Friday, 28 June 2013

Review: Hexodius (PC)

Back in the day twin stick shooters were a great way to unwind with some mindless mayhem, use one stick to move your on-screen character and the other to shoot in a desired direction. There were so many games to get this right over the years with classics like Smash TV, Total Carnage, and Robotron. In recent years we've seen a bit of a revisiting of this sub-genre of game with titles such as Geometry Wars and Waves leading the charge.

Hexodius is the latest attempt at bringing twin stick shooters into the modern era, but it fails terribly in making a compelling experience by forgetting why these games are fun in the first place. Instead of having fast-paced action that players can dive into whenever they want, we're forced to slog through an incredibly dull story mode first, and only as new areas are unlocked there do we start to also unlock new arcade areas to play in. Even worse, the arcade modes are dreary, uninspired dross themselves.

The best thing about twin stick shooters is that they're so great for pick up and play experiences. Pick a game mode, and try and get the best score, time, or whatever that you can. This stuff should never ever be walled off, yet that's exactly what Hexodius has done. Players are forced to slog through six worlds with multiple areas in them while a robot yacks about this and that, explaining the game's story, and it's a tale that didn't need to be told because it is so utterly boring. It feels like the story was included as a paint by numbers approach to game design. This is the sort of thing that should be on the side for the few people who might actually care about some sort of narrative in a twin stick shooter. Games in general already suffer from terrible storytelling, and Hexodius does nothing to change this. The whole time I was trudging through it all I could think was, "Why are you making me do this? Make it stop!" When a game's story mode turns into a liability, it's better off just not being implemented.

Diving into the action, objectives are straightforward enough. Players will face challenges like surviving however many waves of enemies get thrown at them, defending your robot buddy while he hacks a computer, destroying power generators, and fighting bosses. Most of these are dreary affairs that don't really pull the player in. A big part of the problem is that enemies come out in waves so there will be gaps in the action on a regular basis unlike other more recent twin stick shooters like Waves and Geometry Wars where there is a steady increase in what is thrown at the player. The action is just paced so much better in those games. About the only aspect of these game modes that is even remotely fun is the boss fights. These actually take some doing, especially later in the game, and will really challenge the player. They even outdo the arcade arenas that slowly get unlocked, as those are largely whittled down to score attacks, and suffer from halted waves of enemies being unleashed into the arena.

There are also some weapons that can be bought while trudging through Hexodius' story mode. They can do things like increase your little ship's movement speed, augment its blaster, or even add extra cooldown-based firepower. Some of these are kind of neat (turrets and mines are my favorite), but with a lot of the stuff I didn't notice any major difference in performance by equipping it. While some of the gear is useful, pursuing much of it felt like a grind, and the payoff for some of that stuff felt questionable at best.

Even the game's aesthetic is boring. While the game thankfully avoids retro graphics that have been so prevalent in indie gaming of late, the art design won't wow very many people. There are a variety of simple robots, and thematic worlds to be seen that are functional, but that's about it. In fact, some of the choices in color schemes actually make it difficult to see enemy fire properly while playing since the ground and the lasers can sometimes be of a very similar color. On the music side of things, players will be greeted with some very uninspired electronic music. It didn't take long before I'd had enough of it, muted the tunes, and started to listen to my own music (still electronic, but oh so much better).

There's really no reason to go out and get Hexodius. It's a very dull twin stick shooter that is poorly paced, and inexplicably tied to a terrible story mode that doesn't need to be there. The joy of this genre comes from the instant gratification of being able to pick up the game and quickly hop into a fast, frantic world of blasting stuff, not slogging through some half-assed narrative with the promise of the good stuff only coming after several hours time. Even worse, it just turns out there isn't any good stuff as the arcade arenas in the first place. If you have a hankering for some twin stick fun on the PC go play Geometry Wars or Waves. They're far much better than this game.

- Jeff Nash

Follow Jeff on Twitter!

Score: 4 / 10

- Some of the weapons and equipment are kind of neat
- Boss fights can be intense

- A terrible, boring story mode is forced on the player in order to unlock arcade mode
- Turns out arcade arenas are dull too
- Pacing of battles is slow since enemies come out in waves
- Some unlockable items don't feel like a huge improvement over previous ones
- Uninspired soundtrack and visual design

Have you played this game?  What did you think of it?  Loved it?  Hated it?  Why?  Let us know in the comments!