There’s a moment in Allied Star Police during which a solitary tear will steal from the corner of one eye as a deriding voice in your head goads your pitiful efforts: “you shall never, ever win”. For me, that moment came at around 15 minutes into the second level.
If you’ve yet to hear the brilliant story of Popcap and 10 year old Owain Weinert then you’re robbing yourself of some grade A feel goodery but we’ll leave sentimentality at the door because there’s not one iota of it spared for the player here.
At its core A.S.P is a game of war. Two armies clash and proceed to toil and spill blood over every inch of soil until one has been forced to retreat from the battlefield. That battlefield is a lengthy stretch of land divided into four lanes with bases perched at either end. The player recruits vehicles, designates them a lane and they then dutifully travel toward the opposition’s fortress, battling the enemy along the way. Push him far enough back and your courageous heroes will lay siege to the enemy’s fort, but not before a quarter of a billion of them have been sacrificed.
There are only four vehicles to play with and the idea – or what I thought was the idea – is that the inexpensive and expendable ATV (think: futuristic Reliant Robin with a machine gun turret) rolls into battle, oblivious to its only real purpose (a meat shield), and as you amass funds you fortify the frontline with snipers and tanks.
In theory anyway. That’s not how A.S.P actually goes down. After emerging triumphant from the first level that warmed-over copy of Sun Tzu’s Guide to War may as well be The Hungry Caterpillar. With lanes swamped with enemy units, tactics rarely stretch further than spamming as many vehicles as possible in futile attempt to inch up the battlefield. Make no mistake, this is World War flavoured warring.
Each time you convince yourself the sacrifice of another hundred police officers has gained you valuable ground the enemy coughs out their own brand of uber-tank and so you get this exasperating seesaw effect where for every step forward it’s seventeen back.
And the most annoying part of this supremely annoying game is you literally cannot spend money fast enough. The tougher units have lengthy recharge periods to prevent you from spamming only the most aggressive units but by about five minutes in you’ll have such vast reserves of capital that you could pay the enemy to sod off and invade a different planet.
Here’s the thing. I suck at Allied Star Police. I probably suck harder than I suck at Street Fighter and FIFA combined, multiplied by the square root of Demon’s Souls. The ten-year old who designed this game has probably beaten it eleven thousand times by now and I can’t even make it through level two. LEVEL TWO for fuck’s sake.
However, my shortcomings needn’t discourage you from experiencing this free, irritating as hell but nifty little real time strategy game.