March 13th, 2012 | By Doug Walter
Shoot-em-ups, or in the vernacular, shmups, are one of the most well-trodden genres in terms of sheer number of titles. This is not just because pixel-art 2D ones are a common first step for independent developers given the standard 2D scrolling gameplay that’s easier than creating, or at least using, a 3D engine to control a ship along a 2D plane. Implementing 3D models, skyboxes, and particle effects is often a deeper time sink than just making sliding sprites. So, paradoxically, here is Arkhelom 3D, a 2D shmup created in a 3D engine with 3D models, 3D skyboxes and (three-dimensionally rendered) particle effects.
Before you google the word “arkhelom” to find out what it means, don’t. It’s a completely original word, which is probably a great way of insuring top search rankings. That’s cool, but it would be even more cool if it actually had something to do with shooting spaceships, robots, and cyborgs. Lacking context, the only way to distinguish Arkhelom from other bullet hell shooters is design of the visual and gameplay varieties.
Jumping into the pilot’s seat is fast and easy. Barring some loading time, it’ll be a snap before you’re successfully mowing down wave upon wave of enemies with various types of lasers and missiles. Controls are similarly simple and intuitive. Moving the mouse controls your ship’s movement, and the speed with which your ship is able to dodge projectiles may come across as shocking for some. Lasers with mouse button, missiles with the right, dodge bullets, collect powerups, get drones to shoot for you, we all know the drill.
To add to the conventional gameplay is the store where you spend points earned in-game to upgrade a series of increasingly powerful ships so you can then go back through the same levels and finish them again with hopefully higher scores. One element that is welcome and unexpected is being able to tractor beam an enemy when they’re sufficiently damaged in order to steal either their weapons or their entire vessel as a drone to shoot alongside you, which adds a small additional layer of short-term gratification to the gameplay. Levels are predominantly corridors with enemies littering the floor or walls, a few branching paths, and boss battles that are often just bigger spaceships with more armaments. Altogether, participating in this space genocide is fairly fun, but since there’s no definitive end to the war on whatever space baddies these are, it’s fairly easy to get bored before finishing the numerous levels.
Visually, Arkhelom lacks a consistent theme, which isn’t really as big of a disadvantage as it seems. On an individual scale the design of ships, enemies, and bosses is varied and interesting. Some levels (particularly the ones in space) have awesome enemy spaceships to fly around and shoot at and the bosses are generally giant enemy spaceships and animal cyborgs that provide a nice vacation from the legions of small geometric shapes buzzing around your cockpit. The detail of the backgrounds is also rather meticulous. Some stages will have you zooming through asteroid bases, down desert roads and grassy valleys; and despite the graphical quality this provides a decent amount of variety, at least it would if you could see it.
When I use the phrase “bullet hell shooter” to describe Arkhelom, I don’t mean “bullet hell” quite on the level of Ikaruga or Touhou, but it definitely comes close. Screen real estate quickly becomes undervalued when you can have hundred of explosions, missile trails, and laser blasts blocking the view of potential threats – leading inevitably to unanticipated damage to your ship.
All that considered, Arkhelom certainly has a lot of gaming time to offer considering its large number of levels, weapons, and ships, but when taken together these just cover up the fact that the game flow is more or less a direct CTRL-C CTRL-V from previous shooters with some colorful 3D models to distract you. Nothing really new is on offer, so if you’re happy with old-school shooting and semi-new-school graphics, check it out. If you’re not, then don’t.