1942: Joint Strike

I was looking forward to 1942: Joint Strike (Xbox 360) ever since it was first announced earlier this year. I finally downloaded it a couple of days ago and was eager to try it out right away. However, the game fell flat from my expectations. I really liked the older 1942 series games, especially 1942 itself and the highscore battles I associate with it. Joint Strike however just has too many flaws to live up to its legendary predecessor.

I’ll start out with the graphical side of things. The models and textures are very simplistic and clash with the photo realistic water shader. Especially the terrain in the first level is very ugly and feels lifeless. I expected more from a X360 game, especially after games like Omega Five or even the port of Ikaruga, which still looks stylish after all those years. If developers are looking for inspiration on how to properly do a 3D-shoot ’em up from an artist’s standpoint, take a look at Zero Gunner 2 or Under Defeat. Both are Dreamcast games, running on 10 year old hardware, which visually hold up better than Joint Strike. The animations in JS are very stiff and amateurish, like ships or tanks breaking apart. Sometimes, bosses don’t even have transitions between different states of destruction, not even an explosion to shroud the appearance new gun that replaces the old one. On the plus side, the game has a washed-out film look applied to it. This is an interesting idea, but it doesn’t help much when the rest of the graphics are just plain boring.

So, how does it play then? After selecting the difficulty, there are three different ships to choose from, with different specs for each one.  They vary in attributes like speed and health. Weapons can be changed and upgraded in the classic 1942-way, by shooting waves of red planes that drop corresponding power-ups. The game contains both lives and a life-meter, something that’s always controversial amongst die-hard shmup fans (who usually prefer lives only.) Hitting enemies will build up a power bar. When the bar is full, you get an extra strike (missile-) attack. Also, you’ve got the usual stock of bombs. There’s no autofire, since keeping the fire button pressed will charge up a stronger shot. The scoring system is based on the distance to the enemy unit, the closer you are, the more points you get for destroying it. What I found problematic was that the hitbox seems to be rather large, making it difficult maneuvering between enemy shot patterns. This is where the life-meter proves vital – otherwise, the game would be over much too soon. Another issue I have with the game is that the weapons always feel kind of weak. Even on the highest level, it still takes way too long for my taste to destroy some of the mid-sized enemies. Also, it’s annoying how the game never seems to save, and keeps asking if I want to create a save file. I don’t know if that’s a bug, but I’d rather live without it. To be fair, I haven’t tried multiplayer yet, which might make the experience more interesting, we’ll see about that.

In summary, the game just feels a little soul-less and bland to me. That’s why for me the addiction level is quite low. I will certainly give it a try again, but there’s a lot of other games around currently that deserve more playing time in my opinion. When it comes to shmups, the recently released Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 is a better investment.

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