Release Date: Q4 2005
Taking place in the year 2715, Xyanide is a story about witches, space ships and black holes. A young witch by the name of Aguira has been sentenced to death by black hole after being charged with crimes too heinous and countless to retell. On the way to the black hole, an asteroid (composed of Xyanide) strikes the prisoner transport, offering Aguira ample opportunity to escape. Xyanide is a form of matter known to have a unique property: it can turn thoughts into tangible objects. The player takes the role of Drake, the pilot of the transport guard as he attempts to recapture Aguira, fighting through the worlds she created with the use of Xyanide. It's at least a serviceable plot, even quite good for a shooter.
Most shooters are unmistakably and unapologetically two-dimensional, with the player flying from bottom to top or left to right while shooting at things. Even the more recent shooters that make use of 3D ships, enemies and backgrounds somehow keep things looking and feeling 2D. Xyanide, on the other hand, offers at least the illusion of a third dimension, even if the player is unable to utilize it directly themselves. Enemies fly in from the backgrounds, targetable and destroyable but unable to collide with the player – at least until they reach the foreground, at which point collisions are deadly.
Bosses tend to stay nested in the background, which allows them to be much larger than lesser enemies without creating collision issues; this is a good thing, since the bosses span well beyond the range of the screen. When you mix the way enemies move in from the background and landscapes with a sweeping camera system that shows the action from every angle imaginable, it creates a very strong three-dimensional appearance.
The control is as unique as the setting, with the left analogue stick controlling how the player maneuvers around the world and the right stick controlling an independent 360-degree firing mechanism. Of course, being able to shoot in every direction means that the developers get to throw enemies at you from all 360 degrees.
Drake's ship is equipped with two different weapon systems denoted as mutation paths; the mechanic mutation path features a focused laser that is stronger against large enemies and bosses, while the organic spread shot is most suitable against smaller targets. It's up to the player to switch between the two paths in mid-combat in order to take out the necessary targets, and this builds a more involved combat experience than just firing alone. Each path includes a set of upgradeable offensive, defensive, support and shielding abilities, which are mapped to the A, Y, X and B buttons. The upgradeable systems range from fairly typical shielding effects and area effect attacks to more unique effects, like scent masking (it makes the enemies unable to decipher the player from other enemies).
The theme of mechanic meets organic extends beyond the weapons systems and into the world and enemy designs as well. At the start of Xyanide, everything has a very cold and dark mechanic feel to it, but after a couple of levels, the cold steel walls in the background give way to creepy flesh-made corridors. The metal-meets-flesh amalgamation makes for some unnerving scenery so try not to stare too much because things are trying to kill you.
When the levels shift from being steel corridors to pulsating flesh caverns, the enemies change as well. Initially, enemies are familiar ships and satellites composed of sharp lines and hard edges, looking distinctly mechanical. Once the players start flying down the fleshy corridors, however, the enemies change, and the cold, mechanical ships are replaced with inhuman throbbing creatures. Looking like mutated versions of manta rays, fluke worms and other parasites, the new opponents seem both familiar yet alien, giving them an unsettling overtone.
The detail in the backgrounds and enemies is somewhat spartan for an Xbox game, yet thanks to the sweeping camera movements and hectic onslaught of combatants, the lack of detail is easily overlooked. The effects are a slightly different story; instead of seeming simple and understated, the effects are nothing short of spectacular. Electricity-based attacks are near-blinding as they arc across the screen and flesh-made enemies explode in a bloody mist while mechanical ones go up in a fiery flash. Even things as simple as the shielding effects for the players are beautifully executed.
The soundtrack is a bit on the simple side, offering a perfectly acceptable accoutrement of mellow techno. If you don't happen to like simplistic techno, you do have the option of importing your own soundtrack, but the frenetic gameplay can grow overwhelming when accompanied by faster, heavier music. The rest of the sound effects seem entirely passable and don't exactly stand out, but they serve their purpose in a suitable manner.
As one of the very few shooters in the Xbox lineup, Xyanide is shaping up to be a formidable title, and while it may not redefine the genre, it is certainly a thoroughly enjoyable experience. As it stands, Xyanide is definitely a game to keep your eyes on, so watch for a full-blown review in the next few weeks.
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