Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Indie Game Review: A.R.E.S. Extinction Agenda

This is the first indie game review I’ve ever posted on my blog, and I am happy to say that this is only going to be the start of the reviews I write for indie games here. I feel that indie titles are just as, if not more important than many of the big-budget projects we’re getting each year. I thought I would start by reviewing a game that not many may have actually heard of yet, but should definitely check out if they are a fan of games like Mega Man, Mega Man X, Contra, Gunstar Heroes, Metroid, Castlevania, and the like. That game is A.R.E.S. Extinction Agenda for the PC.

A little info about this game before I go into the specifics: It was created using the XNA engine (this is Microsoft Xbox’s development toolkit), meaning that it also incorporates the Xbox 360 controller if you have a wired Xbox 360 controller or a wireless controller with the wi-fi adapter for it. This is my preferred method for the game, as I will soon talk about. This game also won Microsofts XNA Dream-Build-Play contest, which means it will soon become an Xbox Live indie title for download soon if you prefer to play it there. One final detail I’ll mention here is that this game is supposed to be the first of an episodic series. This would make sense, as there are only 5 missions in this first installment, with a very static ending, with promise of much more to come. And now, without further adieu, I will go into the game itself.

The story of this game is relatively simple, since that’s not so much the biggest selling point here (though I will say I find it to be much more detailed than it could have been for this type of game, and I applaud it for that). In the future, man developed a “Junk Sector” above the Earth. The use of this sector is pretty much as it sounds. A falling object crashes into this sector, releasing some type of gas that seems to possess all of the machines in the sector. A team goes to investigate, but gets apprehended by the machines. One man manages to send a sample of the gas to the Earth for testing, just before being caught himself. With this data, the Earth’s scientists create a robot with a built-in immunity for the gas. This robot is known as A.R.E.S. The story does what it needs to. It sets up the premise and the motivation to fight perfectly, and that’s really all I wanted from this kind of title in the first place.

The graphics of this game are surprisingly gorgeous for an indie title of this type. The characters all look very slick and run smoothly on the screen. The frame rate is very smooth as well thankfully, as you’re going to need it for the furious enemies and bosses ahead. Each boss fight in the game is quite large and menacing, with little room for error (especially on Hard Mode, which you may want to be sure you’re ready for before taking the plunge). Their appearances will certainly intimidate, as most of them nearly cover the entire screen.

The sound and audio tracks for this game are quite nice and effective. The sound effects are top notch for a project of this type. You’ll hear all the usual sounds of shots being fired and robotic movements keeping the scenery in the background alive and well. The audio soundtrack is something truly impressive. I haven’t heard a game soundtrack with so many rock and synth tunes thrown in a mix together, but they flow perfectly here and set the stage quite well.

In this paragraph, I will finally describe what everyone came here to find out about; the gameplay. If you are a fan of side-scrolling action platformers, especially Mega Man X, then you’ll know exactly what to expect. You walk around a 2D plane with one type of gun to start out with. Enemies spawn and appear in ways similar to the enemies in Mega Man and Metroid. You can also aim your gun in virtually all directions, just like Metroid and Contra, in order to attack your target from virtually any angle you may be coming from. These targets will also drop parts when destroyed, in the colors of yellow, blue, and red. These different parts are used to help upgrade your weapons, create items, healing kits, and a few other nice creations. You are also shown some more features, like the Zypher canon, which either destroys all enemies in front of you, or does a large amount of damage to a boss character. This attack is used when a meter is built up, based on the number of times you are attacked yourself, as well as how much damage you take from it all. You can also use EMP grenades and HE grenades. The EMP grenades allow you to shut down enemy robots and other generators that open up secret areas, while the HE grenades allow you to destroy enemies and objects, and eventually even help you jump higher. These controls all quickly become second nature, even if you haven’t been playing these types of games all your life.

The challenge of the game is definitely there, and the bossfights are truly memorable sequences to behold, but there are some things that keep this title from a higher score for me. The first and biggest issue is the length of the game. Episode 1 or not, this is a short title. Most gamers will be able to clear this entire game in around 2 hours or so, making the $10 asking price seem a little steeper. I obtained the game in a sale, and may have to recommend others do the same unless they’ve simply been itching for a new 2D side-scrolling action platformer to jump into. The game is still excellent in itself, despite these flaws. It’s just hard to recommend a bit of a heftier price for something that is incomplete as a whole. The ending itself will especially leave you wanting more, and that is a testament to how much fun I admit I was having with this one. I just wish there were more stages and bossfights to mess around with. I will definitely give this title multiple play-throughs however, as I’ve found it more than enjoyable enough to do so.

8 out of 10

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