Wednesday, October 9, 2013

A.R.E.S. Extinction Agenda EX (XBLA) Review

After being available on PCs for over 2 years, A.R.E.S. Extinction Agenda has made its way to Xbox Live Arcade.  Now titled A.R.E.S. Extinction Agenda EX, it has added a few things to the PC release, most notably is a second playable character.  The game is a side-scrolling action shooter set in the future where Ares and Tarus, two robots, must rescue a scientist from an entity that is corrupting the robots on board a satellite.

I have played some of the PC version, so I noted a few differences in the XBLA version versus the PC version, in case you have played it before.  First off, the cut scenes are done in a different style.  The small boxes of the character's faces have been replaced with much larger, almost full-body shots.  The dialogue has been expanded as well, considering there is another character to interact with.  The grenade weapon from the PC version is gone, but you won't miss it.  Instead of the EMP grenade, you will emit the EMP yourself (Ares) or as a forward shot (Tarus).  It's much more useful now, since it is on a cooldown instead of using salvage.

At first the game is reminiscent of Megaman games.  You can run, jump and shoot to make your way through the level to fight the boss.  However, you can shoot in 360 degrees using the right analog stick, which really helps to shoot all the bad guys.  While this makes shooting easier, it makes jumping while shooting much harder, since a face button is used to jump.  You could just use the face buttons to jump and shoot, but the game doesn't seem designed to make it that viable.  Enemies and shots come at you from many angles, so the ability to shoot and move in different directions is a must.  The buttons cannot be remapped, so you can't get the best of both worlds by making jump a shoulder or trigger button.

That's not my only problem with jumping.  There were frequent times when I felt the jump was not responding, which would have me either A) miss my jump or B) drop me into danger.  Ares' jump is quick, and the double jump not very high, so stalling to maximize the height or distance is not really an option.  You do get dash and hover abilities, but it takes a split second for them to activate, which got me hit or killed several times.  This was most evident during one of the jumping parts where you have to escape from a robot that is destroying the platforms as it climbs.  Other than that, the controls were pretty spot on and responsive.

It's easy to get hit in A.R.E.S.  The hit box seems a bit large, and enemies can be plentiful.  Enemies also reappear if you leave the screen and come back.  It's not as bad as it seems, since you should be shooting plenty, and will likely kill most of them before they even enter your vision.  There is a dash/ roll maneuver (that eventually becomes invincible) to help avoid attacks, but that can be hard to control, too.  There are a few boss fights where even using the dash/roll could not prevent damage, since the enemy (or their attack) was just big enough to still hit me.  This is especially frustrating while trying to clear the bosses without getting hit.

Killing enemy robots will yield salvage that can be used to heal damage or upgrade your various weapons and abilities.  You have to first find the upgrade chip and then pay for the upgrade, but salvage is fairly plentiful as long as you aren't avoiding every robot in your path.  This is streamlined versus the PC release, where you had three different types of salvage.  Personally, I'm happier with just the one type, so I don't have to grind and hope to get the one I need.  Using the salvage to heal yourself is moderately useful, since the stronger you get, the less percent it is healing you.  It also has a large cooldown, so it can only be used sparingly.  Upgrading it will make it much better, but it's still in your best interests to learn boss patterns and avoid getting hit as much as you can (this also improves stage ranking).

The stages themselves are pretty linear, but remind me more of Metroid than Megaman.  Sometimes you can backtrack rooms, but most times you have little choice but to press forward.  Every few rooms is a checkpoint that you will restart at if you die.  Most rooms are not that hard to get through, but the ones that require quick and/or precise jumping gave me trouble.  There's also a few parts where there are cheap hits that can knock you into a pit.  These are frustrating as well, but practice makes perfect and most will not give you trouble after awhile.  For instance, my second run through with Tarus was much faster and less frustrating, since I knew what to expect and how to get past most parts with little effort.

Instead of the PC version's 5 stages, there are now 7 stages to complete.  The stages will get longer as the game progresses, and to get all of the upgrade chips and collectibles, you will have to replay them when you have the necessary abilities.  Yeah, that kind of replayability is kind of forced, but it does help you raise your score and get more salvage to buy all the power-ups.  Some of the later stages and bosses do get rather difficult, even when you know their patterns.  It's not insurmountably difficult, but it did get frustrating at times.  Even so, it takes about 5 hours to get through the game and get all of the upgrade chips with one character, so almost double that for both characters.  They have enough differences that it isn't the same exact experience, but most of the level and boss knowledge will carry over.  In some ways, I found Tarus easier to use, but it may just be because I had learned the stages and bosses from my Ares playthrough.

Now on to the achievements.  Sure, some people don't care about them, but I should at least talk about them for those that do.  The list is split pretty evenly between completion and mastery.  You will get some achievements from beating some of the stages with each character and for getting all of the upgrades.  On the mastery side, there are achievements for beating the bosses without getting hit.  These are really hard.  I replayed the first (and easiest) boss at least 10 times before getting the achievement for it.  Also, note that Tarus' shield will block damage, but not you from getting "hit".  I should know, I beat the first boss with him without taking damage, but the bullets that hit my shield counted against me.  D'oh.  There's also one for beating all of the stages without using the heal.  This will be easier once you are fully upgraded.  Getting the level based ones seem simple, but the game only counts your highest stage scores toward to level.  Reaching level 4 is pretty easy, but 5 is really tough, let alone reaching 6.

All in all, A.R.E.S. Extinction Agenda EX is an decent game.  If you like action games like Metroid or Megaman, you'll find a good challenge in A.R.E.S.  I had about equal fun and frustration while playing.  The game can be a little short, but there are two characters to use, several power-ups to get, data cubes to find, and achievements to master if you want to keep playing.

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