Earth Atlantis Review
Sony PlayStation 4Also available on Nintendo Switch, iPad and Microsoft Xbox One
Beneath the ocean waves, great beasts are stirring under the rubble. Remnants of past humanity have broken down, collapsed and fallen together to create a labyrinth of passage ways and arenas full of gigantic sealife, all of it seemingly on the look out for lunch and a bite of any craft brave or foolish enough to enter their domain. Enter you, captain of a submersible kitted out with enough firepower to fell the mightiest of these creatures, provided your skill is up to snuff.
As is the way with most 2D shooting games, Earth Atlantis keeps things simple. Heck, the outline of the plot I gave above is actually more wordy and detailed than the simple explanation given when starting a fresh game. You're plonked straight into the seat of your ship and set to work in short order after kicking things off, no specific direction or instruction given beyond fighting the baddies and avoiding ship wrecks. Thankfully gameplay is intuitive enough for the uninitiated and more than obvious enough for experienced players of 2D side scrolling shooters, but perhaps a few arrows or other nudges in the right direction to steer players from the numerous dead ends and empty spaces throughout the map might have been nice.
From the get go you've access to a single ship, with the tease of more to unlock right there on the ship selection screen. Each ship has a different firing pattern and rate, with the first ship firing some fairly rapid, easily tracked and aimed shots from the front and rear while later vehicles offer up variants such as shots that fire from all directions around the ship but travel far less distance.
It's a shame the variants are all locked behind progress because, while they do adjust the way a player moves around the map and approaches enemies, none are inherently better than the others and simply offer up more flexibility on the approach a player takes to a given area or boss. Having had a slightly harder time with some areas only to return and sail right through with a ship that suits my aggressive close up style of play didn't feel like a real upgrade, more that I'd been held back in the first place for the sake of there being something to unlock as players progress.
Beyond the ship's cannons themselves, powered up by picking up the floating P symbols left behind by the slaughtered sea life, your choice of attack is augmented by an additional pickup. This aspect follows more familiar shooter tropes with M standing for missile, H for homing attacks and so on. Picking up matching letters powers up your secondary attack, while touching a different letter switches out the attack, drops your previous one and decreases it's power by one if you want to pick it back up again. It's standard stuff that is unlikely to impress but feels absolutely necessary.
Level design is an unusual aspect when put next to a majority of 2D shooting games in that there's no automatic scrolling forcing the player to push on through the level. Instead you're given free reign to go where you will, as you will and can turn the ship with a button press. As such, emphasis is on memorising the layout of the broken down cityscape that lies beneath the waves, learning by repetition the routes to each boss arena and what lies along them. A mini map in the top left corner highlights the locations of bosses available to you, most often spread far and wide in such a way that will force a lot of travelling down the same routes over and over. Beating bosses unlocks new routes and crannies to check out, but often these are dead ends or shortcuts to places you'll have seen a few times already.
Ultimately, the lack of auto-scroll is a novel way to avoid the time pressure factor inherent to most scrolling shooters, but does little to keep a player engaged after their third or fourth time moving along a tight passage full of cannon fodder.
As mentioned, the core of the game is tackling the boss fights that fill up the occasional cavernous openings spread throughout the watery wastes. There's a steady escalation of their abilities as you progress, starting with relatively easy mega sharks and giant octopus dishing out simple, slow attack patterns before moving on to a variety of other ocean inspired designs featuring gimmicks hardened shooter fans will be very familiar with. For example, there's the boss that can only be hit when you hide behind it and force it's weak spot to pop out for a few moments, there's the boss who fires homing projectiles that force you to spend the whole fight focused on avoiding them while getting potshots here and there, there's another one that curls up into a ball and hurls itself around the arena before stopping and revealing it's soft spot, among others.
For the uninitiated it's likely to be a challenging gauntlet that'll leave the player with a good sense of what they can expect from other games in the genre as well as how to tackle those types of bosses, but for the experienced it might well come off as a bit rote and expected.
In terms of aesthetics, Earth Atlantis is immediately easy on the eyes and ears, but struggles to impress with anything truly unexpected or memorable.
The graphics are presented with a pseudo-hand drawn quality, 3D wireframes rendered against an off white, crumpled paper background. These models allow for some lovely parallax-style scrolling effects as you pass background scenery and the clean lines of each plane pass each other, one area in particular that features a sunken Statue of Liberty really shows off how well modeled these piece of scenery are, rotating and revealing themselves as the player passes. Perhaps it's just personal preference, but I'd have liked to see just a little splash of colour here and there to help highlight enemy attacks or points of interest as the monotone graphics do become a little monotonous (sorry, couldn't help myself).
Similarly, the music is a pleasant enough accompaniment to the game, but quickly becomes repetitive. There are two or three tunes for the exploration side of things and higher paced music for the boss fights, but the riffs and melodies are very standard stuff indeed and don't add to the character of the game so much as make it feel all the more like a staid entry into the 2D shooter genre.