By Thom Compton 10.01.2017 3
10tons Ltd. publishes some weird games, that goes without saying. It is probably best known for its physics-based titles Tennis to the Face and Baseball Riot, both of which feature absurd stories mixed with less than original, but still largely fun, titles. It has a few other titles, like Neon Chrome to pad its resume, but the aforementioned titles are probably where most people would recognise the developer. In comes Xenoraid, then, and it's at this point that things get a bit more confusing.
Xenoraid could have easily been called Every Other Space Shooter Ever if it weren't for a few good choices on the developer's behalf. While you may be flying through space, dodging asteroids and taking down enemies, the game introduces some much-needed change to keep the formula from being stale. The most noticeable is that during each mission, you have four different ships to use to combat the enemy. Each of these ships, depending on the chosen loadout, is distinct in its own way.
While one ship shoots fire and bombs that electrify the area around them, another shoots rapid bursts and more traditional bombs. Modifications can be unlocked between missions that make ships behave differently, such as destroying everything on the screen when they reach a certain degree of health, but all in all, it's best to just upgrade the guns if change is required.
It's good that weapons can be upgraded in between missions, and gives Xenoraid an ever so slight feeling of a RPG levelling system, but this comes at a stiff price. See, it doesn't matter how overpowered the guns are if aiming them is this difficult. It's a much bigger problem when shooting bombs, as some require a degree of accuracy that's almost absurd.
Still, it's easy to get caught up in the heat of the battle and miss an enemy you felt you had in your scopes by what looks like a mile. This isn't wholly a negative, though, as it does showcase how some shmup fans have become complacent, being able to spray and pray. Having to worry about accuracy is nice, although occasionally it feels like you should be looking at the screen with a magnifying glass if you have any hopes of making contact.
Of course, none of this would be a problem if you could fire endlessly. In fact, many gamers attest that if endless fire is possible, then the game better be hard. Unfortunately, all the ships weapons overheat after about 10 seconds of firing. This leads to taking a lot of damage because you felt like you should've been able to fire, only to realise you're completely defenceless in a sea of asteroids and bullets. It's just another nail in the coffin that makes every battle in Xenoraid feel wildly unfair.
Fortunately, a lot of enemies tend to move off screen, granting a moment to collect your senses and get ready to unleash fire and doom. They then re-emerge on the screen, and it's a nice break from the chaos. Another way in which the overheating feature is practically made pointless is that you can just switch to another ship, provided one of the other ships is available. This puts Xenoraid in a very unique position. It's not that it's bad, it's that it is occasionally difficult, and a lot of the time boring.
There's something that could be said about the fact that the overheating is an interesting mechanic that makes the player think more deeply about what they're doing. That's all nullified by the ability to just switch between ships without regard. Once a ship falters, simply wait for the enemies to move off screen, then switch to another ship. Are the enemies staying on screen, as some of them tend to? Then just switch to the next ship. Of course, players can set up their loadout so that their ships are all the same, meaning it can be made impossible for the enemies to destroy their favourite ship, since another one is waiting in the wings. It just seems odd, like the developer knew the system was incredibly hard, so they nerfed it to the point it loses most of its punch.
With this system being largely useless, it leaves the player with a game that is just another space shooter. It's cool that gamers can upgrade and swap out their ships, but they aren't anything really to talk about. In fact, a few of them, like the aforementioned flamethrower, are particularly useless, as most enemies won't die before your weapon has overheated.
Survival mode, however, seems to make more sense of these shortcomings. They work fairly well in an endless setting, because your loadout is designed for each round. The overheating feature works well with the combined threat of having to survive as long as you can. Still, nothing makes this mode feel unique, instead feeling like a standard, randomly generated survival mode that has been seen many times before.
Artistically speaking, if the game were part of a playlist, it would be titled "Space." The sounds and sights are all very typical of the genre, and while they hold together perfectly fine, they are, much like the remainder of the game, very much what a space shooter is expected to look like. There's really nothing that stands out as particularly unattractive, but there's also nothing that will pop out when you see it.
The most important thing to remember with Xenoraid is that while it does things differently, it doesn't make them feel different. The biggest addition is the RPG-like levelling system, and this isn't enough to really make the game more of a must-play or not. Xenoraid may make you feel good for a little while, but it largely feels you could get the same experience out of many other games. It's a shame, because it is clearly showcasing it has potential, but it fails to really build up to it. It feels more like everything it wants to do differently it merely backpedals on with something else. It's either hard and dull, or just plain dull, and because of that, it feels indifferent.
Xenoraid is just not very much fun. It has some interesting ideas, and some that are just confusing, but for the most part it's the same space shooter that has been seen time and time again. It's like the Expert mode of an old shooter, where things have been tweaked, but it largely feels like the exact same game. While the upgrade system and loadouts are pretty interesting, they feel like an exciting game leading into something much less appealing.
The PC version benefits from the mouse control. I rated it higher on that platform.
I can definitely see the controls being a lot better with a mouse.