Xenoraid (Xbox One Review)
“Shmup”, a term used to describe the once archaic of arcade style shooters. Typically players would control a spacecraft, of some sort, with enough firepower to ward off other spacecrafts in a bid to reach the next level. Honing your reflexes was a necessity for surviving the onslaught of enemy ships, a simple mistake could mean game over. One specific sub genre within the Shmup category -Bullet Hell- has gradually attained fame through the ridiculous difficulty and nonsensical design of them. Thankfully Xenoraid doesn’t meet the criteria of a bullet hell game…much, but it does have its instances.
Xenoraid’s short but addictive campaign takes place within our own solar system. Starting on the outskirts of Saturn’s moon and slowly, but surely, moving towards Earth. The alien armada that seems set on the “shoot first, ask questions later” policy has set its course for Earth and as the campaign progresses you’ll be taking on this alien threat from the forefront of several different human colonies around the solar system.
The change in location and faction after each successful campaign mission acts as a physical reset for your ships and upgrades from a narrative standpoint. As you now control a new faction, it would make sense that you’re attributes and supplies wouldn’t carry over. A gentle reset button that’s justified in its mechanics.
As Shmups go (and I haven’t played a Shmup in a while) Xenoraid is rather non-strenuous. It’s rather easy to get to grips with the controls. The ease of maneuverability is great and fluid, being able to dodge and weave between shots and asteroids is no hassle and returning fire, positioning yourself and all round just staying alive is relatively struggle free; a huge plus for me as I’m not particularly good at these games.
Enemies come in waves of various sizes and composition. The lighter, smaller, and more agile crafts dart across the screen rather quick,sometimes they can even teleport in too, but fall rather quickly to immediate gunfire; the fodder of the alien armada. The medium weight gunships pack a bit more of a punch and range from simple, straightforward gunships to stealth based starcrafts and spaceships equipped with heat seeking missiles. Although, the larger cruisers are where your attention should be. These large spaceships can take up a good portion of screen and really put on the pressure, forcing you in to a corner of the screen and easily setting up and ambush for smaller fighters. Even though the enemy spacecrafts start to become a little stale in the later stages of the game, as variety tends to dip, the action never dulls ensuring you’re always kept on your toes.
Screen presence can become a bit of an issue though. Even though Xenoraid isn’t technically a Bullet Hell game, it sure feels that way come boss battles. These missions involve you and you’re measly squad of ships versus a rather tanky behemoth that will, more often than not, take up half the screen. The rest of the screen will then become inundated with laser fire, other spaceships, mines and all manner of volatile substances. No other campaign missions can really compare to any of Xenoraid’s boss battles, leaving you rather overwhelmed and under prepared to face them. And this is a huge issue due to Xenoraids’s “lives” system that takes notes from XCOM, in that you have none.
As you start your campaign on each of our solar systems waning planets; Saturn, Mars, Earth’s Moon and Earth itself, you’ll be gifted your own league of spaceships to play with. Starting with your traditional spaceship (machine guns and rocket based loadout) and working your way up to the elite class style of warships (Railguns and heat seeking missile launchers). Each class has its strengths and weaknesses; speed, firepower, endurance. Understanding each of their traits is vital to your success. Some missions you may be forced to sell a “recommended” craft at the start of a campaign as you may feel it’s not suited for the journey. Experimenting with what’s right for you and how you play is more important than what is given to you to begin with, so don’t be afraid to to try a different approach.
The major problem you face is dying, I know that may sound rather obvious. Traditionally in Shmups you are given “X” number of lives and asked to roll with it, get better with experience and try again. With Xenoraid, if you lose a ship, then you need to buy another which costs a pretty penny. Upgrades themselves are rather expensive too. With missions paying out just enough for a single upgrade, it’s hard to wrap your head round having to buy another ship and start from scratch at your current position, forcing you to restart your campaign from that chapter.
And once again I bring myself back to the boss battles as they can easily catch a player off guard. As the bosses encompass a large portion of the screen, it can be difficult to maneuver. And with enemies having the ability to shoot and move through the boss -sometimes other solid matter too- and shoot/crash into you. It’s hard not to get annoyed and in moments like this, blame the game for poor design. I could understand and cope with this type of gameplay if Xenoraid had the more traditional “lives” system in place, but all of my ships succumb to what seems like a cheap tactic and dare I say, game breaking moments like these. It strips what was once fun down to something that has now a become a slog.
Thankfully, there’s more to Xenoraid than its main campaign, and that’s Survival. As plain as it sounds, you start of with a basic set of ships and a large sum of cash for a quick boost in upgrades. Felling ships until you make your way to the top of the world leaderboard or to simply boast that you’ve beaten a friends top score. Or better yet, why not have them join you! Xenoraid also offers 4-player co-op via same screen couch play. Each player controls one of four ships in your outfit and will be able to play simultaneously with you, enforcing quadruple the damage onto those pesky boss fights.
Xenoraid is a beginners Shmup to an extent. Light on troublesome encounters, hosting scenarios and stages that can be blown through with relative ease, though the tables do turn come the time to fight a boss. Some deaths will be justified and some you may feel as though the game has cheated you by placing you in an unfair predicament; but I guess that’s what Shmups are. If you’re a Schmuck for Shmups then you may enjoy what Xenoraid has to offer. With a short campaign and a bland Survival mode, you’re enjoyment of Xenoraid may not be long lasting.