Have you ever been playing a video game and thought to yourself: ‘If only I were defending the human race by killing a ton of aliens – now that would be a unique experience.’
Probably not, because alongside military shooters and fantasy yarns, the sci-fi kill-a-thon is probably one of the most overdone genres in gaming history. From Space Invaders to Xcom via literally millions of other titles, gamers have had the opportunity to blast ETs out of the sky for the past 40 years. So did we need another one – this time Xenoraid from 10tons Ltd?
Xenoraid’s influences are clear: This is a modern day take on an old-school game – a top-down space shooter. Those four words should tell you absolutely everything you need to know about the game.
But while 10tons have taken a very basic premise, they’ve added a 21st century spin on what is essentially just a rehash of Asteroids. Billed as being focused on ‘exciting action’ with ‘a few microshrapnels of bullet hell’, the game remains a love-letter to space shooters, while attempting to bring a few new ideas to a fairly crowded table.
First up, as you move your space fighter, the body of the ship angles left or right, which means your bullets, too, will stray left or right – gone are the days when you can hold down the trigger and dart between enemies. Now you need to concentrate controlled fire on which ever opponent you want to blow out of the sky, which brings some much-needed strategy into the game.
That straightforward strategy continues with the inclusion of four fighters (each one mapped to a controller button, for swift shifting). When you find yourself taking heavy damage, you can switch to a new ship, but it’s worth thinking about which member of your tag-team you’re going to call in since each of them carries different weaponry, designed to effectively take out different sized alien ships.
Along the way you’ll earn credits, which can be used to upgrade your offensive and defensive capabilities – and you’ll want to pay close attention to what you’re buying in order to survive the next level (we’re not saying Xenoraid is stingy with creds, since you start with 1000 of them, but we didn’t pick too many up during the initial stages of the game).
There are a nice, if basic, selection of game modes – standard single-player, plus local co-op and a horde survival mode. See what’s missing there? No online multiplayer or campaign modes. It seems like a missed opportunity, a stubbornness designed to strengthen the game’s status as a reminder of the very-much-offline co-op Atari days.
There is a story, but it takes a determined backseat to the gameplay. Essentially, Xenoraid tells the tale of first contact – aliens want to ice us, and a plucky band of military space rangers lead the charge above the planet to defend humanity. There’s really not much more to add, and let’s face it, you could’ve guessed what the story was based on the genre.
Why do we love killing aliens so much anyway? Perhaps they fill the same role as Nazis in games: Inhuman and the acceptable face of digital mass murder victims. Or perhaps we genuinely fear invasion and sub-consciously see this as target practice (although the chances of anything coming from Mars is a million to one, they say).
Controls are a mixed bag, mostly tight but occasionally you feel like your ship’s skating on ice rather than striking through space. The visuals are sharp and cartoonish but those cheap, cut-out style models make Xenoraid look like a mobile game. But even graphics are secondary to 10tons’ real intention: To combine classic and contemporary stylings and deliver old-school kicks and challenges.
On that score, Xenoraid delivers the payload.
Xenoraid is available from the Store, priced £7.99
In space, no-one can hear you cheer.
Pros: A glorious love-letter to vintage space shooters, with enough gameplay ideas of its own to feel lively and up-to-date.
Cons: Controls occasionally feel loose, and the story’s lightweight and obvious.