After at least a year's development, Skullsoft Software have finally released their new vertically-scrolling shoot'em'up game, Xenocide - previously known as Extreme Force.
SkullSoft have decided to release the game as shareware. There is a free version which you can download that has only half the levels and some of the better power-ups missing as well as also lacking a save facility, with the full version costing £8 to buy from within the UK (£10 overseas).
The game is a forced-scrolling shoot'em'up which moves relentlessly onwards,
with your craft flying up the screen quickly and without any pauses or backwards scrolling. If you move to the left or the right of the screen then the world
view slides along with you, with the actual levels being twice as wide
as the screen you actually see. What you can see of the level fills the
screen, with a radar at the top-right warning you of approaching ships.
On starting up the game you're presented with a bewildering array of options
before you even get into the game - you're dropped at a shop with the
necessity to buy various abilities at various levels. This is initially
confusing because you don't have any basis on which to make decisions, and
there are far too many options. It also removes any immediacy from the
game, which is a shame since the best shoot'em'ups are quick and easy to
get into, with power-ups coming as rewards for performance, rather than all
available as a start-up choice. That said, you buy power-ups with money,
so you can upgrade as the game progresses, but it is a nasty barrier to
actually getting into the game proper. If you don't buy anything (like I
did on my first few goes) your ship is woefully inadequate! So you're
forced to play the game a few times before you actually have a chance of
knowing what you're doing. This is all rather pointless, since the game
should simply start you with the best power-ups pre-bought - it could
always let you change them if you wanted, but starting with a useless
ship and the necessity to study a complex upgrade screen is silly.
Moving into the game proper, you're attacked immediately by absolutely
tonnes of enemy ships, all of whom move linearly around the screen, with
what looks like hundreds of chubby bullets flying around. It's incredibly confusing
and you haven't got a hope of being able to avoid them all as you sit there
watching your energy rapidly plummet until you die. This then repeats
until you run out of lives. Or at least that's what happened to me - and
that's on the apparently 'easy' skill level! With hundreds of fast-moving
creatures on a screen with your big ship you just don't have a chance,
especially since enemies sometimes need multiple hits to be destroyed.
Lots of bullets flying into me - what fun
As you destroy things you can pick up tiny tokens which float around the
screen almost invisibly. These give you money to spend at the shop at the
end of the level, or recharge your shield. You'll be lucky to manage to
pick many up, though, given their lack of visibility.
Graphically, the game is nothing special - there are some competently drawn
sprites, but it's all a bit too bright and airy to convey any sort of tension
or excitement, with the bullets in particular looking more like cartoon
bubbles than lethal missiles. The backgrounds are immensely dull and
unimaginative, too. Also missing is any in-game music, and the
sound effects become tedious after about 30 seconds. It also runs in a low-res 320x256 mode.
The game is completely devoid of imagination - all the enemy ships fly on
screen and follow straight lines without variety, as do enemy bullets.
Worse-still, enemy installaions continue to attack you after you've
flown past them, and you are regularly attacked by powerful enemies positioned off-screen and which you have never even seen. Worse game design would be
hard to imagine. The playability dustbin is obviously dangerously full.
It isn't bug-free either - it has the annoying feature of crashing when you start a level sometimes, which seems to happen to me roughly every other time. It's also far too slow to have another go, since you must wait for the 'loading' screen to fade in, count up, and then fade out - and you have to visit the shop and tedious 'story' page too.
If you have a Risc PC you'll find the game uncontrollable from the keyboard
unless you choose your keys carefully, due to key-clash problems, but this
is not really the game's fault! (You'll need to change from the default - easily done via the game menus)
All in all I found the game a major disappointment, especially after
playing previous highly-competent shoot'em'up games, but then again the
unregistered version is freely downloadable, so you've nothing to lose by
giving it a go. But if you want to play a shoot'em'up, I'd recommend you
dig out an emulator and find a better
one - that won't be hard!
You'll see this lots
Review ©Gareth Moore 1998
Xenocide requires 4Mb of RAM and RISC OS 3.1 or above, with an ARM250 or above recommended. You also need a hard-disc to install it to.
You can download the demo of the game from SkullSoft's software download page or from Acorn Gaming. The full version costs £8 in the UK, or £10 outside the UK.
...this page last updated: 20/12/98...
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