Coming from Bitmap Bureau comes a retro themed twin stick shooter – Xeno Crisis. Now, I grew up playing these types of games, like Smash TV on the SNES, and so I was quite excited to give this a whirl. The game came about via a successful Kickstarter appeal initially to be released on the SEGA Megadrive, and has now found itself being ported to the major consoles and Steam. With promised one player action and couch co-op in place – to capture that whole old-skool challenge – I prepared myself and dived straight on in to the world of marines, monsters, munitions, and quite possibly other words beginning with M. So come with me… as I attempt to kill all the aliens!
Our squad of marines is called to Outpost 88, a place that for some reason is crawling with bad tempered aliens. We are sent in to try and find out what happened, and this translates into working through seven distinct zones, with room upon room of monsters to vanquish and things to pick up. Luckily, killing enemies not only causes them to drop immediately useful items like ammo boxes and health pickups, but they also drop dog tags. These tags are used after successfully completing a level, allowing you to upgrade things like gun damage, health and the amount of ammo able to be carried.
Each run through Outpost 88 is different too, as the rooms are randomly generated each time the game begins. The Outpost is set out as a series of rooms – arenas if you will – and each time you enter a room, a horde of aliens comes in to try and ruin your day. Here’s a top tip: Aliens will enter the room using the door that seems to be sealed behind you, so don’t turn your back on it. With seven levels to go at, and bosses and different enemies being introduced each time you move to a different level, the challenge here is real. And with limited lives and continues ready to roll, the difficulty is judged just so. The more you play, the better you get and the more of the levels you get to see before expiring. Finding out that the difficulty as a default is set to hard made me feel a bit better about my initial failure to thrive.
The monsters are a varied bunch, both in the run of the mill rooms and the boss arenas. Each enemy has their own attack patterns that have to be learned, from the simple cannon fodder that run down your gun barrel to the horrible jumping blobs, burrowing enemies that pop up under your feet and even enemies that spit poison gas at you; there are lots of things to shoot in Xeno Crisis. As you run through the rooms and clear them out, you will find keycards that then open up other routes to go through, culminating in a boss fight. These bosses are screen filling affairs, with, once again, a series of attack patterns to learn. The second boss – Death Viper – is a classic case in point, with it firing spikes from its tail that you obviously have to avoid; only vulnerable to being shot in the head, while it bounces around the room. Oh, and if you do enough damage, it speeds up and starts to fire bullets from its mouth!
Luckily Xeno Crisis doesn’t let you go into battle armed only with some harsh language. The default pulse rifle weapon is good enough for the first few levels, despite having limited ammo. Every now and then, new weapons will drop into the arena, allowing you to up your arsenal. Classics like triple shot, spraying out in a cone shape, right up to flamethrowers and homing shots, via lasers that manage to one shot any smaller enemies, the guns on display throughout Xeno Crisis are a great deal of fun to use. Except the amusingly named (and suitably Doom styled) BFG, which is a charge up type weapon. The only issue with a charge up gun in a game as frantic and fast as this one is that by the time you’ve gotten a shot in, ten other enemies are ready to bite your face off. In a nod to just how easy it is to get into trouble, the devs have seen fit to give us a dodge roll move, that can usually save the day. I say usually, as if your luck is as poor as mine, you’ll roll away from one enemy straight into others.
Xeno Crisis works brilliantly as a single player experience, keeping you coming back to just try and get that little bit further. As a cooperative experience however it is completely sublime, with twice the firepower and twice the fun. The only slight niggle is that the player models can get confusing sometimes, and I spent a lot of time dying because I was watching my cooperative partner’s character instead of my own. Whether this is due to the colours used (light blue and light green) or whether I’m just getting old, I’m unsure. What I do know though is that things are much improved if one person chose the female marine character, even though as a default she does carry less ammo. Charging about the place, trying to grab ammo and power-ups before your partner, adds a lot of spice to the gameplay. If one person dies, as long as the second player can clear the room, they can then revive the other before moving on to the next room. The continues are shared out mind, and luckily they can be bought with dog tags, so that may well be a good way to go once you have upgraded the rest of the stats.
All in all though and I’ve great pleasure in announcing that Xeno Crisis on Xbox One is a superb game, with a real challenge and decent old-skool difficulty that takes me back to my younger days. Great retro styled graphics, superb chiptune music and a real challenge makes it a pleasure to play. Co-op works very well indeed, the single player is properly hard, and all in all it’s like a love letter to the games of yore; Smash TV and even a slight flavour of Robotron. If you are in the market for a game that has replayability built in, then you could do a lot worse than to consider Xeno Crisis.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, the aliens look they need a good kicking again…