Sunday, April 19, 2009

Xeno Arena Review


We have a little sleeper game here. I am officially addicted to getting my ass handed to me by quick little alien buggers. I have to admit I was initially very frustrated with the twitch-like combat, but it has sort grown on me.

Xeno Arena is a top down shooter, a shout out to some classic arcade style games. You're plopped in a large 'facility' with randomly generated maps, and tasked with diving as deep in the levels as possible without dying from the swarming baddies. You get one life - die, and you start back at level 1. I have only made it to level 9 after about 3-4 hours of play.

This game does many things right. First, I love that the developer stuck with a true top-down perspective (as opposed to isometric) because it creates a more strategic game with full visibility. The gameplay is simple and satisfying, and the music sets the eerie mood perfectly (each track is quite dark but notably well-done). I have found three guns (automatic, shotgun, and flamethrower) that pack good punch. The 'fog of war' mechanic is a nice add-on to the creepiness factor, and the mini map is a life saver.

Randomly generated levels can be a bit of a love/hate situation. For this type of game I believe it works well, but that feeling that a computer is just spitting out a lump of 'whatever' is present. It makes searching for the exit more challenging because you never know where it (or anything for that matter) is going to be. Sometimes I can't find the shotgun - sometimes it spawns in a place that I can't miss it - it all depends.

I have my gripes (when do I not?). The enemies in the early levels are VERY fast, about 3x faster than your character. That means there is no way in hell you can run away, and it's often impossible to see the bastards before they are at your feet ("fog of war" factors makes this tougher too). This was a weird choice for a first enemy, and something that may put-off people testing the demo. With an aiming system that can take some getting used to, I had some early moments of frustration, spinning around wildly while they gnawed on my knees.

And of course, there is literally zero attempt at a story. Hit 'start' and that's it. A little effort here would have been nice, even if it was just some basic context as to what was going on.

This game has 'A' potential if it focused a bit more on enemy/weapon variety and maybe added powers ups. The first 9 levels only sport 3 weapons and 2 enemies - eek. Co-op play would be incredible of course, because it's this type of shooter that benefits ten fold when playing with a friend. Last, the developer would have been smart to incorporate a leaders board for lowest level achieved - you'd have a lot of people hooked sir!

All-and-all this is one of the most additive games I've played on XBCG and outside of some basic wish-list stuff it's a tight package at 200 MP. It's got that old-skool difficulty which some people still find charming. I now have to play again to try to get past level 9. I just have to!

I suggest trying the Xeno Arena demo out - and if you buy it let me know how low you can go.

1 comment:

  1. I liked the demo, your review convinced me to buy. Level 10 sports another new enemy type and new weapon.