In Extremis

words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by LNDFRR for PC, originally released in 2016.
In extremis is a Latin term meaning mortal peril, or alternately meaning the farthest reaches, and both meanings are appropriate here. In Extremis is a vertical shmup that places the player in mortal peril in the farthest reaches of space. As with most genre entries, the game is extremely light on story (though bits of “folklore” appear as hidden pickups throughout the game), featuring a protagonist who merely states “I’m tired of all of this. I need a way out. So, I took my spaceship and set the course for the end of the universe.” Following this, a blue ship blasts into space.

In terms of minute-to-minute gameplay, In Extremis is similar to its genre neighbors, featuring a ship that moves ever upward while waves of enemies enter from the left, right, and top of the screen. The player dodges enemies, weaves between sprays of bullets, and shoots at said enemies until they burst into nothingness, all the while attempting to rack up as large a score as possible. What sets the game apart, however, is its aesthetics.

Each of the game’s 11 levels – which are generally quite lengthy – is themed differently, with such a wide variety in themes that they appear to be completely separate games. The opening level is fairly typical shmup faire with starfields and planetoids coasting by as the player jubilantly blasts blocky Space Invaders-inspired enemies and an equally blocky end level boss. Following this boss encounter, a warp opens, the ship enters, and the player is given a choice between three levels to take on next. Players only needs to complete five levels in succession to complete the game, but each of the second, third, and fourth levels offer three possible choices, allowing players to select their desired branches.

Among these level choices is one that is named for a binary number sequence and sees the player fighting blobs of ASCii characters as computer code is typed out in the background… until the whole thing glitches out and drops the player into a blurry River Raid-esque sequence fighting through low resolution boats and planes before the program “crashes”, revealing a faux blue screen of death before dropping the player into a circuit board battlefield.

Another area sees the player blasting through musical instruments – which of course make the associated sounds when destroyed – before facing off against comedy and tragedy theater masks with Shakespearian text in the background. Another level sees the player floating along in an Electroplankton-style area with blue water and white enemies in the form of turtles and various undersea creatures. Yet another features solid shapes that burst in from the edges of the screen while jazzy music flares in the background, which contrasts strongly with the horror-themed level that sees the player destroying slugs, masks, demons, and a giant spider, as well as a late game level where the player battles against lots of pink body parts.

While each of these areas offers a unique feel with appropriately themed musical accompaniment, the game often goes overboard with its visuals to the point that it interferes with gameplay. Often, background colors are so similar to enemies and their projectiles that they are practically invisible, and often the player’s own projectiles disappear as well.

More troubling are the levels that completely overload the player’s senses with a cacophony of clashing colors, particularly one area that sees the player fighting through an apparent toy box filled with brightly-colored blocks and stuffed animals. Even more difficult is a section where the player flies through cycling black and white checkerboard and stripe patterns with enemies that are made of similar patterns. Not only is it difficult to parse enemies from backgrounds, the moving patterns make it difficult to even focus on the screen.

When the game begins, the player has two weapons at his disposal, a 5-way spread shot and an egg-shaped grenade. The 5-way shot is a versatile weapon that will see players through most challenges as tapping the FIRE button sends bullets out in a wide spray, whereas holding it sends bullets in a cluster, allowing players to quickly alternate between large waves of popcorn enemies and concentrated firepower for bullet sponges and bosses.

The grenade is versatile as well, but its firing speed is very low. Players can launch an egg-grenade forward and it will explode when it hits an enemy, emitting a small pulsing circle that does continuous damage for several seconds, making it particularly effective against tough enemies and bosses. But players can use it strategically as well, since it can be manually detonated, allowing players to fire it into the path of enemy waves, leading targets Missile Command-style and causing multiple targets to be absorbed in the blast as they fly into it.

In addition, the ship has a secondary meter that is filled as the player destroys enemies. Once the meter reaches the maximum, players may enter “Drive” with the press of a button, which temporarily increases the ship’s firepower and often alters projectile behaviors.

The ship moves at a moderate speed and may be further slowed with a button press, allowing for more precise movement, which is occasionally needed for navigating huge curtains of bullets that appear with greater frequency on higher difficulty levels. As is typical of the genre, the player’s hitbox is a small area located at the center of the ship. Flying close enough to bullets that they touch your ship without destroying it also feeds into your multiplier.

Scoring in an important part of most shmups, but here, scoring not only impacts your placement on the leaderboards; it also allows you to unlock additional continues and new weapon types. Some weapons are more useful than others, and players can select any two at the start of their run, allowing them to mix and match to find a combination that favors their style of gameplay. Among these is an orb that spins around you and fires at nearby enemies, and you can push it up the screen or draw it back to you at will; another is a solid laser that does heavy continuous damage in a narrow line; and another is a 3-way shot where the bullets behave differently based on the movement of your ship.

By continuously shooting enemies and/or grazing bullets, a multiplier in the upper right corner of the screen slowly increments upward to a maximum of 9x. Once the counter reaches 9x, it can be stabilized by continuously shooting enemies, and it begins decreasing if the player goes without hitting any enemies for a few seconds. As such, there is some additional strategy involved where the player may wish to cause weaker damage to tough enemies in order to keep his multiplier going.

Even so, most levels feature areas with sizeable gaps between enemy waves, and in these instances, the player may enter Drive in order to lock his multiplier. In addition, while in this mode, taking damage from an enemy doesn’t destroy the player’s ship; rather it ends Drive and clears all of the bullets on the screen, but it also resets the multiplier to 1x.

The highest scoring possibilities come from keeping a 9x multiplier throughout the level, avoiding death at all costs, and defeating the end level boss quickly. Keeping the multiplier up increases the player’s base score, and breaking the level’s score threshold unlocks a new weapon type for future runs. Making it through the level without getting hit provides a small score bonus on top of this, and defeating the boss under its par time (the multiplier does not come into play for bosses) gives the player a large score bonus based on the player’s average point multiplier. At the end of each run, the player’s cumulative point total is added up and applied like experience points, allowing the player to level up and gain additional continues.

Players are able to practice any previously visited level, but the only way to face the true final boss at the end of the game is to make a full run from the start. In addition, players may select between three difficulty settings which impact enemy speed, fire rate, and the rate at which the player earns additional lives. On the easiest setting, the player’s lives are restored between levels, making for a fairly casual overall experience for those who simply want to see what the game has to offer. On the highest difficulty setting, the game moves squarely into bullet hell territory with huge curtains of bullets, particularly during boss encounters. That said, end game score bonuses increase based on the selected difficulty level, allowing for a large score from a 1CC run at the highest difficulty level.

Bosses are as varied as the level themes, with players facing off against a toy robot that can reverse time, a classically-styled armored ship, the heart of a demon, and even a boss that can only be killed by grazing bullets.

In Extremis was developed over the course of four years by Leonardo Ferreira under his LNDFRR label, and he is based in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The game was developed using Game Maker Studio, and this is his first commercial release.