[Free-Game Friday is a new weekly feature in which a writer from the GamerLimit staff looks at a completely free game and discusses their experience with it, allowing you to download it at the end! Feel free to also check out our full schedule right here.]
Few games manage to achieve a level of depth that encourages players to weigh their actions on a moral scale or consider the life of the enemy before deigning to kill them. I’m sure you could name a few titles that manage to go beyond the basic twitch-shooter formula, but when it comes down to it, they’re a rare breed.
A game like Iji is even more unique. A freeware 2D platform-shooter by Daniel Remar, Iji succeeds in areas where so many retail releases fall flat.
Players experience the game through the eyes of Iji, a girl who wakes up to discover that – surprise! – the research facility in which her father works has been invaded by a seemingly hostile alien race, the Tasen. Iji is completely alone, save for her brother, Dan, who has conveniently locked himself away inside of the complex’s control center.
Dan explains to our heroine that before the rest of their family died, Iji was physically enhanced with shield armor and given the ability to wield Tasen nano-weaponry. Equipped with these tools, it was their hope that Iji could navigate the facility to convince their new alien co-inhabitants to kindly take their fancy space ships back to where they came from.
Iji takes this news fairly well – I know if I woke up from a coma to find out that I had become my family’s cyborg test subject I might react a bit differently. She accepts her mission and makes her way into the wider world of the test facility.
The game play in Iji is surprisingly complex for a free game. Donning the guise of a simple side scrolling platformer, the game successfully employs the use of RPG elements to truly allow the player to control what type of experience they get out of the game. The complex is divided into ten sectors that Iji must navigate. Progressing through the levels, players gain experience points by killing enemies or gaining access to certain areas within a sector.
Upon gaining enough experience to level up, Iji then receives a point which she can use to raise one of her traits at the stations scattered through the sector; cracking to break down security gates or neutralize an enemy’s weapon, strength, health, and aptitude in Tasen and Komato weaponry and ammo. Choosing which skills to specialize in creates a unique experience each time you play.
Certain skills are required to achieve certain objectives within the game, but Iji provides different ways to complete these goals. Iji can pass through sectors in a variety of ways, each path utilizing a different skill, allowing players to choose how they should beat a sector.
The game even includes the ability to customize your weapons. Throughout the levels Iji is given the option to splice together the weapons she finds in the facility to create brand new guns and rocket launchers, using the enemy’s technology against them.
Mechanics aside, the game’s controls and interface are conveniently laid out. The controls are responsive and laid out in a simple format that is explained right from the start. It’s impossible to shoot while crouching or jumping, but one may argue that this really just adds to the challenge of the game, encouraging players to come up with creative ways to defeat or ninja their way around opponents.
The only real gripe lies in the AI of the aliens. Although the Tasen army manages to obliterate most of the human species, they aren’t very bright. Running up to an alien will most likely cause them to attack you, but once you jump to another platform or otherwise out of sight, the Tasen will continue to launch a barrage of missiles and bullets at the empty space you once occupied, or simply turn around and shoot whatever is behind them.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Iji, however, is the type of experience it creates for the gamer. A tale of Earth being conquered by aliens shouldn’t strike anyone as a particularly original plot for a video game, yet, as it does in other regards, Iji manages to surprise.
At first glance the storyline seems concrete when Dan first debriefs Iji – the aliens have landed, they’re not very nice and we have to get rid of them. However, as Iji wanders the corridors, it quickly becomes evident that Dan may have been wrong about the Tasen.
The sense that we have been misinformed grows as players uncover logbooks left by Tasen soldiers within the complex. Iji does something that many may be unaccustomed to in video games. Iji creates doubt in the player. As more is revealed about the Tasen through their logbooks and cutscenes, we are forced to question whether the Tasen are truly evil, or if, for once, we are the ones who are in the wrong.
Coming to this realization, players are then able to make a choice – to destroy any aliens in their path, or dodge them, saving their lives. This choice is not an easy one to make. Some of the Tasen are merely bloodthirsty fighting machines, while others leave accounts of their apathy towards their life in the army and their race’s unending and seemingly meaningless fighting with the Komato (another brand of beastly alien).
One recurring soldier chronicles their attempt to find their girlfriend, also a soldier, throughout the game after they become separated. The fate of these two alien soldiers lies in the actions the players take throughout the course of the game.
Iji herself changes depending on the choices one makes throughout the game. Taking a more aggressive approach will cause Iji to grow more violent over time, made apparent in her speech or the way she yells in battle or upon being hit. Taking a more pacifistic approach will, naturally, lead to a calmer heroine and sometimes enemies will eve avoid attacking her or alerting others of her presence.
Sure, Iji is not a literary masterpiece, but it does raise interesting questions about war and peace, racism, and political corruption. However, if that’s not what you’re looking for in a game Iji is not going to beat you over the head with its underlying messages. Much of the story is told through the logbooks, and reading them is purely optional. Players are free to simply run around blow stuff up at their leisure.
What makes Iji so great is the huge amount of freedom it gives to the gamer, not to mention the hours of replay-ability and additional exploration for hidden rooms and items. This is not something any game can boast, and that fact is made even more remarkable considering this game is freeware.
Iji is available here for those of you who haven’t given it a shot yet, or if you’re just hankerin’ to shoot some more aliens. And if Iji isn’t your style, let us know what you’d like to see featured on Free-Game Friday on the GamerLimit forums or shoot us an e-mail!