"Why don't we start you off with the new Centipede," one of Atari's PR managers said to me, already walking in that direction, and I'm sure my face visibly fell. Traditionally, of course, any game that attempts to revisit, revise, update, amend, remake, reboot or augment one of the old video game classics tends to be a blatant attempt at a quick nostalgia-fueled buck. It's like certain titles have, through the weight of years, become some kind of pseudo-license.
On the other hand, Centipede: Infestation is by WayForward, a developer I've had a lot of time for ever since playing its WiiWare horror title Lit, and once I actually got my hands on it, it wasn't bad. It's a fast-paced shooter that pits you and your arsenal of guns against an army of alien insects, and it comes off like "Ben 10," <I>Geometry Wars and <I>Smash TV got together to raise a child.
Infestation comes off kind of like the official video game for a children's television show that doesn't exist. Your character is named Max, a bug-hunting teenager in a postapocalyptic world, and the story is a "boy meets girl" sort of thing against a backdrop of large guns and dead insect aliens. In co-op mode, that girl, Maisy, is the second player.
In the stage I played on the E3 showroom floor, Max was in a small clearing that was constantly under attack from small, fast bugs that could hop into the area from any direction. You move Max with the thumbstick, and he 3he direction of a targeting reticle that you direct with the Wiimote. It's from that school of top-down shooters where you're constantly running backward while shooting, doing everything you can to avoid being penned in and slaughtered, because one hit from one bug is enough to kill you. In that way, at least, it's got that arcade quarter-muncher feel going on because I died quite a lot.
Your standard gun is a simple machine gun with a high rate of fire, and Max can also use a short-ranged shockwave attack to clear some space if he gets cornered. There's also a flamethrower and a "force gun," the latter of which occupies the same niche here as a shotgun does in a lot of other games: short-ranged crowd control.
When killed, certain enemies, such as scarabs and spiders, drop power-ups that take the form of extra guns, extra lives, or plant-based "turrets" that shoot at nearby enemies and attract bugs away from Max. Getting the same power-up to spawn near a turret gives you a double turret, which can quickly clear out a swarm, but its immobility and the sheer number of insects tend to give it a short lifespan.
The titular centipede showed up at the end of the demo and quickly filled up almost the entire area. Only one of its segments was vulnerable to my gunfire, and that was tricky because there was only one safe space to stand, and destroying it made it split into two faster centipedes in the classic style. At that point, it suddenly shifted from a game about reflexes to one about pattern memorization, where you had to quickly move to a safe spot before one of the centipedes mowed you down.
While "not as bad as I was expecting" isn't exactly faint praise, we've all earned our cynicism about classic revivals by now. Centipede: Infestation is kind of half and half; on the one hand, it's a largely new game using an old name to get attention, and on the other, it's an attempt to update an almost 30-year-old classic's gameplay for a generation that's grown to expect more. It's more successful, given the general track record of this kind of endeavor, than it has any right to be.
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