Xenoraid (PC) Review

By David Kelly 03.10.2016

Review for Xenoraid on PC

Xenoraid is a 2D space shooting game that doesn't quite fit the now-prevalent template of the genre. As strange as it may seem, it puts the emphasis on shooting back into the shooting game - a very welcome change. Too many modern games put an awful lot of importance on dodging, with the player's attention focussed on navigating bullet clouds, while the ship's weaponry takes care of the actual aiming at enemies. This isn't the case here.

Xenoraid doesn't fill the screen with dozens of enemies, but what enemies there are have to be dispatched with skilfully aimed shots. It's a throwback to the early days of the genre when the player had to examine enemy movement and lead their shots in order to take them out - going back to this style of game is a reminder of just how satisfying this is and why the early days of the arcade were dominated by it. Enemies appear individually and in tight formations. Some levels feature larger ships with escorts and shields, which also have to be dealt with. The player is forced to avoid their accurately aimed shots, while at the same time getting off their own salvos from a varied arsenal of weapons. Levels are memorisation-proof because the enemy ships appear to react to your shots and players cannot relax for a moment.

The control of the ship is also a departure from the typical modern genre. Instead of the tight controls that are demanded by bullet hell, the ships in Xenoraid slide around the screen with a sense of momentum. The ship default configuration of aiming straight up the screen is affected by this momentum - while passing to the left or right, the ship's nose tilts in the same direction, which impacts upon the direction of any shots made during movement. This is implemented extremely well, and after some practice, soon results in the player being able to make swooping passes across the screen while firing. Once the player gets the feel of the control scheme, it opens up lots of possibilities for creative and skilful play. Keyboard, gamepad and mouse control are supported, but the latter proves to be an excellent and effective match for the analogue feel provided by the physics of the game.

Screenshot for Xenoraid on PC

Xenoraid also departs from the traditional shmup setup by providing the ability to select a ship from a squadron of up to four different ones at any time during gameplay. With the press of a button, the current ship is swapped out with a replacement - a move that enables the player to indulge in tactical play, while at the same time providing a way of avoiding collision with oncoming fire, since hits will not register while the swap is being made. A squadron is typically made up of different craft and starts with a default selection, although this can be changed to any combination desired. The smaller craft have weaker rapid firing weapons, while the larger craft have slower firing, though more powerful shots, requiring greater accuracy. The size of the craft matters, too, since many of the levels introduce showers of asteroids, and these can be used to an advantage in several ways - from using them as shields to using them as weapons, as the ship's firepower can break them up or move them around. Navigating asteroids during combat requires a deft touch and the size of the craft has an impact on this.

Opportunities for tactical play are further enhanced by the fact that each ship has a shield, which degrades as hits are absorbed, a primary weapon with infinite ammunition that can temporarily overheat, and a more powerful secondary weapon with limited ammunition. This means players will end up juggling between ships with different states of health, and it can become quite intense toward the end of level when nursing an ailing squadron while playing cat and mouse with enemies in the middle of an asteroid field - it can quickly become an exercise in risk management.

Screenshot for Xenoraid on PC

Credits are earned by completing levels and collecting crystals left behind by some dispatched ships and certain disintegrated asteroids. These are used during the between-level screens that allow the recharging of shields, replacing lost craft, and upgrading or adding new weapons and countermeasures to the fleet. Xenoraid provides lots of different gadgets that allow plenty of scope for experimentation and facilitate different approaches with differing emphasis on attack or defence. Each ship has a named pilot who will receive promotions depending on the amount of experience they gain during levels, and this can interact with some of the upgrades available for ships. Overall, it comes across as a smart, well thought out game.

The main way to play is a narrative-led campaign mode that sees the player engage with fleets of enemies, while at the same time chasing an enemy mothership around the solar system. In this mode, a basic set of ships is provided to begin with, which can be repaired, replaced and enhanced after each level. Levels are grouped into batches that are themed around different planets and progress is shown on stylised maps. Each level has a set number of different types of ship to be disposed of and this is shown on a status display. The squadron, the status of which is also shown on the status display during levels, is automatically upgraded on completion of planets, and there are checkpoints that act as save points throughout the game. The story is presented between levels as dialogue by characters in 2D stills and text. During the levels themselves, the atmosphere is further enhanced by chat from the active pilot presented in a social media chat style at the side of the screen, and the whole thing hangs together extremely well to provide a quite atmospheric experience, despite the fact that this is a relatively straightforward shooting game at heart.

Screenshot for Xenoraid on PC

Graphically, the artwork in the exposition sections is based on typical space opera fare. The levels themselves are set in space, with fairly basic, though attractive, backgrounds themed upon the current planet in the story. The player ships and level enemies aren't particularly complex or varied looking, but the design is consistent and pleasing. At first glance, Xenoraid doesn't look overly interesting, but little details, such as spent shells ejected from weapons, flaming damaged enemies, and dust from the ship's thrusters, give evidence that the developers have concentrated their efforts on where it matters, and it imbues the game with an understated, but stylish, look and feel. There is a very attractive heads-up display that elegantly shows the status of your ships and how many level enemies are left. Everything is implemented with a very solid feel and high level of polish.

The sounds of the shots and explosions are standard fare, but are satisfying (the explosions, in particular), and the soundtrack, like the graphics, initially sounds fairly innocuous, but soon reveals itself to be quite atmospheric, definitely adding to the experience.

The main campaign mode is supported by a survival mode with different levels of difficulty. This mode allows the player to experiment with many more upgrades and weapons from the off, so doubles as a score attack mode and an experimentation/practice mode. It also has online leaderboards. Both main and survival modes have a four-player co-op mode, which was not tried for this review. The achievements give evidence of a hard mode that the reviewer assumes is unlocked on completion of the campaign.

Screenshot for Xenoraid on PC

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

Xenoraid may well be in a well-worn genre set in an overused scenario, but it features several welcome departures from the current state of the genre that have been implemented to a high level of technical excellence and design, delivering a very enjoyable game that becomes more enjoyable the more it is played. It is definitely one that can get its hooks into you. The genre and setting might put some off, but this is recommended to fans of the genre who are perhaps becoming a bit jaded, and to those who haven't yet tried this type of game and are looking for an interesting introduction to old-school space shooting.

Developer

10tons

Publisher

10tons

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 None   Australian release date Out now   

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