Zero Strain is a small scale but enjoyable twitch arcade top down shooter; wearing its influence on it’s sleeve, feeling like a long lost son of Geometry Wars. It’s a respectable effort that offers a good amount of replayability and challenge, supported by mostly tight controls. It’s not an incredibly original take on the genre though, but then, it does not have to be, as this will appeal to fans looking for another new experience to satisfy their trigger fingers. Besides some slight missteps, it’s an overall well made title.
It begins with a short exposition explaining the plot, it’s hokey and not focused on for very long, as all you need to know is that you need an energy source called light echoes. The only way to get them is to blast through waves and waves of baddies and big bosses. The plot is not incredibly engaging and is there simply as an excuse to start playing.
When you eventually enter your first mission, you will be faced with really gorgeous futuristic grid-like arenas, that morph into different shapes. The shapes are significant because you must stay in the designated combat zone or you slowly take damage. Enemies are varied and each of them present very specific challenges that force you to change your strategy in every instance.
However it’s more than just what the enemies can do, but also their position in these grids that force you adapt. They start off simple with squares and rectangles, but eventually shape into more complex polygons, making you think about the navigation around the battlefield.
After you get through a certain amount of regular stages, you face a boss. These are probably one of the weakest parts of the game; often quite easy, at least compared to regular levels which can get very hard. None of them are particularly unique or shake up the established formula, mostly coming across like giant bullet sponges.
For defeating these adversaries, you are granted a large selection of different ships, each with their own loadouts. Some of these are definitely more effective than others, with the first ship in the game being particularly overpowered. However they are all fun to use and it is cool to see the new ones which can be earned.
They also help build the length and replayability of Zero Strain as in order to progress you usually have to go back to old missions and beat them with new ships. This is not the most graceful way to pad for length, but the gameplay is fun enough that it does not hurt the experience. However, as with anything, there are only so many times I can complete the first level before I start losing my mind.
Another aspect that helps replayability is that of a score system that ranks your performance after each run of a particular level. This is an obvious addition for a top down shooter like this but there’s a massive problem as no matter how hard I’ve tried,I’ve been unable to decipher what exactly determines the rating. It isn’t broken – if you play really well, you usually get a good score – however it is completely unclear what exactly determines this.
For all the good, the one aspect that hurts Zero Strain the most is in the aiming; it’s not necessarily terrible, but it is definitely not good. It’s hard to determine an exact target, and whilst this usually does not matter as there are many enemies on the screen and the auto targeting is serviceable, when you are trying to get into high level play, where you don’t get hit at all, it all becomes a massive frustration. Especially when there are multiple tougher enemies that need to be taken out first. It’s not game breaking but it does bring the experience down.
Zero Strain on Xbox One is a high quality top down shooter that has all the essentials that a game from the genre needs – the replayability, the challenge, and the engaging gameplay. Besides some minor setbacks, this can satisfy even the most white knuckled gamer and for the price that’s asked, it’s more than a good deal for the fun that it can offer.