Nex Machina: Death Machine is an old-school twin stick shooter developed and published by renowned developers Housemarque. The game is very reminiscent of the arcade shoot 'em ups of old that the Finnish developer is so good at recreating. The game is played from a top-down perspective as you move across different areas of a world while shooting up waves of robotic enemies. The main objective is to get through the end of the level and defeat the boss that awaits. In the process there are multiple things to collect and secrets to discover. Nex Machina can be compared to other great Housemarque titles such as Resogun, Dead Nation and Alienation. While having similarities to these, Nex Machina does carve out its own place as its a very accessible game to pick up and get straight to the awesome and very addicting action. It is, overall, a much versatile and faster-paced game than previous arcade shooters made by Housemarque. As a result, it manages to set a new bar for twin stick shooters.
Nex Machina: Death Machine released on June 20th, 2017 for both the PS4 and PC. The game is priced at $19.99 USD for PS4 or $15.99 on Steam. It can be purchased at the following stores: Amazon, PSN and Steam. The following review is based on the PS4 version.
Nex Machina's story is not really told in any narrative way to speak of. Playing the game already tells you essentially what happened. You find yourself in a world overtaken by machines and humans attempting to flee for their lives. The game has a high-degree of inspiration from old arcade games Robotron and Smash TV that were created by arcade legend, Eugene Jarvis. Yet, in the world of Nex Machina, humans had become too dependent on technology and thus, severely addicted to portable devices. Servant machines reached a point were their AI got so advanced that they achieved a consciousness. At that point, the machines decide to end their life of servitude and begin a campaign to destroy all humans.
That's were the player comes. You control a lone hero turned into a one-man army that launches on to the scene ready to be humanity's last hope. Armed with an attached gun blaster to your arm as well as equipped with a very dependable jet pack thruster, you are all that stands in the way of humanity's total extinction. What follows is your personal struggle to destroy the legions of deadly machines and their advanced robot overlords.
It is a shame though that the game does not display the trailer sequence that was shown at the PlayStation Experience 2016 game show. While understandable that an arcade shooter like this is eager to get in on the action, the cinematic trailer as an opener could have helped to present the story in a brief and concise manner. You could always skip it, as I'm sure that many players would have, but it couldn't have hurt to include at the very least that identical PSX 2016 trailer as an opening for the game. In my opinion, that trailer was very adrenaline fueled and put you in the mood to blast away anything that moves. Missed opportunity here.
The gameplay in Nex Machina is the strongest point of the game by a mile and takes the twin stick shooting action to a whole new level. If you wanted a game with non-stop shooting, dodging while enjoying some fine inspirational techno background music, this is it. It doesn't get better than this. You will shoot as soon as you land on a level and only end as the level's boss explodes. No Housemarque game has ever had pacing of this nature, it is literally non-stop action with just a second to breath as you jet pack to another section of the level.
In the PS4 control scheme, you use the two analog sticks mostly. The left one to move around the top-down areas and the right one to control the direction that you shoot with your blaster. The movement and shooting is incredibly tight and responsive, allowing a high degree of precision shooting. You can and will be performing circular shooting all around you frequently as the waves of machines persistently attempt to flank you on every side. The two sets of back triggers only perform one function per side, one being the back pack thruster dodge mechanic that requires a quick reload immediately after and the other to use the various special weapons found in the level. The special weapons found includes, bombs, sniper shots, melee blades and more that serve as a nice recourse when trying to take out approaching enemies out quickly or to eliminate those tougher-looking ones attacking you from a distance. There could have been more variety with these special weapons but what is found is very useful and can impact combat significantly if used wisely.
Nex Machina is characterized by its high degree of difficulty which is in line with that expected of the arcade shooter genre. The move set and special weapons found can be used strategically and your choice of action may determine whether you live or die as you will often find yourself pit against incredible odds. Fortunately, the game does feature a number of difficulty options, some of which allow you to have infinite or close to infinite amount of continues. This does not mean that you won't die very often and might see yourself using lots of continues. Even in the easier difficulty levels, the game encourages you to sharpen your skills and get better as the game is both very high-score oriented as well as features a large amount of things to do and collect in the various worlds.
