Shooters, one of the mainstays of the videogame world, haven't had the same ease of transition from the two dimensional days of old to today's multidimensional world. Although some have tried to ride the transition by altering the gameplay, most notably in the Panzer Dragoon series, the majority of good modern day shooters have stuck with the two dimensional gameplay. Xyanide tries to bring the 2D shooter into the 3D realm by keeping the gameplay intact but altering the background. Unfortunately, the execution isn't there and what you end up with is uninspired design and visuals that will make you feel sick to your stomach.
The gameplay in Xyanide is the same as any standard shooter. As your ship races down a tunnel, waves of enemies will come from the background or off-screen to attack you. To help with the problem of perspective, enemies glow red to indicate when they can hurt you. The game controls are similar to many other shooters with the left analog stick allowing you to move around in the predetermined two dimensional plane while the right analog stick directs your fire outward, similar to Geometry Wars.
As you move down the endless corridors in Xyanide, the camera will swirl around you to showcase the areas of the environment that have been spruced up with lighting effects and other fun things to see. This camera motion has been described as disorienting, which is putting it extremely lightly. There isn't a single person in the office that has played the game and not felt sick at the end. Some have had the same experience just from watching others play for a few minutes. Going through the entire game will make you feel like you just read a book with fine print on a long car ride. The backgrounds are painful and there is hardly any interaction with the surroundings. You can't crash into them and you'll only see enemies perched there to shoot at you a few times through the game. The experience would play the same without the shifting background and there wouldn't be any worries about losing your lunch.
Along with the fact that you will get nauseous playing the game, Xyanide has a few other issues that might deter you. The biggest of which is the extreme lack of variety. The first four stages all look almost identical, straight down to the enemies you face. Even the mid-bosses for the first few levels are just bigger versions of the previous ones. It isn't until the fifth level that the enemies and backdrop suddenly shift from mechanical to organic and you begin to face enemies that look like manta rays and manatees instead of the usual generic fighter ships. Seeing as how there are only six levels, this is a pretty major problem.
There are really only two stages that were stretched into six. The levels themselves last a while; sometimes even to the point of making you wonder how many times they're going to send the same few enemies at you before you get to see the cool boss. There are branching paths that allow you to pick your path, though you won't see much reason to choose one over the other since both will probably have the same appearance. Even Panzer Dragoon Zwei on the Saturn gave more of a reason to care about which branching path you chose.
Controlling your ship is simple and intuitive, but you won't always be able to shoot the target you're trying to aim for. Since the enemies come out of the plane that you can't move in, shooting at them before they come to attack you is up to the game. If the game realizes you're trying to shoot into the z-axis, it will direct your gun into the screen and allow you to hit your mark. Otherwise, your shots will stay in your plane and fire off into nothingness. The targeting is spotty and sometimes seems like it's random.
It's a shame that the game has these faults because at the heart of Xyanide is a solid shooter. If you can stand the nausea and don't mind the shallow level and enemy design, the combat is intense. There are five levels of difficulty ranging from Novice, which can be beaten on the first try, to Ace which must be unlocked. The default difficulty is plenty hard and is going to take you quite a bit of work to get through.
Although the sub-bosses may not be the bees-knees, the foes that come at the end of each stage are quite a sight. Each one has a timer that ticks down forcing you to figure out the way through its defenses quickly or lose one of your ships. Along with fighting the boss, you'll also have to fight waves of enemies that keep coming, just to keep you on your toes. The size of these enemies and length that is required to take them down makes for the best gaming to be had in Xyanide.
The weapons and upgrade system is another good part about Xyanide. The two main weapons are a spread gun and a laser. The spread gun is designed for use against the smaller ships and is ineffective against larger enemies. The same holds true, though opposite, for the laser gun. Both weapons can be upgraded individually by collecting power-ups allowing for more bullets in the spread gun or a larger and more powerful laser. While this isn't the most complex weapon design in a shooter, it's completely functional and requires snap decisions in the heat of battle. The auxiliary weapon is a missile launcher that can be locked on to a target. The aiming system for this is awkward and causes you to lose control of your ship, hardly a thing that you'd want in a shooter.
Another intriguing element to Xyanide is the story. The story has historically fallen to the wayside in shooters, but Xyanide includes a huge introductory cutscene at the beginning and briefer ones in between each level. The premise is that you are tasked with escorting a witch condemned to death while she tries to stop you. It doesn't get any more complex than that and the end movie is more confusing than explanatory, but at least an effort was made.
Xyanide sports online leaderboards and co-operative play to keep you coming back for more. The co-op play is fun, just like it is in every shooter. The mind bending backgrounds will take a little longer to adjust to when you play with a friend as the extra ship on the screen adds to the confusion. The leaderboards are a nice touch since, at their core, shooters are all about getting the high score. Scores for the Arcade mode or each individual level can be tracked and compared against the entire world. Last time we checked, only a few people had even beaten the game, so if you're looking to brag about being one of the top in the world at a game, Xyanide is the perfect place to start.
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