Inside Pulse 12

Review: Xyanide (Microsoft Xbox)


Xyanide
Developer: Playlogic
Publisher: Playlogic
Genre: 3-D Multi-Scrolling Rail Shooter
Release Date: 08/17/2006

To tell you the truth, I have no idea how I happened on this game. I must have been looking at a coming releases list or heard someone else talk about it, but somehow I saw it, assumed it was going to be some gritty dark action game with awful camera angles and moved on.

Then I received some screenshots. It was a 3-D game, but yet it appeared to play like a shooter. A REAL shooter. Not those pansy ass First Person Shooter a dead monkey can beat. I’m talking a REAL shooter. Games like Ikaruga, Gradius, R-Type, Mars Matrix, Gunbird, River Raid, and whatever else you want to pull out that scrolls in one direction or another and you have to have hair trigger reflexes in order to survive a single level, much less beat the game.

Many of you know the 2-D shooter aka a SHMUP is my favorite genre. Then comes 2-D fighters, and Tactical RPG’s round it out. So I was both super happy and yet hesitant the more I learned about Xyanide. Happy because, hey, new shooter! Hesitant because the only real 3-D shooter I truly enjoy are the Panzer Dragoon games. Fellow staff member Tom Pandich leant me the DS game Nanostray, but I found it mediocre and too easy. Still, as the MSRP was 19.99, I decided I needed to get it as I like to be familiar with every game in this genre that actually makes a US release, as Shooters have sadly become overlooked and under-produced as a genre for this entire generation of consoles.

The problem turned out trying to find this thing. I didn’t ask the developer for a review copy, and EB Games/Gamestop wasn’t taking preorders for it, so I had to wait until the game was out and then had to hit my head against my computer screen repeatedly as I learned only one store in a twenty mile radius of me had any copies. That may sound a little nuts, but I once drove 60 miles each way for the last copy of WWE War Zone for the PS1 the day it came out as I was in the middle of Bumblef*ck, nowhere at the time. So I got in the car, grabbed the game and played Xyanide until my arm started to hurt.

So is this going to be one of those reviews where I get up on my cranky retrogamer platform and talk about how you whippersnappers today have no idea what a challenging game is and that back in MY day games like Marble Madness or Battletoads would make you wet yourself with shame as it would show how pathetic you really are at gaming, or will this be a happy jovial review because I finally got a good shooter released Stateside in 2006.

Let’s Review

1. Story

Holy crap. There’s a story to the game. Usually a Shooter’s plot consists of a paragraph or three in the manual and then you’re just blowing the shit of things for an hour or two. Not with Xyanide . When you start this game, you are treated to a very well done cutscene that’s between five-ten minutes long that flesh out the plot. Five-ten minutes is usually 15% of the time it takes to beat most shooters.

With Xyanide the plot is simple and yet very deep for a video game. You play as Drake, a warrior-pilot from the planet Mardar. It is your duty to escort a prison ship carry a young girl names Aguira out into space, and then make sure it is sent into a black hole. Sounds pretty bad. What the heck could a little kid have done to warrant punishment by “Maelstrom” as the inhabitants refer to the hole? Well it turns out she’s a serial genocidal maniac. Yes. She kills entire planets for kicks and tears apart babies with her bad hands. I’m sure the parents are to blame.

Everything goes smoothly with the escort mission until a meteor crashes through the prison ship. A meteor…made of XYANIDE! OH NO! Wait, what’s that? What’s Xyanide? Well, it is a substance that allows whoever touches it to manipulate reality. And evil bitch supreme Aguira has bits not embedded in her flesh. Not good for the universe says I. Drake sees Aguira creating worlds and strange enemies to protect her and he has only one option: Destroy these newly forming war-worlds and the fragments of Xyanide before Aguira uses it to do something truly hellish to all of reality as we know it.

Geez. Usually it’s just “Shoot up some aliens. Here’s your vessel. Nice touch here. With each new level, you again get a cut scene that furthers the story line. By the end of the game, you will find scrawny white haired children to be very creepy indeed.

