Developer: WXP Games
As we recently lamented in a feature article, the holiday gaming schedule is a fickle and troublesome mistress who delights in letting smaller, innovative titles slip under our collective radars. Though I'm currently hard at work judging that... modern war franchise everyone seems to be so excited about... it's important that we take some time out to discuss a thoroughly interesting indie proposition that launched on Steam at the beginning of the winter glut.
Upon starting Xotic and playing a couple of rounds, you'd be forgiven for thinking that it's a little on the simplistic side. Players assume the role of an alien enforcer on the trail of a planet-smashing Orb, tasked with restoring the worlds it's destroyed and eventually bringing his nemesis to justice. This essentially boils down to a large selection of colourful arenas infested with imaginatively designed enemies, each of which needs to be eliminated to unlock the level goal in as short a time as possible. The FPS action is fast and frantic - with an exceptional level of verticality granted by deployable holographic platforms and flying powerups - but most traditional shooter fans will be initially underwhelmed.
But that's because Xotic isn't a traditional shooter. Rather, it's a horrendously addictive score-attacking puzzler that has more in common with Pac-Man and classic 2D shoot 'em ups than anything the FPS scene has to offer.
Xotic revolves around accruing enormous, obscene amounts of points in each stage in order to compete on constantly-updating global leaderboards, and you'll need a strong head for strategy and spatial awareness to net the biggest hauls. At the most basic level, you can detonate scabs: glowing red pustules that adorn the floors and walls which reward you with a few points when they're destroyed. However, since they're frequently arranged into sprawling lines and patterns, you can set off chain reactions that trigger massive 'terraforming' bonuses - so keeping your spree going with perfectly timed shots will test your reflexes to the limits as you holo-jump over obstacles and find the most efficient routes through the arenas. Hitting targets while in the air increases your multiplier yet further, making split-second timing just as important as a quick trigger finger.
Of course, there are plenty of other opportunities to score. Shooting floating brains awards you with a fleeting double multiplier, while crystals are on hand to deliver a throbbing wad of points. Using these features to advantage - and holding off until you're in the perfect position to use them - will pay dividends.
The aforementioned enemies shake up the formula yet further, since you absolutely have to kill them to unlock the exit. Their AI favours retreat tactics and cover, which serves to lure you out of your efficient route and distract you from your all-important terraforming chains. Choosing when to engage, when to ignore and when to double back is a profoundly important skill that will take an hour or two to learn, yet adds another layer of strategy to the proceedings when everything finally comes together.
All of this makes for a refreshing and unique experience, although one that caters for an incredibly tight niche. To fully enjoy Xotic, you'll need to spend hours analysing the maps, working out routes and grinding away for that one successful run - with your major enemy being your own ever-increasing understanding of the mechanics and level design as opposed to an AI aggressor. Instant gratification is in short supply, but learning the ropes and putting in the initial effort results in a terrific surge of adrenaline and endorphins along with the big score. Eventual post-coital satisfaction replaces fleeting thrills, and Xotic is all the better for it.
The first person perspective does cause a few problems, and frankly, the experience may well have worked better from an isometric perspective that allows us to size up each challenge at a glance. Not only that, but successfully utilising holo-platforms can be more than a little disorientating and counter-intuitive. Thankfully, the beefy upgradable weapon and luscious effects make for a visually pleasing and visceral experience. Graphically, Xotic is a polished and stable affair that will run perfectly on even the most modest mid-spec gaming rigs, and its outrageously colourful aesthetic provides the perfect antidote to all that realistic and authentic dust and grime we're so used to seeing at this time of year. It's a beautiful and bodacious retinal assault.
- Rewarding, refreshing and ruthlessly addictive
- Polished, solid, slick
- Incredibly colourful and visceral
- Lacks immediacy
- Might have worked better from an isometric perspective
- Grind, you fools! Grind forever!
The Short Version: Xotic is a risky and rewarding shooter that caters for a particularly competitive breed of gamer. If you're the kind of person who craves personal betterment - and will happily grind for high scores and prepare for eventual payoff with planning and exploration - this unassuming little gem might just be your passport to many hours of frantic, frustrating fun. Otherwise, be sure to sample the demo before shelling out for this divisive delight.