Shoot-’em-ups are defined by the amount of space they give you, and in We Are Doomed, you get almost none at all. The action takes place in a claustrophobic rectangular grid populated entirely by enemies who have as much understanding of the concept of personal space as a facehugger.
Jellyfish who amble randomly around the playing area are about as good as it gets - almost everything else makes it their life’s work to home in on your position at varying rates of aggression. Even worse are the things that don’t - there’s this yellow jerk who can’t even be bothered with moving - he just recalibrates your position every few seconds and pings a massive laser blast your way. When one (or, more often, lots) of these sedentary scumbags are on the screen, they simply have to be taken out as a matter of priority.
Not stressful enough for you yet? There are also these indestructible ships that periodically pop up and fire a wall of pure laser death across the entire screen, forcing you to alternatively shift from the left hand side of the playing field to the right until they take a hike. What’s that? You want even more stress? Strewth. I hear Yemen’s lovely this time of year. Well, how about this: your only weapon is a short-range flamethrower that extends just a few weedy inches from your ship, meaning you have to tackle your problems head-on.
You’ll grow to resent your weapon’s shortcomings, but it also makes the game. Think of it as a shooter with only melee attacks enabled - once you’ve identified your next target (and once you learn all the different enemy types, you’ll realise there’s a very distinct hierarchy of danger to your livelihood), you have to weave your ship through a sea of clingy, low-threat enemies, arrive at their location and dispatch them manually. Adding to your woes, you can’t just point your flamethrower in one direction and plough onwards - when the flames hit an enemy, it stunts its range for a split-second, allowing his pals to move in for the kill. It’s a simple design twist that, in turn, adds around a dozen more convoluted turns to your journey.
The set-up is such that the screen real estate will inevitably get clogged up with enemies of all shapes and sizes. As such, your primary goal at all times should be to collect the trinkets that pop up across the arena - not only do they boost your multiplier, but collect enough of these and you’ll unlock a Superbeam that cuts through the waves like a hot knife through Battenberg, giving rare range to your attack and essentially resetting your situation so you have room to breath for a second before the onslaught resumes.
I’ve played so many uninspired Robotron clones over the years that any arena shooter prepared to hang its hat on something new gets a lot of time from me. We Are Doomed’s premise of shorting the distance of engagement is a novel one, and one that gives the action a panicky tempo that, at its very best, is irresistably frantic.
Unfortunately, the visual style isn’t so well thought out. This type of game has two options open to it - the minimalism of, say, a Geometry Wars, so players can pick out what’s happening one the field at a glance, or plan b) break their freaking eyes with psychedelic mayhem.
We Are Doomed has gone down the latter route, with a vivid, searing palette clearly inspired by Super Hexagon, Rez et al, and it’s a poor fit for a game where success relies so heavily on clarity of thought and decisiveness of action. Throw in fizzy, unsatisfying sound effects and you’ve got a game where the audio and visual seem to actively work against the game mechanics, and manufacture confusion and frustration even where the underlying design is sound.