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Nex Machina

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4
Genre: Action
Developer: Housemarque
Release Date: June 20, 2017


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PS4 Review - 'Nex Machina'

by Cody Medellin on July 31, 2017 @ 2:00 a.m. PDT

Taking hints from both Robotron and Smash TV, Nex Machina is an intense arcade style twin-stick shooter that focuses on pure action, voxel destruction and competition in the distant, cablepunk themed future.

Buy Nex Machina

Eugene Jarvis is considered by many to be the father of the twin-stick shooter. Already having made his name with Defender, he cemented it into video game history with Robotron 2084, the first twin-stick shooter that had you saving humans while surviving endless waves of killer robots. He further refined the formula with Smash TV, a gore-filled take on the concept that added co-op play to spice things up dramatically. Housemarque is considered by PlayStation fans to be the kings of the arcade-style shooter. Super Stardust HD and Dead Nation are enough to convince some fans of their skill, while Resogun was considered by many to be the first must-have title for the PS4. In what must seem like a fever dream to some, both Housemarque and Jarvis have teamed up for Nex Machina, and the result is nothing short of outstanding.

Much like Jarvis' other big hits, there isn't a story so much as a simple premise. You're shown driving a cycle to what appears to be some ruins, and you leap from the bike into the battlefield to destroy some robots. It doesn't take long before you gather that robot-kind has taken over, and humans are in grave danger. With nothing but your trusty blaster at your side, your job is to rescue humans and blow up as many robots as possible.

The basic gameplay layout is also rather simplified. You travel from room to room and shoot at robots in any direction. Rooms are only cleared once all of the teleporting robots stop coming, but you have the option to rescue any humans along the way before they're processed by the killer robots. You can pick up lots of secondary weapons, including a sustained laser blaster, rocket launcher and sword, just to name a few. They aren't replacements for your standard gun, and you can't fire both your primary and secondary weapons at the same time, but the variety is appreciated. The game also gives you a dash ability, which is useful for quick escapes from mobs and for getting through laser fire. The dash can also be augmented with the ability to leave behind a small explosion.

At its core, Nex Machina nails the idea of fun through simplicity. The waves of enemies are non-stop, and there is progression in the form of new foes once you travel to a new stage. The action never lets up, and there are a ton of secrets to be found in each stage, from humans who need to be rescued to entire new areas to fight through. The controls are also very responsive, so there's no perceptible delay in pointing and firing. These are pretty basic building blocks for a game, and it is great to see this title producing a tremendous amount of fun without complicated mechanics.

At the same time, the game is far from easy, even if you choose to play the co-op variant. The sheer number of enemies on-screen at any time are plentiful, and their appearance and firing patterns go a good job of tripping you up. The threat of losing a human or grabbing a power-up before it disappears can cause you to make mistakes. Special enemies on the field or requirements to unlock the various secrets can also cause you to be reckless. Dying brings you back to the beginning of the stage, but you lose all of your abilities gained up to that point, so the tough game comes with real consequences. Interestingly, you'll die more against the various bot minions, since the bosses are easy enough to read.

The game only takes a few hours to beat if you're really good or tone down the difficulty. Playing at higher difficulty levels increases the number of enemies you face and humans to rescue but drastically reduces the number of continues you have. Having 99 continues at your disposal might seem like overkill at the normal difficulty level, but getting dropped all the way down to 10 at the next difficulty step can be rather harsh.

Then again, if you're playing just to finish the campaign, then you're missing the point. Like many of Housemarque's titles, Nex Machina is all about points. While it's fine to shoot your way through levels, seeking out the secrets and bonus point objectives will help you climb the leaderboards. Dashing into the final enemy with a dash explosion, getting all of the humans in a stage, or passing a stage without dying gives you big points. The tallies at the end are your real objectives, and you'll try to find ways to be a bit flashier in stages or replay them multiple times to extract every possible secret and climb the leaderboards.

Beyond the main Arcade mode, you can replay any of the unlocked worlds as a practice mode. There's also the Online Arena mode, which is a little misleading since the game features no online play. Instead, you'll be placed in the same Arcade levels but face different challenges, such as playing with faster-moving enemies, scoring as much as possible within a time limit, or surviving without taking a step. Each of the challenges also come with medal rankings, and you can also use these modes to level up your profile, which is mostly done for fun, as they don't have any real bearing on the game.

As far as presentation goes, everything fits so well. The music is exactly the kind of adrenaline-pumping score you want that doesn't overwhelm the ears. The sound effects are in a similar state, as there's a good mix of modern and classic effects that blend together nicely. The same voice actress from the Super Stardust games makes a return here, and the sound of her voice announcing power-ups and shield losses is comforting. Interestingly, the default sound levels in the game are on the low side, so you may want to adjust that first before adjusting your sound system or TV volume. While the game uses the speaker on the DualShock 4, it isn't as pronounced as it was for a game like Resogun.

Speaking of which, Housemarque has gone back to the voxel system it used for that PS4 launch title, and the result is more than satisfying. Environments pulse as things explode around them, and killing a boss is also more satisfying thanks to the shower of voxels that fill the screen. The game does a good job of keeping the frame rate stable no matter how overwhelming the action can get.

Nex Machina is a winner. The game balances exploration in each stage with the threat of massive hordes of various enemies bearing down at you from all sides, and it maintains the fun that comes from relentless action. Though you're essentially only shooting, it never feels tired due to the level variety. Score hunters will have a blast going after each challenge and their respective leaderboards, all while taking in the voxel overload as things explode. Action fans of all types owe it to themselves to check out Nex Machina.

Score: 9.0/10

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