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Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One
Genre: Action
Developer: 10tons
Release Date: Sept. 30, 2016

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


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PC Review - 'Xenoraid'

by Brian Dumlao on Feb. 2, 2017 @ 1:00 a.m. PST

Xenoraid is a vertically scrolling shoot'em up where missions are driven procedurally.

When it comes to established genres like the shooter, developers usually add something to make it stand out from the rest of the pack. It can be something like color immunity or a deeper story or the ability to play with multiple people at once, but that distinction is usually enough for fans to give it a shot. Xenoraid is a little different in that it also advertises one new thing, but in truth, it adds several different mechanics to the standard formula.

Presented from a top-down perspective, Xenoraid isn't a "bullet hell" shooter or much of a traditional shooter. Instead, it takes inspiration from Galaga, where enemies come in waves and fly down toward you before reappearing at the top of the screen to try again. Unlike that game, the enemies don't simply stay at the top and wait to be shot, so you're never given a chance to shoot at them without retaliation. At the same time, you're not restricted to simply moving left and right, as you have full movement all over the battlefield. It also helps that the game takes on the full widescreen instead of going for a narrower playfield, like many would expect from a modern top-down shooter.

The first difference Xenoraid throws out has to do with the shooting. For starters, you have a cooldown system for your primary gun, so you can't hold down the fire button unless you want to overheat it. The cooldown is very long, and with your secondary guns tied to a limited ammo pool, you have to be conscious about where your shots go. The bigger difference is the fact that sway is introduced to ship movement. Instead of staying static when moving left or right, the game actually guides your shots depending on where you're moving. The mechanic can catch you by surprise if you weren't made aware of it beforehand, but there's no real learning curve to it, so you can get used to things rather quickly.

The advertised hook is ship swapping. Before each mission, you can configure up to four ships to go with you, and while variety is more beneficial, you can go for the same ship types in all slots if you wish. In battle, swapping is as easy as hitting one of the face buttons on the controller, and the time it takes to swap from one ship to another gives you a momentary reprieve from enemy attacks. The different weapons used by each ship are one reason you'll want to swap; the other reason is the fact that each ship has its own cooldown and energy meters. You can repair each ship between rounds, a necessary measure since the game indulges in a little bit of permadeath. Let a ship get destroyed, and you'll lose it for the rest of the game. You can buy new ships to replace it in the roster, but the cost is almost prohibitively high.

You also don't want to do that since your ships upgrade in various ways. The pilots rank up as they accrue more kills, which result in bonus credits for you. Those credits can then be spent on either individual ship upgrades, like better cooldown and more powerful shots to team-wide upgrades, like free repairs for the ship that took the most damage or an automatic bomb that detonates once you reach a damage threshold.

The result is a shooting game that feels more methodical than frantic. The cooldown mechanic makes the shooting a little slower, but that's because you're relying more on skill rather than spamming bullets to kill the enemy. Dodging and learning when to swap becomes more important, and planning which ships to bring in and which upgrades are more beneficial are pretty novel for a title in this genre. Outside of the Campaign, you have a simple survival mode and co-op for up to four players, which trades away the swapping mechanic but makes it easier to take care of enemy waves faster since everyone is on-screen at all times.

There is one thing that people won't like: the pacing of the campaign. According to the story, you have several different factions of the Earth's army fighting against the invading aliens. That makes more sense than having one plucky squadron fight all of them without help, but it results in you starting with a new set of pilots and ships for every major section of the campaign. Until you reach the end, all of those upgrades feel like a waste, since you'll always start the major campaign sections fresh instead of coming in with the hard-fought upgrades.

The best thing that can be said about the presentation is that it's serviceable. The score is purely synth material that works for a shooter but is otherwise unmemorable. The same goes for the sound effects, which carry oomph but aren't spectacular. In still shots, the game looks fine if slightly off due to the washed-out colors of the background and the ships. In motion, the backdrop moves so slowly that you'd think it was static. Seeing the small thrusters on the ship makes lateral movement in space look more realistic, but you can't help but feel that every moving object in the game has been pasted on a nondescript space, almost like a Flash game. Again, it works, but there have been worse games that looked and sounded much better.

Xenoraid is good. It's neither excellent nor terrible, but it's good. The presentation feels low-budget, and the reset in gained upgrades after every major stage feels like something done to artificially boost the difficulty level. However, the actual gameplay is solid, and the new mechanics make the gameplay feel fresh even if you may not necessarily want all of it in other shooters. It's certainly worth checking out for genre fans, so long as you remember to temper your expectations a bit.

Score: 7.0/10

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