You could spin me around twenty times blindfolded and set me free on Xbox Live and I’d still manage to stumble across an indie twin-stick shooter. It’s pretty tough for indie shooters to really make a name for itself, and SCHAR: Blue Shield Alliance tries to set itself apart by focusing on cooperative missions, light RPG elements, and a pretty rich backstory. That means you’ll want to have some friends around for maximum enjoyment, but it’s still a competent shooter while flying solo.
SCHAR has a surprisingly detailed story for a twin-sick shooter, but it follows many of the typical sci-fi tropes that we’ve all seen before. Aliens have pushed humanity to the brink of extinction, but new Blue Shift technology has allowed them to turn the tide and possibly survive. Le yawn. Still, the frequent chatter of the characters and background information on the planets help sell the universe’s history and make the game feel more immersive.
There are a few different ships that can be utilized, and predictably, each of them have their own strengths and weaknesses. This might be where you’d get to use some good old strategery if you were playing with some buds, since one player could pick the ship that lays down healing bots and others could be more aggressive. Since I was defending the universe all by my lonesome, I went with the well-rounded Euphrates ship and got to work.
Most of the missions are structured around defending some kind of object or objects, such as a satellite, two satellites, or escorting a freighter flying to – you guessed it – a satellite. The shooting is just about what you’d expect, but it would have helped if there was a sound effect or something to let you know when you are taking damage. The ships control more like Asteroids and less like Geometry Wars; they have a sense of weight to them, and you don’t have the pinpoint control over these hulking space cruisers that we’ve come to expect from shooters. While the backgrounds and sound effects are impressive, the actual ships kind of look like blobs of color that pop off the screen and don’t seem to really belong in space.
The scrap system is really the backbone to most of what this game is looking to accomplish, and it works kind of like the crystal system in Dungeon Defenders. Defeated foes drop scrap, which can be gobbled up and used to repair satellites and also purchase upgrades in between rounds. Each ship can only cart a set amount of scrap, and the ships slow down pretty dramatically when carting around a bunch of space junk. That isn’t a big deal since the bulk of the missions don’t require traveling over vast distances, but there are some points where it’s best to jettison the scrap for a speed boost.
Adding RPG elements to games is pretty standard nowadays, but there aren’t too many twin-stick shooters that have embraced upgrades, so this was really the carrot that kept me playing SCHAR. The downside is that once you start upgrading a ship, you’re at a pretty severe disadvantage if you want to use any other ship. An easy solution would be if the game allowed you to go back and replay levels, but you are inexplicably locked out of completed levels except for a free play mode that doesn’t save any progress.
Each ship has a pair of special weapons, and the Euphrates ship that I spend so much time with had some missiles and could deploy a temporary turret that had far better aim than any ship I’ve ever piloted. These upgradeable moves help define each ship, but the game should have leaned on these unique attributes more heavily. Practically the whole game is spent defending something, so why not allow you to lay down permanent defenses and upgrade them with scrap? Wandering down that quasi-tower-defense path would have helped the game feel more unique, and not just a twin-stick shooter that happens to have upgrades.
For as ambitious as it wants to be, SCHAR probably doesn’t do quite enough new to stand out and be considered one of the better twin-stick shooters on the XBLIG. The ship upgrades and story are a nice touch, but there are only so many times you can defend a satellite before you want to jump out of the ship and let deep space have its way with your body. You can probably go ahead and add extra star to the rating if you have friends to play with.
It’s not out of this world, but there’s something fun there. Give the demo a spin if it seems up your alley.
SCHAR: Blue Shift Alliance was purchased by the reviewer. It is available for 240 MS Points ($3).