A.R.E.S. Extinction Agenda [Review]
A.R.E.S. Extinction Agenda is the first chapter in what’s supposed to be an action packed episodic side-scrolling platformer. All you really need to know is that A.R.E.S. is a robot that has guns and is fighting other robots; some with guns… At least that’s all I would need to know to check it out, but I don’t think that will convince everyone so I’m going to continue. In the future, there is a space station above Earth called the Junk Sector that processes (you guessed it) junk. An object crashes into the Junk Sector and releases a gas that takes over all of the machines in the space station. These machines then go on a rampage killing all humans. A team is deployed to find out what happened, but soon they are trapped by their new robot overlords. Before getting trapped, the head of the team gets a sample of the gas out to Earth. Using this, the UE (United Earth) creates a new robot that is immune to the gas. It is also more kick ass than any other robot ever built. That robot is A.R.E.S.!
A.R.E.S. (the game, not the robot) takes its cues from classic games like Metroid. This came be seen by the way enemies reappear when you leave and return to an area, vertical platforming segments, and through boss fights. That being said, you definitely shouldn’t expect a Metroid clone. While you have obstacles that are very familiar in platformers such as moving platforms, crushing platforms, and fighting on conveyor belts, there are other obstacles that aren’t too familiar like lightning, power beams, and violent winds. One thing I did wish was more like Metroid is that A.R.E.S. was a bit more agile; he feels a bit stiff and this caused me to misjudge a few jumps.
You start off with a basic weapon, the Zytron Blaster. As you progress through the game you will pick up additional weapons; some stronger, some weaker, but each has their own advantage for different situations or even to fit your play style. Each weapon you get can be upgraded using the recycling system in the game, but we will get more in to that later. Besides these weapons with infinite ammo you will also have grenades and the Zypher cannon which is controlled by your sidekick who just happens to be a military satellite. Use the Zypher cannon to obliterate all enemies on the screen when things get tough.
There are two types of grenades; HE grenades and EMP grenades. HE grenades can destroy enemies, objects, and later in the game you can use them to boost jump. EMP grenades shutdown enemy robots and other electrical systems which will allow you to get to secret areas. In my opinion, the grenades weren’t really grenades in this game. To me a grenade should be an object that you can throw which will explode shortly after; this wasn’t the case here. In A.R.E.S. you power up the grenade and then release the trigger to make it explode in the direction you are aiming. The longer you charge the grenade the more powerful the explosion. All explosions are close to your body and really should be considered some type of super melee attack.
With the variety of weapons come a variety of enemies. Some enemies fly, some can climb walls, some only melee, some only deal ranged attacks, and some do both. There are only five stages, but I believe you will see at least one new enemy up until the fourth. Some enemies gain additional abilities as you progress throughout the game, so things do change up a bit from what you would expect. Something else you should expect; mini-bosses. Mini-bosses have cues just like regular bosses, so if you can catch on quickly you should be able to dispatch of them with no problem.
There is a boss at the end of every stage; each unique and requiring a different strategy. The key to beating all of them is to watch for their attack cues. This can be a bit challenging because there really isn’t a set pattern and some of the cues only differ slightly so you need to pay attention to detail or you may find yourself jumping when you should be ducking. Even when you learn the cues the challenge is still being able to execute them in enough time. Quick reflexes and fast thinking is what will get you through a boss fight unscathed.
One key feature that sets this game apart from other platformers of this type is the recycling system. When you destroy an enemy you receive parts; there are three types of parts to collect and enemies drop them at random. You can use these parts to create objects such as repair kits, grenades, and to upgrade your weapons. At first, I thought his would really defeat the purpose of having health since I can just generate a repair kit whenever I wanted. The catch is that if you continually make health kits and grenades you will never have enough parts to upgrade your weapons. Eventually, this would backfire on you because you would run out of parts and have weak weapons against enemies in higher levels. It is important to use your parts wisely because you could easily find yourself out of parts you need when there is a fan or gas tank standing in your way of reaching a hidden area.
Weapon upgrades usually boost whatever attribute makes that weapons special. For example, the Zytron Blaster’s damage gets upgraded with a small increase in speed while the Laser SMG gets a greater boost in speed with a small damage upgrade. You can also boost the efficiency of grenades. From the same menu you can access the stage select and the database. If you didn’t already guess, the database holds information that you collect while playing the game. This information comes in two forms; data cubes and power cubes. Data cubes just provide information on characters and enemies. Power cubes do that but also boost stats for you; giving you more health or stronger attacks.
Besides the game being fun I thought it was presented very well. The graphics are clean, give a smooth frame rate, and all of the characters look pretty cool. A.R.E.S. looks bad ass, especially after getting your armor upgrade. More so than A.R.E.S., I thought the bosses looked pretty wicked. The game does indeed look hand drawn on your screen. To accompany the visuals, the audio is also well done. When I saw that Hyperduck was doing the music I was expecting it to be good. They did not disappoint! The soundtrack goes very well with the game and there is more than one track I would like to have on my iPod.
While I did have fun playing A.R.E.S. I did feel that the game was too easy. I played on hard and was able to breeze through the levels up until I got to the boss fights; those usually took a few tries. Hard felt like normal, so I can only imagine that normal must be very easy. I would definitely recommend playing on hard not only because it’s not really that hard, but also because you cannot get all items if you play on normal. I also felt that A.R.E.S. is a bit too short. If I wasn’t taking notes while playing I could have made it through the game in a little over an hour.
That being mentioned, I still recommend picking up A.R.E.S.. While it was a bit short and a bit easy I still had fun playing. It definitely has replay value for those completionists out there. Odds are you won’t be able to upgrade all of your weapons to max on your first play through and there are several data cubes you can’t collect until after you get certain abilities. After you beat the game you retain all of your upgrades, items, and power ups you had before so you can rip through the earlier stages and possibly find new paths and secrets. I played with an XBox 360 controller which was great, but in my opinion the control with the mouse and keyboard was even better so it’s not a necessity to have a controller.
I am really looking forward to the next episode; I really think they can do something with this story. I hope Extend Studio keeps all of the awesome stuff, but just makes it more challenging and a bit longer. Not too many games are coming out to feed my fighting robot addiction… Extend Studios just might be my new supplier.