I like the idea of hybrids: mixing elements from two genres can be a very good way of creating a game thatâs fresh while also maintaining accessibility. The Portal games, for example, do a splendid job of marrying a novel puzzle system to the controls of a first-person shooter. Anno 2070, which I reviewed recently, is another good example - although rather more of a niche title. Xotic is in the same vein, in that it unites gameplay elements from first-person and side-scrolling shooters. However, the union is ultimately pretty unsatisfying.
Clearly, the aim is to get beyond the run-and-gun dynamics of run-of-the-mill FPS titles. So, in addition to shooting at people who are trying to shoot at you, you also... well, you shoot at little glowing balls â called âscabâ â and try to pop as many of them as you can in chain reactions before the time-limit for combos runs out. I guess that means thereâs a bit of puzzle game in the mix too.
Xotic has you take control of a strange little alien on a mission to save the universe from The Orb, a mystical consciousness, once disembodied, but now possessing creatures and sucking the energy out of worlds, one by one ...or something thereabouts. (The scab mentioned previously appears to be a manifestation of the The Orbâs evil presence.)
The story is pretty uninspiring; most of the creativity seems to have been spent on the visuals â the fact that your gun is a giant fly could hardly be called anything but creative (youâre playing as a little plant-like alien ...just go with the flow, I say).
Outside of the protagonist, colour rules: enemies, power-ups, and scab are, for the most part, luminous and vivid. Unfortunately, in gameplay terms, the bold colours yield confusions rather than clarity. Bright red, for example, might be something youâre supposed to collect, something being shot at, or even the thing doing the shooting. Itâs chaos! And, unfortunately, things go downhill from there, graphically speaking. The background environments look tired and unoriginal, like discarded sets from various other games.
The music is pretty good, but it doesnât make much of an impact on the game experience. The sound effects have some interesting quirks, but basically boil down to decent classic arcade-y fare â which is reasonable, since that seems to be part of what the game as a whole is channelling.
Shoot baddies, collect points and power-ups, set up combos, et cetera â it sounds like a good concept, even if it isnât super-original. However, the execution is a sore disappointment. The manic quality one might be looking for in a title like this comes not from fast-paced action, but from confusion and clunky controls. It is also very hard to keep track of your weapon modes.
Worst of all, bad level design means I often found myself wandering around aimlessly after the challenging parts were over, trying to figure out where some last floating red target had been hidden away so that I could move on.
Out-of-game menus (also in need of a usability intervention) allow you to play through the levels in a non-linear fashion and thereâs much encouragement to replay levels, getting higher scores, and competing which other players on the online scoreboard. Thank you all the same, but I disliked the levels enough the first time. You can also upgrade your character and weapon between levels, adding some RPG-style complexity - but no real value - to the gameplay experience.
I have had to concede it a good score in terms of value. Although it has much of the polish of a $100+ title, Xotic can be yours for only 800 Microsoft Points. Iâm genuinely impressed by the production values for a game in this league. I just donât want to play it again.