Review: System Flaw (DSI)

System Flaw
Genre: Shooter
Developer: Visual Impact
Publisher: Storm City
Release Date: 10/27/09

System Flaw is unique in that it’s the first retail game released in the US that’s exclusively designed to work with the DSi. While it’s not the FIRST game to offer exclusive DSi functionality, the games that DO offer this sort of thing are DSWare titles that aren’t available as retail packages, making System Flaw somewhat unique in that it’s “first”, and it is notable for this if nothing else. Offering unique functionality that takes advantage of a system’s capabilities isn’t enough, on its own, to instantly make a game worth owning, however; ask the numerous Wii and DS developers who have had the nickname “shovelware” attached to their product if offering console-specific functionality was enough to make their game good and you’ll get a better understanding of what I mean there. To System Flaw‘s credit, it’s interesting on paper: take the classic shooter genre and make it more interactive, both by allowing the player to shoot at aliens in the real world by using the DSi to “see” these monsters, and by making the experience more interactive than simply pressing buttons by asking the player to turn in all directions and then using the movement of the camera to judge that the player is turning to make the gimmick work. However, the concept simply doesn’t do ENOUGH to either sell a DSi owner on the game itself or sell a regular DS owner on the idea that they should upgrade to play this exclusive title.

System Flaw is one of those “only YOU can see the enemy forces” games, as the gimmick is that the DSi lets you see invisible enemies in the world. As such, the story casts you as a soldier for the government, working to hunt down the alien forces as part of a global alien-killing operation. In theory, this is a fine, if basic, concept for a game, but System Flaw never does much with it. Most of the story, as it is, amounts to HQ reporting in about war efforts, advising you on enemies and power-ups, or congratulating you on your efforts. It’s all acceptable, but it doesn’t do anything exciting or interesting. There are two game modes available to play: the standard Arcade Mode, which offers you one hundred levels of enemy blasting fun and Survival Mode, which puts you up against increasing waves of foes until you die. There’s also an encyclopedia to look through that explains the different enemies and power-ups you’ll see, though there’s not much need for it, all things considered, and you’ll rarely use it. The game modes offered aren’t bad or anything, but there’s a limited amount of stuff to do with the game, and while one hundred levels to play through is certainly a lot, there’s simply not enough to the game outside of those hundred levels of play.

System Flaw uses the DSi camera to create in-game backgrounds while displaying enemies and power-ups over top of that, and this works acceptably enough, though it’s not without its issues. The power-ups and aliens are colorful and easy to see against the real-life backgrounds, but the animations are basic and look like something you’d see in a Flash game. The sci-fi motif of the menus and the alien tracking radar look acceptable and help sell the theme acceptably, but the real-life backgrounds look grainy, thanks to the less-than-optimal camera on the DSi itself, which makes the game kind of odd looking at first. You’ll also need to be in a decently well-lit room to even see the background, and in less than optimal lighting it ends up looking like you’re fighting aliens against a bunch of dark splotches. The audio is also acceptable enough. The music consists of a bunch of somewhat epic-sounding sci-fi tunes that fit the theme of the game, though they’re not especially impressive. The sound effects consists mostly of some beeps and blips from your computer systems, a few alien noises, the sound of your lasers firing, and some explosion effects, all of which are fine for what they are, but none of which are special or interesting.

System Flaw is incredibly simple to play. The DSi displays your radar on the top screen and the game environment (AKA wherever you’re playing) on the bottom screen. Enemies will pop up in the top screen and you’ll have to turn the DSi in their direction to make them show up on the bottom screen. Once they’re in your sights, you can hold down one of the trigger buttons to fire on the enemy until it dies, then turn to the next and repeat the process. If you are capable of turning in a circle and pressing the buttons on the top of the DSi, congratulations! You can play System Flaw. That isn’t to say that the game isn’t challenging, you understand, but it’s simple enough to play that almost anyone can do it. I even let my friend’s eight-year-old son give it a whirl and he had it down in seconds, so believe me, you’ll be able to pick the game up in no time. The objective, as one might expect, is to kill all of the aliens in the environment while taking as little damage as possible, and each mission grades you on your success at killing said aliens, with the objective being, of course, to kill all of them.

The aliens, of course, will not make any effort to make this easy on you. Early stages will consist of small waves of a few aliens, but as the game progresses you’ll be facing multiple waves of several powerful aliens at once, and the aliens will do everything in their power to waste you. Earlier enemies, like the blue tentacle-monster Tics and the green oozy Plas, are generally kind of basic grunts that aren’t dangerous except in numbers, but later aliens will dip and dodge around, wail on you at close range, and even split into multiple enemies when shot, making your job that much harder as you progress. Fortunately, you have plenty of tools at your disposal, including health and weapon energy recharge capsules, double shot capsules, powerful overload capsules that supercharge your guns, and other fun stuff. You’ll need all of these tools to get through the one hundred normal levels, as they’re no cakewalk after a while, and Survival Mode will tax your use of your skills even further. Make no mistake: System Flaw might be easy to play, and the balance of difficulty might be reasonable, but it’s a challenging shooter that will give you a pretty good test of reflexes and skill.

