My interest is always pricked when a developer openly says they are looking to change up the First Person Shooter genre. It is a truly admirable goal amidst the wash of generic military shooters currently ruling gaming. However it is clearly easier said than done. This psychedelic FPS has some great ideas and brief flashes of brilliance. Unfortunately, attempts to make it a unique experience have come at the cost of its playability.
Xotic is an Indie title from WXP Games and is available on Xbox live arcade for 800MS points and also on P.C. It is a single-player, score focused, first person shooter staged in arenas which take around 5 to 15 minutes to complete. There is no story as such, the loose premise is that “The Orb”, a powerful non-corporeal being, has grown tired of merely existing with no physical form. So it has started to take control of the universe planet by planet using toxic red orbs called “Scabs”. You are an alien with a special a gun (that looks like a big fly) who is charged with the destruction of the said “Scabs”.
Like most gamers, I love the sound of a combo chain building and watching points shoot out from the environment onto my score meter. Xotic is built around this idea which should have been a great place to start. You begin a level with the primary goal of getting a high score to open up new levels. This is done by shooting the Scabs to create a delightful chain of iridescent destruction. Keep shooting Scab chains while doing some basic platforming to collect ‘points crystals’ scattered through the map. Out of some of the Scabs spring score multipliers or power ups. The power ups, such as “Rapid Fire” or “2x Damage”, help dispatch the painful enemies. The enemies only purpose is to put an end to your point scoring mojo and frankly take out all the fun. Once all the enemies have been dealt with, you can keep collecting points or exit the map, its a balance of score ‘vs’ time taken.
As you finish levels XP is rewarded. It can be spent on levelling your characters health, armour, energy etc… or levelling up the various ammo types for your big ‘fly’ gun. They have crazy names and interesting visual translations ‘in game’. But they are essentially the standard fair of rifle, grenades, electric-bolt, sniper, shotgun, homing rockets and laser all with an insectoid twist. The other piece of kit is actually really cool. Its a deployable shield called a “hard hologram” and it can deployed anywhere. Surprisingly, its useless in combat, but is a great help when platforming. You jump then click the right stick and it appears under you. It doesn’t even need to be touching the ground. Repeat the process over and over and you can be standing on your shield 50 feet in the air above the map. Great for getting pesky hidden crystals.
I enjoyed the simple task of tearing around scoring points. But that all comes to a screaming halt when you have to use a broken cover mechanic to slowly wear down enemy creatures and turrets. I often found myself taking mysterious damage and due to the ‘Technicolor Dreamcoat’ art style, I couldn’t work out where the fire was coming from! Before I knew it I was dead after 15 minutes of playing, and you guessed it….no checkpoints. Now I don’t mind “the fail state”. In fact it is an all to rare commodity these days. But if games are going to punish the player, it should be for their mistakes and not for poor design choices by the developer. The shooting mechanics are imprecise and are exacerbated by some minor frame-rate drop. The basic platforming required to reach collectable crystals is fun but is hampered by floaty controls. The combination of the art style, gameplay design and enemies breaks this game for me. (Not to mention the three hard-locks I had on loading screens)
Xotic’s modern take on a ‘1980s’ style points dash is a cool idea. The odd level that is set up for a pure ‘points race against the clock’ is very cool, but unfortunately it is the exception. Most of the time I found myself having to fight against the games mechanics to get to the fun and frankly it isn’t worth it. Dip your toe in the water by way of the 1.8GB Demo if you like. But in my opinion fellow Masher’s, give it a miss.