Ion Assault Hands-On

With thousands of ion particles at our disposal, we blast through giant asteroids and anything else that gets in our way.

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As they make their way to the Xbox Live Arcade, old arcade space shooters have evolved visually with revamped, psychedelic visuals and a high-energy soundtrack. Ion Assault is not a remake, but it follows the trend of using a simple space shooter formula with a slight twist. Instead of aiming and firing at the nearest asteroid or aggressive spaceship, you need to absorb the particles around you to build up enough power to protect yourself or to fire at your enemies. We had an opportunity to play with a preview build and found that while it may not be as frantic or crazy as Geometry Wars, Ion Assault has its own way of sucking you into the action.

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The game plays like many other shooters. You use your left analog stick to pilot your ship and the right analog stick to direct your aim. The difference with Ion Assault is that you hold the left trigger to gather nearby particles around your ship so that once you have a healthy orange glow, you can keep the particles as a shield or release and fire them into nearby enemies and asteroids to clear the stage. It's like charging a giant beam of destruction before blasting obstacles into smithereens. Power-ups are available and sometimes hidden within slow-moving asteroids or attached to an enemy ship, giving you the ability to slow down time or the power to collect extra ion.

At first, the gameplay doesn't seem to be very fast, but once you get into the later stages, the pace picks up considerably as you dodge quick-moving ships and other space garbage littered across the screen. The goal is to clear everything in sight and then jump into a portal that magically appears--which leads you to the next area--while racking up that high score. The game gauges how quickly you blow up debris, so if you're a skilled player, more enemy ships will appear so that you have a chance to collect more multipliers to increase your score.

What's great about Ion Assault is that it has several multiplayer modes. You can tackle the campaign cooperatively with a friend so that you share a score while you make your way through the four different sectors and face each menacing boss at the end. It can be hard to play alone when you're limited to three lives, but with a friend, the experience is much more fun and your chances of success are higher--depending on your partner. There are also online and offline four-player Versus modes, in which you send squadrons out of your drifting base and guide your kamikaze fighters into the opponent's ship. The flaming bright ball in the center is bad news, so all you really have to do is make sure that your base's opening isn't facing the middle of the screen and then press the bumpers to send a fleet of fighters to your side. This can get hectic with four players, but if you only have one partner, the cooperative campaign is much more fun.

More crazy visuals to keep you on your toes.
More crazy visuals to keep you on your toes.

Ion Assault's visuals can get to the point where it's hard to see the action, but for the most part, the explosive effects are kept at a manageable level. The music isn't as upbeat as we would expect, but it works as background noise while you fly through space. There's still no price on this space shooter or a release date, but we'll update you with more information as soon as it becomes available. Ion Assault is expected to hit Xbox Live Arcade at the end of this month.

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