Overall Score 70%
Billions of years ago, a reaction occurred between some basic chemicals - water, oxygen, carbon and so on. We don't know exactly what happened or why, but we have a name for this reaction - we call it "life". Zoom to the present, and beyond, to the end of the world. The Earth is dying, and the last survivors of humanity are crossing space in search of a new home.
Something has gone wrong. Biological containment has been breached, and unknown micro-organisms have infected the oxygen supply. The usual decontamination procedures have failed, meaning the second line of defence has been activated - a tiny robotic vehicle, designed to enter the infected regions and surgically remove the micro-organisms with the aid of laser blasters. Your task is to operate that vehicle.
Bio Guardian is a fast-paced single-screen blaster in which you are beset by waves of enemies and must blast them to pieces. Your vessel has limited armour, so avoiding your foes and blasting from a distance is recommended. Defeated enemies can drop power-ups, which boost the firepower of your ship in three different ways (collect more of the same type to upgrade that particular type, depending on the abilities of your ship) or offer a variety of other effects. Clear all the waves to complete the mission. If you lose all your armour, it's game over - you only have one life.
There are three control systems available. Standard moves your ship by mouse, with your weapons automatically aimed at the nearest enemy. Alpha uses the keyboard to fly and the mouse to aim and shoot. Beta uses the keyboard to move and aim, with mouse buttons used to fire, and is the most unwieldy of the three systems - I'd need three hands to use it properly!
The general theme is a little retro - even down to the (optional) effect to add old fashioned film projector lines! It's all top-down action, with no 3D effects or light sourcing or anything like that. Your ship is one of three basic colours and there's a range of shapes for the different models available, but all are fairly similar in appearance. The background to the action is rather busy, with cells drifting about in the distance, making it much harder to differentiate where enemies are spawning (and they can spawn anywhere on the screen rather quickly - watch for the red squares indicating their positions). Sound consists of some decent (if limited) background music and the typical range of sound effects, but there's also some voiceover samples for key events and the introduction sequence.
As for how it plays - this game is tough. Really tough. Not because it's hard to learn, as the basic gameplay is quickly assimilated and a little practice will soon help you get the hang of the way it works, but because it doesn't forgive mistakes. You have a limited stock of armour, which appears to never be replenished. You have one life, which is oh too easily lost if you don't get out of the way of your enemies when they spawn on the screen. Each mission consists of five waves, all of which must be completed to beat the mission in one go. If you screw up on the containment minigame between waves, you have to repeat the previous wave (at least in part). So far my best efforts have got me to wave 3 of mission 1, which means I got to see some new enemy types before I expired, but that's about it.
This means a lot of the game is still a mystery to me. The instructions are ingame and very limited. I took several attempts before I figured out what the Virus powerup actually did beside putting more cellular blobs on the screen (it's actually quite useful). Sometimes enemies drop alloys when destroyed, and if you collect enough, as indicated in the corner of the screen, it presumably does something. I've never survived long enough yet to find out. Does this unlock new ship types? Does it replenish armour? Does it score me bonus points? The instructions make no reference to it. Nor does the website, and the only online comments I've found are from other reviewers - who, I'm pleased to discover, are finding this game just as tough to play and have managed no better than I. In some cases, worse.
As a quick blast for the hell of it, Bio Guardian works okay. You can just dive in and play. If you're hoping to crack a mission in your lunch break, I wish you luck. You'll be doing well to beat a mission if you have all day. There are three profile slots, which presumably allow different players to keep different levels of progress. This seems rather frivolous when I can't unlock anything!! Long term, it's just frustrating. You'll be facing wave 1 (and possibly 2 and even 3) over and over again in your efforts to reach mission 2. Presumably then you can do the same again. I have no idea how you unlock other ships - perhaps the alloy aspect is involved here? If so, I clearly need to start from the beginning every time. I can't stockpile alloy from previous games, which would at least give me a better chance to beat the mission with a better ship.
Other niggles that annoyed me included the full screen mode (which, while on, fills the screen - and, while off, fills the screen but keeps the game in a small central area) and the introduction to every game. I don't need to see the plot every time I attempt the mission. I certainly don't need to be told the standard controls every time, especially after I've selected a different set! More annoying is that I have to skip both of these individually - I'm pressing Escape twice to start the game. Not exactly a major flaw but a bizarre thing to put the player through on every game. Which, if they're determined, will be a lot of games. The game text is woefully lacking in useful details and riddled with spelling errors ("oxigen" being particularly painful).
The core mechanic of Bio Guardian is a good one - it's not entirely original, but it works well, and having multiple control systems is a good idea (Beta notwithstanding). The main difficulty is that it doesn't allow a player to get invested. It's simply too unforgiving. There's a class of gamer out there that appreciate a challenging game that won't accept anything less than top quality. They'll love this game. If you're hoping for something a little more friendly to the other 95% of us, Bio Guardian is probably not it.
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