Developer: WXP / Publisher: Valcon Games / Played On: Xbox 360 / Price: 800 MSP ($9.99) / ESRB: Teen (Violence, Animated Blood)
The concept was sound: combining the drive for a high score seen in arcade games with the intensity of a first-person shooter. The execution and end result probably looked better on paper than it actually turned out. Xotic (pronounced “Exotic”, because E’s are apparently overrated) is an indie Xbox 360 title that attempts to blend the above mentioned genres together, but instead shows us why some things don’t mix as planned.
The core of Xotic is really split into two parts: first-person shooting, and arcade style action. Looking at both separately makes the game sound pretty good. The shooting is solid and is what you’d expect from any competent shooter. A shotgun, rocket launcher, sniper, and single-shot rifle make up the standard load out of weapons, while special abilities like stunning opponents or blasting them with a virus that slowly eats away at their health give the game some flair. The arcade aspect of the game has you racing through each level to attain the highest score possible. Shooting red orbs strewn about the level awards points and can be chained together to accumulate a higher score, while power-ups can be found that increase point multipliers even further. Exploring each area carefully usually leads to finding extra points, and completing stages quickly grants a bonus at the end of each level.
Both these elements on their own, the shooting and the fast arcade action, work well individually, but together they just butt heads. The main drive of the game is to get a high score, and the easiest way to get a high score is to shoot the red orbs and rush through the level as fast as possible. But the game forces you to clear out all enemies in a level before you can finish it, and this really slows things down. Enemies take a lot of damage to defeat, and trying to link together chains for points is immediately halted when enemies come on the screen. Cover mechanics to hide from enemy fire are overly complicated (which I’ll get to later) and do not help the situation. Since you’re going to be flying through levels rapidly you probably won’t see most enemies until it’s too late, thus leading you to a game over. The game hits its stride when in an area without enemies, but these can’t make up for Xotic’s overall shortcomings.
A few other instances marred my experiences further. At one point I had to fully exit to the Xbox Dashboard because I couldn’t select the next level. I could highlight it and press A to select the stage, but the game wouldn’t progress. A lack of save points means you’ll have to replay a stage from the beginning each time you die, which is incredibly frustrating as some stages take upwards of to 15 minutes to complete. The game sports a visually bright presentation but this makes it hard to tell what objects are enemies and which are just in the background. Also, almost everything you’re supposed to shoot at is red: enemies, doors, the point-giving orbs, and even the bullets enemies fire. I wasn’t sure whether to be happy a barrage of crimson was coming my way or to fear for my life.
Xotic’s controls are a collection of good and bad. Movement is tight and responsive and platforming sections are handled well. Shooting also feels natural, with the triggers being your fire and special ability buttons and the d-pad cycling between your various weapons. The biggest hiccups with the controls come with aiming and crouching. A reticule helps to guide your shot, but you cannot look around in full 360 degrees. If an enemy is directly above you, you can’t aim up that high in order to hit them, forcing you to backpedal to get in range. Auto-targeting would help alleviate some of these problems as well. Crouching is overly complicated: set a direction to sidestep by pressing a face button, hold the right stick down, move the left stick to sidestep, let go to go back to cover. For a game that’s about moving fast and scoring points, the controls for gunplay just don’t compliment the game well.
Visuals and Sound
The first thing I thought about Xotic’s visuals was that they looked like something cooked up in the mind of Tim Burton. Twisted and strange environments make up the games four distinct worlds, with odd plant life and rock formations giving each zone a distinct feel. Backgrounds as well as enemies are, well, exotic looking to a fault. It is hard to distinguish what is shooting you and what is just part of the environment. For example, I died several times because I couldn’t even see enemies scurrying across the ground because they were colored similarly to the ground itself. Maybe it’s a camouflage technique for enemies, but if that’s the case it’s a pretty cheap method to make the game harder.
Let’s switch gears for a minute to the game’s sound. Soft tunes play in the background of each world, and the music feels fittingly calm and serene. A narrator announces whenever you pick up a power-up, get a good chain of points, or perform just about any special action in the game. The voice is a mix of robotic and alien, and it’s satisfying to hear him announce your bad-assery when you defeat every enemy in a level or get a particularly high score. Overall the sound is good while the visuals are sometimes beautiful, but unfair.
There is a good game somewhere in the hybrid FPS/arcade title Xotic, but it’s buried beneath gameplay mechanics that don’t go well together. Collecting points, going for high scores, and zipping through levels for the fastest time is both fun and challenging, but having to slow the pace down to hunt and kill every enemy in order to advance takes away from what could have been a great title. Overly complicated controls and confusing visuals don’t help either. Xotic tried something new and I give it credit for that, but too many poor gameplay choices make this one hard to recommend.