Compared to games outside the genre, Xyanide has a pretty basic plot that is well fleshed out, even if it lets the action do most of the storytelling. For a shooter though, it’s about as deep as the genre has ever gotten outside of Sigma Star Saga. Playlogic really went above and beyond here.

Storywise, Xyanide gives you a good amount of background information about the world of Mardar and the characters the game revolves around. It’s really nice to see a shooter try to be as intense with the plot as it is with the gameplay. For those who like their shooters just full of bullet flying action, you can skip past the cutscenes. See? Everyone’s a winner.

Story Rating: 8/10

Graphics

The visuals of the actual game play are good, but not great. Both R-Type Final and Gradius looked a lot better, but both games were made by developers who had experience with the genre. Xyanide may lack their polish, but it’s still a decent looking games.

At times the background graphics are a little unclear and due to the part distance plays in the game, you might be shooting at an undefined blob. Even the very large mini boss or the stage end bits of Xyanide you need to destroy are a bit underwhelming. However it’s your own ship and the large (but not boss sized) enemies ships that have a good amount of detail to them, and they appear inspired by the old Buck Rodgers TV show.

The CGI’s are quite nice though, especially the opening one as it gives you a wonderful image of a barren and desolated world. The characters are alien enough looking that you realize you’re far away from home, and yet human enough to make Drake relatable to you, but also to make it a bit creepy that you’re trying to gun down a small child.

The game certainly isn’t go to hold up to the visuals of other shooters that have made it to US shores, but compared to the 2D version of Xyanide on the N-gage, this is pretty acceptable. Especially for a budget title from a small publisher.

Graphics Rating: 5/10

3. Sound

This is always a hard category to rate in a shooter because I’m always too busy dodging a hail of bullets and trying to make it to the next level to even remotely pay attention to any music or sound effects. I just shut my ears off.

The limited amount of voice acting in the game is surprisingly good considering the budget they were on and the bits of music played in the CGI scenes are passable. Nothing amazing or memorable, but nothing that detracts from the gaming experience either.

In game I tried to pay attention and ended up netting my lowest score ever on this game. SEE WHAT I DO FOR YOU PEOPLE? Anyway, there are specific sounds for the various types of armaments you receive in the game, and the explosion that occurs when your ship finally dies is well done, if not annoying.

The sound effects over all are nothing to write home about, but it’s the action in a shooter that takes precedence over all else.

Sound Rating: 5/10

4. Control and Gameplay

I have to admit, the first time I played this game I got my ass handed to me. I went in with a scrolling shooter 2-D mindset and was greeted by a rail shooter 3-D game. It was my own fault. But as I adjusted, I found the game play to be quite similar to the Panzer Dragoon games from my beloved Sega Saturn.

A rail shooter, for those of you who can’t remember them or have never played one, is a shooter where the overall direction of your main character is predetermined. The world is not searchable at all. It as if you are on a roller coaster and you can move to a degree, but mostly your path is predetermined and one can not deviate from it. Your ship can still navigate around the screen and you can aim where ever you want, but when the game says it’s time to bank left or go up, your ship will. This may sound like you lack any sort of control over your ship, but quite the contrary. Rail shooting is primarily only geared towards the background viewing and occasionally creates an obstacle or two for you to dodge. Just look at how insanely beloved the Panzer Dragoon or the pre-Uwe Boll House of the Dead series is by old school gamers and you’ll see it’s really a non-factor control wise.

The actual gameplay involves using both analog sticks on the Xbox controller. At first this bothered me because I’m firmly a believe that shooters + D pads = far more control than with a stick. The left stick controls your ship, and the right stick controls your firepower. In turned out it wasn’t the controls that bothered me as much as the 3-D aspect. I’d think a ship was about to collide with me when really it was under or above me, and then there would be times when I’d think the opposite and KA-BOOM!

Your craft in Xyanide has two distinct types of weapons, mechanical and organic. organic is a more spread fire power, while mechanical is a one shot but more powerful blast. Organic works best when you are facing smaller enemies, because there tends to be a lot more of them and thus you can kill several at once, while mechanical lets you take at bosses quickly…well, a lot quicker than organic fire, that’s for sure.

