Circle Strafing Like Mad in the Alien-Infested World of DOGOS

Why do the aliens try to resist a single heavily armed ship with no chance of taking down the overwhelming might of its vast armada? By now they should have learned that it’s going to cut through everything they throw against it, from popcorn enemies to vastly overpowered dreadnaughts. The damage to the fleet alone should be enough to guarantee a weakened military presence that will take decades to recover from, if it’s recoverable at all. Just let the ship on by and chalk one up to the “loss leader” column. Alien empire survives, plucky Earth defenders get a victory. But no, the biomechanical invaders in DOGOS are putting up a fight against Desmond Phoenix, pilot of an experimental ship that grafts alien tech to a human aircraft. Basically, they’re screwed.

Not that it starts out well for Desmond. The game opens with him escaping an attack that’s left him the only survivor of what should have been a squadron of the new aircraft, and he’s pretty badly damaged to boot. The tutorial for steering and shooting air and ground weapons takes place as he flies away, and then runs across the radio signal of a tank driver needing help. While technically this turns into an escort mission the enemies don’t target the tank, leaving you to get on with rescuing the woman who will become your mechanic as you shoot through level 1.

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DOGOS
is a free-roaming top-down shooter, letting you fly wherever you’d like in the level within the constraints of the canyon walls.  The ship is outfitted with two weapons, one for air targets and one for ground, and you earn different types as you progress. The three level demo had two types of each available, although the first guns were the starter set so it wasn’t so much a choice of options as a straight upgrade. The initial single-shot gun gets either a three-way upgrade or a spreading cyclone, depending on which of the two ships you choose at game’s start, and the Xevious-style bomb turns into a faster, more powerful sniper shot.

The ship also gets a special weapon dropped by enemies in the field, with the ones in the demo having three uses apiece. Guided missiles are the most common and useful, targeting both ground and air targets in a twisty swarm of explosive potential. The ultra-laser only hits air enemies, though, but its power means you can blow through several targets per burst, assuming you can get a clear line of sight. Caves have irregular walls and stalactites, and they provide cover both for you and your targets equally. The demo had space for four main guns and three bombs, and while the two ships share bomb types their primary weapons are unique to each one.

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As for the game you get to use these pyrotechnic toys in, it’s off to a very nice start. Like the developer’s previous game, Project Root, you fly from an overhead perspective and the world spins around as you turn, leaving the aircraft always facing mostly forward.  While the main gun fires straight out, hitting anything in its path in the expected fashion, ground targets fly down at an angle and usually land right where the targeting reticle indicates. The explosive radius isn’t particularly large, at least in the starting bomb or the upgraded sniper shot, so spamming the firepower in the same way as the main gun isn’t very effective. A battle consisting of planes and tanks can get tricky as you try to both target enemy aircraft and line up the ground shots, and making it just a little harder is the way a small ridge or other surface feature can interfere with targeting. It’s slightly annoying to miss a shot when the bomb catches on a wrinkle in the surface and explodes a few feet away from its target, but it’s hard to complain about accurate 3D and collision detection.

As the game gets moving the action heats up nicely, with shots coming from every direction and the ship darting gracefully through the firepower.  Enemies explode on the ground and in the air as balls of plasma whip by and rockets target multiple enemies at once.  The tempo, at least in the first three levels of the eventual fourteen, is that of brief moments of intense action followed by a few peaceful seconds flying to the next encounter, and DOGOS‘ free-roaming nature means you can extend that moment of rest if you feel like kicking back for a few seconds and enjoying the nicely detailed levels. You may not want to rest too long, though, because each level has three bonus goals to shoot for and one of them is usually a speed run.  One of the challenges to DOGOS‘ gameplay is the need to balance the intense action of an arcade shooter with the more laid-back approach of its free-roaming levels.  It’s a self-solving problem, though, because when the action heats up and the enemies start falling, it’s hard to slow down as you fly forward to the next hit of pure action gaming.