Xotic review for XBLA

Platform: XBLA
Also on: PC
Publisher: WXP Games
Developer: WXP Games
Medium: Digital
Players: 1
Online: Leaderboards

Xotic, a score based shooter by WXP Games and recently released on Xbox Live Arcade along with PC, is probably going to be overlooked by quite a few people. It wasn?t on my radar until the offer was given to review the game, and I knew next to nothing about it going in. But what I found was an addictive first person shooter that I can?t help but keep coming back to. It?s not the most polished experience out there, but it certainly has some cool ideas underneath a rough exterior.

First and foremost, just to get this out of the way, don?t come into this expecting Call of Duty, Halo, or whatever your current, big-budget FPS of choice is. The closest thing on the market to compare it to would be Bulletstorm, but even that?s a pretty big stretch. Xotic does have combat and gunplay to dabble in, but that?s not where its strengths lie. Instead the game is all about big scores, chaining together little exploding plants called scabs, and snatching up multi-colored floating orbs to gain big bonuses. The primary focus here is in competing against others via online leaderboards, and it breaks your overall score for each stage up by a variety of categories. These categories include the highest number of chained scab explosions, accuracy, whether you cleared all scabs in a level, collected all orbs, and how fast you did all of the above.

The high score bit is what keeps drawing me back in, as the game does a pretty good job of shoving the score in your face, and constantly compares you to other folks playing the game. Xotic is divided into four worlds, and each world has a number of stages to complete. Each stage has its own leaderboard, and then there?s an overall leaderboard to track. At the moment that I write this review, I?m ranked 4th overall, so naturally I feel compelled to come back and try  to try and take that number one spot. And that little fact is a good thing, and means that I don?t find the gameplay to be tedious or boring. In fact, I think Xotic paces itself out pretty well, the stages can all be completed in 5 to 10 minutes, so jumping in to try and improve your scores doesn?t waste much of your time. It?s pretty much the perfect length for this type of game.

The biggest negative I can level against the game is the combat, which I did find detrimental to my overall experience. There?s actually some good thought put into the gunplay, with a unique cover system, multiple upgradeable weapons, and so on. But, and this is on Normal difficulty, I felt that a lot of that effort was wasted.

The enemy selection here is light, you?ve got turrets mounted with rockets or machineguns, little floating sentries that fire out slow moving energy orbs, respawning nests of exploding bugs, and bi-pedal mutant monsters to contend with. Of these, the monsters are the only real threat in the game. The AI is wildly inconsistent, at times locking on to the player?s position but never advancing or becoming much of a threat, allowing you to easily strafe back and forth to take them out. On a few occasions the AI wouldn?t even react to my presence, allowing me to shoot at them without a reaction until they exploded into a mixture of health and energy pickups.

The cover system is unique and interesting but never seemed necessary. Another aspect, wasted when applied to combat, is the use of hard holograms which act as temporary shields for you to deploy and duck behind. Thankfully the holograms have a secondary use, which allows you to deploy them under your feet when in mid-air, essentially creating a series of platforms to reach orbs and scab plants high above you. And again, while the game does employ a number of weapon types with three upgrades apiece, I rarely had need to switch between the primary Spine Shot and its secondary shotgun form. In fact, I feel like the game would have been better served by axing the combat side of things entirely.

You?ll not have more fun with this game than when you jump into the handful of challenge stages. There?s unfortunately few of these in the game, but it?s where the scoring and multiplier system really shines. These stages are timed, and devoid of enemies, but structured in a way that there?s a couple optimal paths to figure out in order to clear out all the scab plants and collect all the point orbs scattered about. These 7 stages are hands down the best part of the game, and if the entire game had been structured around them I feel like it would have been a far better experience.

But still, Xotic is definitely worth checking out. While the combat side might not be stellar, it?s not particularly tough to contend with. Simply clear out the enemies infesting each stage and then turn your focus on scoring points and you?ll still get a kick out of it. And there are enough interesting concepts to the way scoring works that I?d love to see a more refined version of the game down the road at some point. Also, it?s got a pretty solid soundtrack backing it up, with an appropriate ambient vibe mixed in with the alien setting that melds together quite well. So yeah, give it a shot, it?s a pretty fun game.

Grade: B-