Each world has a huge amount of optional things to discover, destroy or save. To begin with, each world has a huge amount of humans that can be saved or ignored to their fate. There is an upwards of about 70-100 to save per world. The reward for saving the humans is, other than piece of mind, a big bonus to your score and may complete specific "challenge feats" or unlock trophies. In addition to the regular humans found in the levels there are some secretly-hidden humans as well to discover in many areas. Furthermore, each world has areas that you will never be able to play and blast your way through unless you find and destroy specific terminals. Upon doing so, you will play newer sections of a world as a reward that are equally fast-paced and crazy as the normal route of a level. Then, there is a group of hidden beacons, fleeing Disruptor machines as well as Visitor machines to destroy in order to increase your overall score and reach 100% completion for any given world. Taking the challenge to find all these things and both save or destroy accordingly, gives the game much more replay value and depth than previous Housemarque titles.
Nex Machina, unfortunately, also features a very small amount of modes. The main one is "Arcade mode" which upon completing on any difficulty will roll the credits of the game. The "Single World" mode simply allows you to select which world to play at once from among those unlocked in the campaign mode. The most interesting mode after the "Arcade mode," is the "Arena mode." In the "Arena mode" you find the extremely addictive challenge of trying to obtain the Bronze, Silver and Gold medals for each world by reaching incredibly hard to hit high scores. Just playing in this mode, even if you don't reach a Bronze medal, gives you points. These points can be used, when enough, to unlock even more challenging versions of the worlds you know. Some of these includes an even faster version of the worlds, making danger close-in on you even faster as you attempt to get through waves at a close to speed of light movement. This "Arena mode" is clearly the place to go to improve your skills and take on these impossible-looking challenges.
The biggest downside to Nex Machina this day an age is its lack of online multiplayer. The game allows for local co-op only, perhaps in an effort to simulate the old arcade tradition. Playing with a buddy is as fun as can be imagined and is strongly encouraged as competing for the highest score can provide hours of fun. Yet, previous Housemarque games had included online multiplayer modes or features. Dead Nation Apocalypse Edition's mode where some players controlled the zombie hordes against other players. A similar mode might have been cool here as players could have tried to fend off all the endless waves thrown at them. A missed opportunity here as well.
GRAPHICS & AUDIO
Nex Machina: Death Machine looks gorgeous on the PS4. All the environments, machines and action thrown at you look absolutely fantastic. The various blasts, explosions and energy discharges color up the frantic action very nicely and shows smooth contrasts with the lighting and shadows. It is the best-looking Housemarque shooter and would be eye candy for any twin stick shooter fans. No matter how many enemies and shooting are displayed on screen, the frame rate maintains itself stable and at a crisp clear image. The game achieves the announced 1080p and 60fps without any significant issues nor lag at any point that I could see. Overall, the look and performance is spotless and top-notch.
The audio in Nex Machina instead, includes the typical techno beats that always accompanied old school arcade shooters. This game brings its own inspirational soundtrack that helps the player appreciate the epic scale of the odds they are facing. The arcade shooters were all about having these techno trances as you played through the action. Unless, you hate that kind of music in the background, the beats compliment the action to a great extent. The captivating soundtrack is also aided by the excellent sound across the entire game. The sound of shooting and explosions all come to life in an equally fast-paced ramp. The excellent work done on the audio is clearly appreciated here.
Housemarque's Nex Machina: Death Machine is a masterpiece of non-stop arcade shooting action. It doesn't get any better than this. I've never played anything as fast-paced and in your face before. I believe that previous Housemarque games laid the groundwork and Nex Machina takes everything they did to a new level. It has simple controls that are very accessible yet carry a learning curve full of depth if one wants to improve his game. The game stresses a high score as a goal while it smartly encourages and rewards exploration without breaking the adrenaline-pumping fast pace. The game is very short in terms of getting the credits to roll, features a small amount of worlds and modes. Yet, what it includes is full of things to find and destroy. There is no shortage of challenges and specially thanks to the "Arena mode" which should have completionists and genre lovers pouring hours upon hours taking on some incredibly tough challenges.
Without being a huge genre fan, I actually spent quite a number of hours addicted through and through. Exploring and finding newer areas of the world was as challenging as it was entertaining and fun. The biggest downside is the lack of any online multiplayer options. However, even while lacking that, Nex Machina establishes a new benchmark for the twin stick arcade shooter genre. Well done, I see myself playing a ton more of what's included here.
|+ Crisp looking visuals and excellent fast-paced performance||– Short length and a very small amount of levels|
|+ Tight and accessible gameplay that is a joy to play||– Missing opening trailer from PSX 2016|
|+ Encourages exploration in order to access secret areas||– No online multiplayer options/modes of any kind|