We've detected alien life in our star system. All attempts of communication have failed, so what's the next logical step? Shoot 'em. That's the gist of Xenoraid, the vertical space shooter from indie developer 10 Tons. You, as commander of the Earth's forces, must stop the aliens from reaching Earth.
Xenoraid's story is beautifully brief. Basically, you get a bit of exposition between a commander and his assistant as they discuss the current state of the fight between the aliens and Earth, and then you kill a couple hundred aliens. Rinse and repeat.
You start in the Milky Way's outer systems, trying to stop the alien forces from closing in on the little blue planet. Eventually they make it from the system's edge past Mars and to the Earth itself, and the final battle with the mother-ship ensues.
Xenoraid plays like an evolved form of Galaga, which may have been by design. You take control of a ship that can traverse the whole screen, but points upward the entire time, meaning you can only shoot up and a bit in either direction, as the ship tilts when you move left or right (this can be turned off in the options to keep your ship pointed forward the whole time).
Even though Xenoraid takes inspiration from a handful or retro titles, that doesn't stop it from setting itself apart as its own game. For one, it's obviously meant to be co-op, since you have 4 ships at your disposal that you can actively switch between in-game. That co-op distinction doesn't stop the solo fun, though. Enemy numbers are adjusted in solo, and less players means more freedom to switch between ships, which also lets you take advantage of the game's clever "dodge" system; the period of invincibility when you switch to a different ship. More players means waiting longer for switch cooldowns or not being able to switch ships altogether. That's what a game with co-op should have; trade-offs for choosing to play in either mode.
There's a big variety of ships that come into play here. Each ship has 2 weapon types, one primary and one heavy. The basic ship has a machine gun and missles, another has a shotgun type blaster and cluster bombs, and there are a myriad of heavier ships that have things like flamethrowers and grenade launchers, but sacrifice maneuverability.
Enemies in Xenoraid come at you in big, but manageable numbers. The game does a great job of getting you into a groove, starting you off with a few tiny ships and progressing into a bullet-storm of gunships, drones, and attackers. Each second that goes by in the game comes with an increased sense of intensity, meaning that you never feel comfortable taking your hand off of the controller. That rang true when I made the mistake of taking a drink of water in between waves, and not finishing before the next wave started with a huge gunship that threw out mini-nukes; and that was the end of Major Murphy.
Outside of combat, there are lots of decisions to be made. Money is scarce, and you're forced to choose between ship repair, upgrading your ships, and enhancing the bonuses you get in each mission. Each mission has a money bonus for completing it based on its difficulty (400-1000… money… dollars? Lets say credits), plus you get a few hundred from destroying bosses and special asteroids in combat, and that's pretty much all you get to spend in between missions. Ship repair costs 50 credits to restore 30% of a ship's health, and with 4 ships that can add up pretty fast. In addition to that you can upgrade your ship's guns and armor, which will run you between 350-600 credits. These upgrades range from upgrading your missiles with a homing ability, or increasing your guns' damage as they get close to overheating. If neither of those things suits you, you can instead go to your "tech" tab to buy perks that persist throughout a chapter. These perks can include nukes that activate upon a ship's death, hefty armor increases, or a free ship repair per outing. While these effects are powerful, they can quickly make you go for broke, costing anywhere between 450-1200 credits. So, when you finish a mission and have 900 credits to spend, you really have to get your priorities in order.
Dying in Xenoraid is a bit like stubbing your toe; you're hit with the initial fit or rage and regret, and then after going on for a few minutes it doesn't sting so much anymore. If you somehow manage to lose all of your ships, then that's it; you're sent back to the beginning of the chapter. At times, having to reset can be frustrating, but the looming threat of having to start back from where you were an hour ago makes hitting that "launch mission" button a more important decision than it would be otherwise. This game might be the perfect little mix of retro shooter, RPG, and roguelike.
The look of Xenoraid is guaranteed to put a smile on anyone's face when they first pick up the controller. When I first got into the game, I was flooded with memories of Galaga and Asteroids. This makes for an absolutely amazing experience, for about the first hour. After that, you can really start to appreciate the look of the game for more than its being reminiscent of some retro classics. The ships are reactive and sharp, and explosions are vivid and intense, and there's a real sense of stress when you see those new enemies flood the screen at the beginning of a wave. Xenoraid's mix of mood, setting, scenery and intensity make it a great game to play and to look at.
There isn't much in the way background music; each level is usually backed by an electronic beat that you'd expect to hear when shooting up space baddies. The sound effects are also what you'd expect, but nothing really revolutionary. Machine guns give that classic ta-ta-ta-ta, and missiles let out an iconic kaboom when they make contact. That's not a big issue for the most part, though, since Xenoraid is the type of game best played while listening to your own tunes.
Xenoraid is a game that will take you back to the 80's, but still remind you that you're in late 2016. The satisfying retro feel and modern mechanics make it a satisfying experience whether you played the titles the game got its inspiration from or you're just making your first step into trying out a space shooter.
|+ Retro feel with Modern mechanics||– Roguelike aspect can be a turn-off|
|+ Lots of ships to use and upgrade||– Sound effects are nothing special|
|+ Trade-offs to playing in solo or co-op|
|+ Story is brief, but satisfying|