Shooting down aliens in corridors? Gamers have been doing that for decades, haven’t they? Sure, but freeware indie title Iji shows us how nigh-flawless execution of an old concept can produce something truly special.
You are cast in the role of the titular girl who awakens six months after an alien invasion to discover that civilization has collapsed, most of her loved ones are dead and that her body has been cybernetically modified. Being trapped inside a complex that is infested with the aforementioned alien invaders, Iji receives instructions via intercom from her brother Dan – barricaded in a control room – who acts as a guide but nonetheless has an agenda which is not entirely clear at first. Acting upon Dan’s directions, Iji sets off to deal with the extraterrestrial menace, be it through reason or by force. We’ll get to the “reason” part shortly.
The game is, fundamentally, a Metroid-style RPG-platformer. Upgrading Iji’s cybernetic enhancements is a central theme and will greatly influence the game’s outcome. Points are earned which are spent in stations scattered around the complex. There are several fields available for upgrade, including the ability to “crack” doors and crates, use more complex alien weaponry, carry more health and even combine different weapons. It’s completely up to the player which category to focus his or her points on, but each level only affords a certain number of points to spend, thus forcing the player to carefully consider purchasing and upgrading decisions.
The abundance of choices mean that players can instead choose to go a passive route. With the exception of a few bosses, you can avoid killing most of the beings you encounter, and this will affect Iji’s mental state as well as how you are perceived by the aliens. However, opting for this particular style of play takes considerably more time and patience, as Iji gets caught in the middle of an intergalactic war between two rival species – the Tasen and the Komato – who are entirely too trigger-happy. Nonetheless, the option to face Iji as either a twitchy shooter or a stealth game provides enormous replay value, as does the abundance of secrets and character logs which fill in the backstory.
Iji‘s control is, for the most part, spot-on. You walk at a slow pace and are able to jump slightly, which is upgradeable. Iji can grab ledges and ride alien vehicles similar to the speeder bikes from Return of the Jedi. However, a major issue is that you are only able to shoot left or right. It doesn’t detract too much from the game’s overall enjoyment but it does feel a bit cheap and clunky not being able to fire shots upwards or while in midair.
The music is second-to-none, featuring a mixture of rock, industrial and ambient that truly sets the tone for the menacing and desolate atmosphere inside the game’s endless halls and rooms. The sound effects are a tad on the generic side, even with the synthesized alien voices, but they serve their purpose well.
Visually, the game has a look heavily reminiscent of early 90s titles such as Flashback and Another World; Iji employs a simple, lineless style and relies on contrast, fluid animation and colourful particles to bring the experience to life. Sadly, the locations are bland and one floor of the complex looks pretty much like the next. Some more variation would have gone a long way to making this title stand out even more.
Iji has a surprising amount of depth for a freeware title and will appeal to fans of Delphine Software’s games or anybody looking for a platform that raises the bar just a bit higher.