Your ship will power up by collecting Xyanide fragments. It will give your fighter an extra level in either organic or mechanical power, depending what path you are on when you pick it up. You can also collect special attacks and defensive powers on both paths. I find mechanical has the best option, mainly because of minimize. I can’t tell you what a blessing having a smaller ship is in this, or any shooter. This should be a standard power up in most shooters!

The problem with the power ups is that each one (offense, defense, shields, and support) correspond to one of the ABXY buttons, and it’s quite hard to get to them when you’re using two analog sticks at all times and often hitting both triggers as well to launch missiles and switch between mechanical and organic firepower. A lot of the specials in Xyanide are highly original and very helpful, but it’s a bitch to use them with the layout of the Xbox.

The other control problem is that in order to aim your mechanical missiles, you have to click down the left trigger and then use your right analog stick to aim them. This prevents you from having your normal weaponry available and leaves you a target while, heh, targeting. In most shooters this leads to nigh instant death, and in the later levels of the Xyanide it’s the same thing. If there’s one rule about Shooters, it’s that your ship should be constantly blazing a stream of ammunition. On the other side, unlike most shooters with missiles, you have an unlimited supply of heavy duty damage here. Checks and balances I guess.

There are some control issues, although these are mainly due to the placement of button and layout of the Xbox controller and not a flaw in the game per say. I did try it with my Street Fighter anniversary stick of doom…and had there been two sticks on that well, it would have worked much better than the normal Xbox controller with Xyanide

Control and Gameplay Rating: 7/10

5. Replyability

This is a hard category to judge here. Xyanide gives you nothing really for beating it save some different colour ships. There’s a level mode where you can play specific levels to get better, but you have to unlock each level by getting to them first. However, due to the difficulty of the game, even on its “novice” setting, most non shooter obsessed gamers will spend quite some time before seeing anything past level 2.

If you’re good with a shooter, then you’ll probably play the game repeatedly simply to rack up a higher score as is the appeal of Shooters. Shooters are games that appeal to those that are constantly trying to improve themselves. Those that are bad with shooters will swear all the way through this experience and probably only beat the game due to sheer spite and will then toss the game aside going “TOO DAMN HARD.” Pussies.

The one big bonus to Xyanide is 2-play simultaneous mode. This my friends, is some decent shit. I got together with a friend of mine who hasn’t gamed since the days of 16 bit greatness and whose favorite game is R-Type and man, did we have a blast. One used missiles while the other targeted the stray enemies. 2 Player mode makes the game a lot more fun and gives you a great deal more usage out of the game. Make sure you have friends in real life people!

Either way you’re going to get a decent amount use out of this game if you pick it up. It just won’t be a very diverse use.

Replyability rating: 7/10

6. Balance

Sadly, shooters always get a massive penalty in this column, because they are the hardest genre in all video gaming. Easy on a shooter is like hard on Ninja Gaiden. These are games that require split second thinks and reflexes to match. Sadly the average gamer in this day and age is used to games that lack any real difficulty at all and thus will bitch and moan about it being too hard for their cellulite ridden due to sitting on the sofa and watching too much tv ass. Xyanide is no exception, but it does give you five difficulty levels. It also gives you SOME, but not unlimited continues. The trade off is that if you use a continue your score goes down to 0, as it should be.

Boss battles are even tougher than is some other shooters. Take Ikaruga for example. There you have a timer for the boss. You don’t have to kill it. You just have to survive. In Xyanide when the time comes on, that’s how long you have to kill it or be killed yourself. NASTY.

The one thing that also might frustrate even long time shooter fans is the level length. One level in Xyandide can go up to twenty minutes. And there are six levels. One level in Xyanide is 25-33% of the length of most other shooters in their entirety! Insane. Some hardcore shooter fans might complain about the length as there are used to difficulty but short, not difficult and crazy ass long for the genre.

