Review: Aces of the Galaxy
I, for one, welcome our new Skurgian overlords.
Aces of the Galaxy, by veteran developers Artech, arrived on Xbox Live Arcade last Wednesday with pretty much no hype at all. Of course, the world of XBLA is all geared up for the new Capcom release Commando 3 and so you’d expect a stream of sub-standard instant delisters until then and when you consider Artech’s last XBLA offering, Boogie Bunnies, a game so bleak we actually couldn’t find a thousand derogatory words to write about it, then you’d be forgiven for ignoring this game entirely.
Before we get onto the multitude of reasons why you really mustn’t do that, I suppose I’d better tell you what it’s all about. The plot initially seems like the usual XBLA-standard throwaway nonsense about the human race being at war with a race of slimy aliens called the Skurgians but the comic-style characterisations and witty writing take this up at least a couple of notches. Still nothing special but you’ll have seen worse on Live that’s for sure.
If anything though, the writing is the first telltale sign of something that we don’t see often enough. It’s a sign that Artech actually cared about this game when they developed it and as you continue playing it becomes apparent that Aces of the Galaxy isn’t just another piece of downloadable shovelware.
I mean you have to applaud any original XBLA game that isn’t a puzzler or a twin-stick shooter and Aces is neither. Instead what we have is an on-rails shooter that combines elements of Afterburner, Rez and particularly the old Super Nintendo title Star Fox. Critics will no doubt complain that this isn’t as good as that ‘classic’ Ninty title to which you can only ask if they’ve fired it up anytime in the last fifteen years because it hasn’t aged at all well. As far as comparisons go, it’s like putting Chuck Liddell in the ring with Muhammed Ali. Today.
In the game, you play an un-named human who has stolen the Skurgian’s prototype Omega Fighter and your mission is to fly through their defences and rejoin your fleet. In your way are nine levels of enemy territory, with alien ships, asteroids, space stations and enemy commanders all ready to turn your stolen vessel into scrap.
As far as stolen vehicles go, you’ve picked a good one as it combines excellent manoeuvrability (thanks to a nice line in barrel rolls) with a very decent arsenal. You have three weapons at your disposal, each with infinite ammo. The chaingun is your main weapon as it has enough power to cut through most enemies and has a high rate of fire. Interestingly, Artech have chosen to make this a manual rather than automatically repeating weapon. Personally, I think this choice is an inspired one as it helps match the player’s actions to the often chaotic on-screen action.
Next up is the torpedo which is a slow, but devastating, rocket that delivers big amounts of damage over a wide blast area and then we have the cluster missiles. Hold down the ‘X’ button, lock on to multiple targets and release. Yep, exactly like ‘Rez’. This is a great weapon for locating enemies amongst the space debris and is useful for building up score combos.
In addition to the weaponry, your ship also has a scanner for spotting hidden enemies and a ‘temporal shift’ feature which slows time briefly. So, you’ll find that you’ve got the right tools for the task ahead. You just need the skills as well.
Aces of the Galaxy’s main selling points are its fast and frantic action and slick presentation. One of the most surprising things about this game is that you can play though the whole of arcade mode with another player without any slowdown or lag. So why it is that a small indie company like Artech Studios can master online play yet big releases like Ikaurga and Mr. Driller Online seem to stumble at the first hurdle is beyond me.
While this game is very good on the whole there are a few problems. Sometimes it’s hard to avoid stuff (mainly asteroids as Rich and I found out) thanks to either the game’s perspective or because the battle is getting so hectic that you loose track of what is going on. While this is not a game breaking flaw it can get annoying if you are trying for the ‘one life completion’ achievement (Not too annoying – Smug Ed).
Aces of the Galaxy is an old school on-rails shooter which means that it will have all the normal character traits of games of that genre. Anyone expecting revolutionary gameplay of any kind in this title will be sorely disappointed.
What you do get though is one of the best offerings for XBLA for some time and a damn good shoot-em-up to boot so consider me incredibly impressed.
Secondary Score: 8/10
As far as challenges go, this game has its moments but is more from the Omega Five school of arcade games in that it’s not overly difficult to survive, but is much harder to play well and get the high scores. Your weaponry is devastating and most enemies are easily despatched.
You can pick a route through the nine levels as each one has a choice of three stages (asteroid field, ice nebula or fire planet). These have to be perfected if you want to max out all the achievements but for quick pick up and play gaming you’ll be able to pick the route that gives you the least resistance. Personally I stay the hell away from asteroids as these tend to cause me more problems than anything else in the game, mainly because they are huge and difficult to avoid even with a prototype alien ship.
In terms of quality, this game has it inâ€¦ ahemâ€¦ aces. Graphically, it has moments of sheer, unbelievable chaos and never seems to skip frames to do it. It certainly looks as good as Project Sylpheed most of time with only a few rough edges to indicate its XBLA origins. It can get confusing at times but collisions aren’t as devastating as something like Assault Heroes 2 and good use of barrel rolls and cluster missiles will see you through the levels.
Sound is also suitably frantic, with boss battles making you feel like you’ve been dropped in the middle of an 80s arcade. It’s maybe a shame they couldn’t have used voiceovers instead of text for the story sequences but this only weighs in at around 40mb, so it’s understandable.
Add to all this an effective and enjoyable co-op mode and some enticing achievements and you’ve got yourself a bit of a hidden gem. There are quite rightly going to be questions over its repetitive nature and longevity but you’ll definitely get your six quid’s worth out of it and then some (and you’re going to love the credit sequence).