Unfortunately, it will also test your patience and interest along the way. Now, the gimmick the game is based around, if it worked perfectly, would probably make the game worth recommending simply because it’s kind of neat, but the gimmick is problematic for a couple reasons. See, to play the game properly, you basically have to stand up and spin around in different directions to shoot at the different enemies that appear. As such, right off the bat, anyone who finds standing difficult, if not impossible, is not going to have much fun here. Still, lots of people can stand up, and they’ll like it, right? Well, not always. You can’t play the game, say, in bed, or in the car, or while relaxing, as the game requires full three hundred and sixty degree movement at all times, which limits the amount of time the game can be played a bit. You also, and I really have to point this out, look stupid playing this, so playing it, say, in line at the DMV or any other area where drawing attention to your antics is frowned upon. It also doesn’t help that after three or four of the more difficult stages you might find yourself having to sit down and take a break, because spinning around fast to shoot at aliens behind you can make you dizzy.

Further, the technology itself is somewhat flawed. You can’t play the game in very bright or very dim settings, the former because the game is hard to see, the latter because the game can’t recognize that you’re turning because it can’t see the background change well enough. To play the game properly you’ll need at least decent lighting, which, again, further limits when and where you can play the game. As it is, the game isn’t especially portable, so this does nothing to help matters. Also, while the game is fairly enjoyable in small doses, it doesn’t do anything especially interesting in the long term to keep the experience entertaining. It’s not that there isn’t some measure of variety to the game, as there are plenty of aliens to shoot across the game, but there’s simply not enough to the game to sustain the experience. Simplistic shooters often rely on interesting level designs or multiplayer modes to carry the experience along when the single player game enjoyment peters out, but since the game levels in System Flaw are photo images of the surrounding area and it’s single player only, it can only be carried along by its gameplay. The fact that the gameplay consists of spinning around and pressing a button, frankly, doesn’t make for a long-term enjoyment experience.

System Flaw is an interesting concept attached to a simplistic product, and while it’s simple and amusing enough that you can have some fun with it, it’s nothing you haven’t seen and played before. The idea is kind of neat, and the game is generally easy to pick up and play provided you’re in an area that’s conducive to playing the game. The experience is pretty well balanced, and there’s enough to do with the game that you could potentially spend a decent amount of time with it. However, the story is uninteresting, the presentation is passable, and the game essentially requires you to stand up and spin around in a decently lit area to play it effectively, which makes it significantly less portable than the vast majority of DS titles on the market. Even if you can ignore that, it’s hard to ignore the fact that the game doesn’t lend itself to long play sessions due to its tendency to inspire dizziness, nor does it inspire a desire to come back to it frequently because it kind of repeats itself for most of the game. Really, System Flaw, all jokes about the apt title aside, is an inoffensive but not terribly exciting game that does nothing to justify its existence to DSi owners and even less to inspire someone to run out and buy a DSi, and while it might be worth a play or two if you own one, it’s not worth much more than that.

The Scores:
Story/Game Modes: MEDIOCRE
Graphics: MEDIOCRE
Sound: MEDIOCRE
Control/Gameplay: ABOVE AVERAGE
Replayability: POOR
Balance: GOOD
Originality: MEDIOCRE
Addictiveness: BAD
Appeal: DREADFUL
Miscellaneous: BAD

FINAL SCORE: BELOW AVERAGE GAME.

Short Attention Span Summary:
System Flaw is a game that relies more on its gimmick than its gameplay to be interesting, and while the gimmick works well enough to be cute, it doesn’t work well enough to make the game worth owning. The gameplay is simple to learn and there’s a decent amount of length and balance to the game, which should please shooter fans somewhat. However, the story and presentation are average and the gameplay is limited, making the game a hard sell off the bat. The game also requires the player to play in moderate light and spin around a lot, which robs the game of accessibility and portability, two things that further hamper its appeal, and even if you can tolerate the lack of depth and simplistic gameplay, the fact that the game can make you dizzy and requires ideal conditions to play doesn’t help matters any. Frankly, the best gimmick games are those that take their gimmick and make it not only integral to the experience, but fun as well, and while System Flaw manages to incorporate the first idea well enough, it can’t say the same for the second. If you own a DSi, System Flaw might be an amusing diversion, but if you don’t, you won’t feel obligated to own one just to play this.

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