tend to forget about.
What Needs Improving?
Project Aether: First Contact is a fun game. However, there a few little additions that I feel could enhance it.
- More unique events during levels: This is only a minor complaint, but I found myself flying through levels with only the soundtrack as my company. Given that the game already has voice acting and some spare dialogue during the missions, it’d be nice to see just a few more quips and bits of dialogue thrown in to make the experience a little less lonely.
- Weapon balancing/info: Although I enjoyed using each of the weapons I unlocked in the game, I did run into the problem of some weapons being ineffective against certain enemies (such as bosses or armored ships). This problem could be resolved by adding info during the weapon selection process. That would inform the player which weapons work best against which enemy types, and that way, players aren’t stuck halfway through a level with only one useable weapon.
- More controller options: Having played the game using an Xbox One controller, I often found that I wanted to turn the sensitivity up. Unfortunately, there were no such options in the game’s menu. Although it’s a small addition, it’d help people (such as myself) that find using a controller a little easier on our poor wrists.
Project Aether: First Contact is a great indie game and an excellent purchase at just $14.99/£10.29. What’s more? Early purchasers get to avail of a 12% discount. If you’re a fan of old retro arcade shooters like myself, then Project Aether is a must-have for your Steam collection.
A review copy was provided by the developer.