What better place to play a game about an alien invasion in your backyard than in your backyard? When a game studio offered to stage an alien invasion right here in my neck of the woods, I shelved my concerns about violent video games and picked up my mobile phone to see what Alien Invasion AR FPS is all about.
Resisting an Alien Invasion in Augmented Reality
Set in the not-too-distant future, Alien Invasion AR FPS by Stary, tells the story of an insidious and subtle alien foe. The aliens, nicknamed “Jackers” came in peace and even brought gifts. However, the gifts were sabotaged and the aliens quickly showed their true colors and effectively took over the planet.
In Alien Invasion AR FPS, you play the part of a resistance fighter in this sort of Sci-Fi “Red Dawn” situation. Use limited resources and unlimited resourcefulness to take back your home from the Jackers. But, how does it all play out?
Narrative and Gameplay
Alien Invasion AR FPS unlocks level-by-level in an unfolding linear narrative starring you and your “commanding officer” in the resistance. The introductory video as well as your mission brief at the beginning of each stage involves some compelling art but some humdrum voicework.
As you are a resistance fighter, most of the early missions involve tasks like planting explosives or setting up defensive positions. The mission brief at the beginning of each mission starts out by explaining how the success of the previous mission shifted the balance of the overarching conflict, which helps to give a sense of purpose to the gameplay, which can feel repetitive.
As the game progresses, your victories unlock more resources for the resistance, including new weapons. The beginning of many of the early levels has a brief tutorial on how to use any new equipment that you have unlocked. You have unlimited ammunition, but health and grenades are limited and need to be sourced from throughout the levels.
The game currently consists of four levels of four stages each plus the intro video. I haven’t beaten the whole game yet, but the names of the levels and material provided by the game’s publisher suggest that the resistance does eventually succeed in driving the Jackers from Earth.
Playing Alien Invasion AR FPS
Alien Invasion AR FPS is a free app download for iOS 12 and newer, and for Android 8.0 and newer, and it’s surprisingly agile. The app is still in its early days – maybe one day it will have a marketplace for buying extra supplies, or maybe it will use the AR ad formats Niantic is exploring. But for now, it’s really just free.
From the technical perspective, the game plays out in a series of digital sets that you place in your physical environment. The game recommends a play area of almost 50 square feet, so it recommends playing outside. Even outside, I don’t think that I ever played in an area that big, but my backyard was big enough.
Once your mobile device recognizes that you’re in a large enough space, you tap the ground to place the virtual elements. Getting the angle exactly right is tricky and if you don’t figure it out pretty well, those virtual elements can be too high or too low, which kind of ruins the effect and impacts playability.
Once the stage is set, you navigate through the space by physically moving through your environment. If the area isn’t large enough, you can pause the game, move to a new position, and resume the game. Typically, you perform some initial task, move to cover, and confirm that you’re in place. Then, the wave of Jackers comes for you.
Buttons on the screen manage your various healing kits, your weapons and firing, and additional equipment that you gradually unlock and use, like hand grenades.
Letdowns and Triumphs
Unfortunately, what the stage looks like doesn’t change based on your physical environment. My backyard has a shed and some stone retaining walls, so it would have been cool if the game had recognized these and incorporated them into the stage design – but I understand that that’s a huge ask for a free mobile app.
Ducking and moving from cover to cover is effective and feels right. You also have to explore each stage a little if you want to collect resources like health kits. And your health kits don’t replenish at the beginning of each stage, so at least taking a good look around before the first wave comes is highly recommended.
My general strategy was to hunker down wherever I started the level and fight in place. Although, at one point, the last Jacker in a stage refused to leave his cover, so I got up and charged through the map firing my SMG. There was definitely a moment of thinking “This is exactly the way that an AR FPS is supposed to feel.”
Speaking of “feel,” Alien Invasion AR FPS doesn’t have haptic support – the phone doesn’t vibrate when I fire a gun or get shot. This feels like a huge missed opportunity, but it can’t just be something that the developers never thought of, so I’m confident that it will come in an update at some point.
Compromises Paid Off Overall
We’ve already seen one area where the choice to make the AR FPS affordable and accessible might have meant going without some potentially more immersive features. There’s one more big thing about this app that I didn’t mention that likely fits in the same camp: it doesn’t require data or Wi-Fi. At least, not yet. The game’s roadmap includes multiplayer that probably will.
For me, this is a huge win – and it makes a lot of sense for a game that was designed to be played outdoors. As someone who’s seen too many Pokèmon trainers throwing balls into their bathtubs because they didn’t have connections outside of their homes, an AR game that doesn’t require connectivity feels like a breath of fresh air.
Again, that’s with the understanding that other AR games can do things that this one can’t. As a technical showpiece for AR, this game might not blow picky critics out of the water. But, as an artistic showcase for AR, this game elevates an enjoyable and well-executed first-person shooter onto a new level of play.
But How Did it Make Me Feel?
I mentioned at the top of this piece that I’m historically not a fan of violence in video games – particularly XR video games. It was something that I struggled with as I approached Peaky Blinders: The King’s Ransom. In my playthrough, I found that that game managed graphic content in such a way that it was able to be a part of the story without overwhelming the player.
I feel similarly about AR use in Alien Invasion AR FPS. It also helps that in Alien Invasion I’m killing aliens instead of Englishmen – that sits better with me. But, the aliens aren’t rendered in such quality that I have to intimately consider their death – they don’t even bleed like the gang members and political agitators that I virtually shot down in London and Birmingham.
Returning to Alien Invasion’s use of AR as an artistic medium rather than strictly as a game development tool, there’s a lot to be said for the way that AR tells this story about, well, an alien invasion.
Early in the game, I load an anti-aircraft gun that shoots down an alien ship – and it happens over my backyard. As I watched the airship go down behind my laundry line, I imagined it crashing down the road from my house and blocking traffic. It was another one of those moments that felt like a win for the development studio: this is what an AR FPS can do.
Are there things that I would like to see in updates to Alien Invasion AR FPS? Yes. Are there things that I can complain about from the game? Not really. As a lightweight, connection-optional mobile-based AR FPS that you can download and play for free, I really can’t think of any reason not to recommend that you at least give the game a try.