Xotic is a furious fusion of puzzle, first-person shooter and psychedelic craziness, that aspires for greatness, but ultimately fails, becoming little more than an exercise in frustration as a slew of bugs and poor design choices hamper what could otherwise have been a great, original game.
A story on galactic proportions, Xotic's premise is interesting, seeing you take the role of a genetically engineered champion sent to combat a nebulous non-corporeal entity known as The Orb.
Opening up, to a setting not to dissimilar to most classic surreal Sci-Fi movies, the game's narrator explains that The Orb is an ancient entity that went mad after it lost the ability to take corporeal form. In its state of disarray The Orb apparently went on a rampage possessing any creature it could, destroying whole planets in the process.
Stepping into the role of the galaxy's last hope, you get dropped in at the deep end, with only one tutorial level explaining the game's core mechanic and rules. Despite its mixed bag of influences, WXP Games' Xotic is primarily a first-person shooter. Yet, mixed in with this core gameplay dynamic is a heavy puzzle element.
The game houses several worlds, each with its own batch of levels. Each level tasks you to clear the area of The Orb's influence. In practice this means killing all the enemies and destroying the orbs - little red glowing spheres - that litter the landscape before the time runs out.
Not happy just splicing the shooter and puzzle mechanics, Xotic goes a step further, adding both arcade and RPG elements. At the end of each level you get a summary screen that awards you points and experience points for your performance. Points and experience are doled out depending on how many of the game's main goals you complete and how thoroughly you clear the area of orbs. After this, you're brought to the game's character screen. Here you can spend your points on a variety of upgrades for both your character and weapon.
All this sounds great and interesting and it would be, were it not for the fact that, despite its epic aspirations, Xotic fails to deliver on its opening promise. The combat mechanic is at best frustrating. Your weapon seems oddly ineffective against even the most humble of enemies, a problem that is compounded by the fact that it's not always clear what parts of the environment are hostile and which aren't.
Confused would be the best way to describe Xotic. From its level design to its combat, the game, while beautiful looking, is incredibly inconsistent. Parts of the environment that have the same colour and shape as power-ups or inert pieces of the landscape can often inexplicably turn out to actually be enemies. All this would be fine other than the fact that often they can kill in as few as two or three shots, meaning that by the time you realise you're being shot at, it's too late to do anything about it.The game's inconsistent difficulty level is another area that makes playing Xotic an exercise in frustration. Each planet is broken up into short sections on an organic map. Levels open up periodically letting you pick and choose where you want to go. This sounds great, but in practice it's really annoying as the area's difficulty level changes regularly and sharply - meaning it's not always clear where you should go next.
This confusion also follows over into the game's levelling-up system.
The skills aren't all on offer from the start. Instead, they become available as you complete levels. This would be fine apart from the fact that to complete the levels housing the good power-ups, you have to use your hard earned experience points buying skills and upgrades you don't really want -- meaning that when you finally find the upgrade you've been looking for, you likely won't have enough experience points to buy it.
All this is made worse by the fact that Xotic actually gets an awful lot right. Visually and in terms of pure aspiration Xotic is a great game.
Though the graphics are at times a little rough around the edges, the look and feel make it one of the most creative and distinctive titles on the XBLA this holiday season. Containing rich vibrant colours the game has a distinctly psychedelic feel. The plants and landscape all scream character and can -- when the game's gameplay doesn't drive you up the wall - truly draw you in.
Housing a host of alien plant-life and creatures, the Xotic's artistic design is by far its greatest strength. So good is the game's artistic direction, that it makes you want to forgive the game its fundamental flaws. In our time with the game over and over again we found our frustrations with the game were made worse by the fact that we really wanted to like the game. Everything about Xotic on paper makes it look amazing. But, sadly, when you play the game after just a few short hours, you do realise how poorly its promise has been realised.
In short, Xotic is a game best avoided. While the lush and interesting artistic direction may make you willing to give the game a go, a few hours with the game will soon leave you lamenting the loss of your Microsoft points.
|Truly great artistic direction.|
|An interesting premise.|
|Maybe they can take the premise further in the future.|
|Confused level design and combat mechanics.|
|A character levelling system that makes itself redundant.|
|Uneven difficulty spikes level to level.|