Astebreed (PlayStation 4) Review

By Gareth F 13.09.2015

Review for Astebreed on PlayStation 4

While the PS4 has become the 'go to' console to experience some of the more niche indie titles on the market, surprisingly, there is still a serious lack of bullet hell shooters on Sony's versatile machine, with the excellent Jamestown+ being the only title that currently springs to mind. For the uninitiated, bullet hell is the natural evolution of the traditional 2D shooter, which arose from the need to compete with the emerging 3D shooters that had started to steal the spotlight. Its vaguely intimidating name refers to the overwhelming amount of enemy firepower being unleashed on screen at any one time, usually in patterns that require great skill and timing on the part of the player to progress through unscathed. It was a distinctly Japanese product propelled forward by companies such as Cave, with the Deathsmiles and DoDonPachi series, and Treasure, who was responsible for probably the two best-known games in the genre with Radiant Silvergun and Ikaruga, both deemed classics. These games were tough and represented a hardcore, underground element of gaming that never fully caught on in the mainstream, but nevertheless attracted a fanatical player base eager to prove a point.

Given the current tendency to favour mobile gaming over home consoles in the Land of the Rising Sun, it does seem oddly fitting that Astebreed originally released on the PC - a niche genre on a platform not instantly attributed to the Japanese market. It almost felt like new developer Edelweiss was deliberately trying to keep Astebreed out of the public eye, although, thankfully, the English localisation (via subtitles) meant that the more PC-centric market of the West could now enjoy this fine shooter and at least get some gist of the storyline. Fast forward a year and a new and improved version materialised for the PS4 on the Japanese market, so it was only a matter of time before it made the transition from East to West. That time is now…

It's safe to say that nobody buys 2D bullet hell shooters for the narrative, although the fact that not only has Astebreed got an intricate and complex backstory, it's all gorgeously presented in a traditional anime style that gives it a level of polish not normally seen in games of this ilk.

Screenshot for Astebreed on PlayStation 4

Humanity has been waging a lengthy war with an aggressive race of mechanised aliens known as the Filunes, whose singular purpose is self-preservation by any means necessary, usually at the expense of any organic life form that gets in the way. The Filune possess a technology far more advanced than the Terran Alliance, and have created a reality alteration device called Lucis that will allow them to control the laws of physics and harness interference from other dimensions. Filune, by their nature, are controlled by a unified AI called Diagra, making them a hive mind and incapable of individual thought, so it seems odd that the imagination of intelligent living organisms is one of the main requirements in the creation of Lucis.

A pair of human twins that were captured early on in the war by the Filune, Esta and Fio Nono, become the living parts of the Lucis device and move around space in a mechanised unit called Astebreed. At some point, Fio escapes and approaches the human resistance (called the SDF) to ask for help in rescuing her sister, which is where Roy Becket (the janitor, funnily enough) steps in and pilots a huge mech called Xbreed into the heart of the Filune territory.

Surprisingly, the above description is barely even scratching the surface of the world Edelweiss has created here; however, a simple 'Just shoot everything that moves' probably would've sufficed. The story does get hard to follow during play, as the almost-constant Japanese dialogue zips by thick and fast, but when faced with the option of either staying alive or reading the rapidly changing subtitles at the bottom of the screen, then there's really only one option that makes sense.

Screenshot for Astebreed on PlayStation 4

The original Astebreed PC release was no slouch in the looks department, but Edelweiss wisely took the opportunity to polish up and further improve on its graphics for the PS4 version, making it the definitive edition and an absolute joy to behold. Its retina-searing visuals run at a blisteringly fast pace, with nary a trace of slowdown, no matter how busy things get on screen. Cleverly, the camera viewpoint changes constantly during play, and seamlessly flicks between a horizontal, vertical and an over-the-shoulder angle, which varies the gameplay and can, on occasion, force a change in tactics.

A new 'Arrange' control mode has been added for the PS4 version that really takes advantage of the DualShock 4, and is the most noob-friendly option when compared to the original control scheme (also included for the purists). Incidentally, getting to the end of the game using each control scheme gives alternate endings, but for the most part, the Arrange mode remains the better option.

Regular fire is non-directional, and only really effective on enemies directly in front of the ship, which means relying on the lock-on and the melee options to survive, for the most part. The lock-on can be activated by two different methods, both involving the right stick. Pushing the right stick in creates a wide circumference around the ship that automatically targets any enemy within the catchment area upon release, although a reticle can also be manually controlled and locks onto any ship it's moved over.

Screenshot for Astebreed on PlayStation 4

The melee is only effective at close range, but is able to destroy certain enemy projectiles, which simultaneously charges up a yellow meter for a special attack that can be unleashed with the left trigger, and is very handy for getting out of tight spots. While the melee can almost make Astebreed too easy, its use is inversely connected to the scoring multiplier, meaning an over reliance will wallop the score chasers right in the leaderboards. Finally, there is also a thrust booster, which gives temporary invulnerability when in use, but it is subject to a cool-down period, so it makes sense to save it for an emergency.

Astebreed has a total of six levels, each escalating in difficulty, culminating in a multi-staged boss battle and punctuated with an anime cut-scene to propel the story forward. Despite having the kind of lavish presentation and style usually afforded to bigger budget titles, there's an almost instant familiarity while playing that feels a little like stumbling across an obscure, long forgotten emulated Japanese arcade ROM on MAME. Edelweiss has endeavoured to entice fresh blood into the fold, with the addition of a training mode and an easy skill setting, which is a nice way of breaking the ice for those turned off by the usually high skill requirements to enjoy the genre.

Indeed, the ship shields tend to recharge much quicker when playing the easier skill settings, which unfortunately makes it very easy to whip through the entire game very quickly. This, of course, means that most players will get to see all that Astebreed has to offer within a couple of hours of play. There is replay value here, though, which is dependent on wanting to beat and improve on previous high scores, which was always the underlying core of the bullet hell genre.

Screenshot for Astebreed on PlayStation 4

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

Edelweiss is to be applauded for applying modern day game design to a genus long in need of a 21st century lick, and while it might not totally rejuvenate an interest in bullet hell shooters, it would be foolish for fans of the genre to ignore a game as polished and slick as Astebreed. Granted, there's a limited audience for this type of game, and it's definitely not for the casuals, but any gamer nostalgic for the time when skill played a major factor in progression should find this a worthy challenge.

Developer

Edelweiss

Publisher

Playism

Genre

Shooter

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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