Xyanide is a tough game, both in terms of difficulty, and in terms of patience one might have for the genre. I loved the level length, as it really tested me, but for most people this game will be classified as “too f*cking difficult.” It’s not a game for the weak of skill.

Balance Rating: 4/10

7. Originality.

Let’s just sum it up right here: Xyanide takes some of the best aspects of a multitude of styles of shooters and combined them into one highly enjoyable game that stands out from all other shooters. Is it the best? No. Is it the most fun? No. But it’s daring to be different and break the mold. I love that I can shoot not just in a 360 spread, but that I can shoot directly in front of and in back of me as well. I love how the distance of items comes into play.

With shooters sadly being a nigh extinct genre in North America, it’s great to see someone trying to revive it and freshen it up by addressing the complaints most non shooter fans have about the genre, mainly the length of the game and the lack of story.

For a budget title, I’m very impressed with Xyanide and am actually tempted to seek out the cell phone and even the N-Gage variants of this game. Oh god, I have to cleanse myself of evil now.

Originality Rating: 8/10

8. Addictiveness

As much as I enjoyed the game, it didn’t enthrall me like most shooters. With Ikaruga or Gradius V, I could play those all day. With Xyanide, it’s hard for me to play more than 2-3 games in a row. It’s a combination of the length and my disliking the control layout on the Xbox controller. Still, when playing the game, I generally shut all distractions out and would find myself pretty engrossed in the game play, if not the story itself. I imagine it will be the same for other shooter fans, even if the game will drive newbies to the genre insane.

Enjoyable for the most part, but there’s no real X factor that gets me so into the game I lose track of time and choose to say, play it over eating or sleeping. For me the level length made the game feel really fresh and fun, but it also killed the “just one more game” aspect for me. Maybe I’m just too stuck in the old style of shooter gameplay and length.

Addictiveness Rating: 5/10

9. Appeal Factor

Hard to find, I’m only the third guy out of any real video game websites to review the game, and it’s a shooter which most American gamers no longer have either the skill or stomach for. Xyanide is doomed to being an underground or cult game at best, championed only by a few dozen on internet message board or chat rooms. It’s sad really, because once upon a time shooters were a very dominant genre. Ah how the mighty have fallen.

Those that enjoy shooters, those that enjoy a challenge, or simply those that still play video games to improve hand-eye coordination and actually get something benefivcial out of a game rather than choosing an action from a turn based system and then watching a five minute cut scene of a Guardian Force being summoned will eat up Xyanide with a spoon. Everyone else…won’t even know the bloody game exists.

Appeal Factor: 3/10

10. Miscellaneous

I’ve been rather hard on Xyanide in areas of this review, but that doesn’t mean I dislike it. Rather, I truly enjoy this game. It’s just that I can see its flaws and review games not just from my perspective but how the gaming community as a whole will take it. It’s hard to find a better game for 19.99 these days, and it’s nigh impossible to find a quality shooter for the Xbox in North America. Well here it is. It’s not the best shooter ever made, but for the cost and budget, it’s surprisingly well made and a lot of fun. I’d say rent it first, but as the print run is so astronomically low, instead I say, “If you see it, BUY it.”

Miscellaneous Rating: 8/10

The Scores
Story: 8/10
Graphics: 5/10
Sound: 5/10
Control & Gameplay: 7/10
Replayability: 7/10
Balance: 4/10
Originality: 8/10
Addictiveness: 5/10
Appeal Factor: 4/10
Miscellaneous: 8/10
Total Score 62/100
Final Score: 6.0 (Above Average)

Short Attention Span Summary
It’s a hard game to find, but Xyanide is one of the better budget titles out there for the Xbox, or even for any console this generation. It’s got its flaws and it’s not as good as shooters you can get for the Cube or PS2, but it introduces a lot of new concepts, and most importantly it’s fun. There’s a version of Xyanide coming out for the PSP soon, so for those of you insane enough to own a piece of junk like the PSP, if your local store was unable to get a copy of the Xbox game, maybe you’ll be lucky enough to snag a portable version. Otherwise, you can always go to the N-gage or your cell phone.