While first-person shooters are clearly the most popular genre as far as full-budget retail games go these days, they are surprisingly under-represented on the independent download circuit. Xotic is one of those rare exceptions and, even then, its gameplay and visual style are quite different from most shooters. While there are certainly some good ambitions in here, the finished product feels unpolished and dated, and never quite comes together the way it should.
There is a plot to Xotic, but it is more than a bit abstract and vague in some regards. Basically, something called The Orb has become sentient and is biologically taking control and sucking the life out of planets one-by-one. Your nameless hero has been given a special gun of sorts to eradicate it and its brood. The story is delivered via a static slideshow at the start of the campaign with an annoying, overly vocal-modulated narrator, and is ultimately unimportant.
The game itself isn’t really about story so much as it is about points. While most modern first-person shooters have gotten rid of the scoring system that was once a given in games, Xotic brings it to the forefront. This is done with a combo meter that refills itself after enemy kills and whenever the player destroys rows of glowing plants. Those rack up the multiplier even higher.
This is a neat idea, and rather fun at first, but Xotic‘s big problem is that there’s not much more to it than that. Taking out rows of the plants in a chain reaction provides a satisfactory feeling, but there’s only so much you can do with the idea before it becomes a bit stale. As for actual enemy encounters, this is where the game really stumbles.
Enemy drones here take far too many shots before finally dying and, despite having little in the way of clever AI, their strong stamina and relentless projectile attacks will lead to numerous frustrating deaths that just feel cheap. Some enemy elements also seem unclear. In an early level, when given the standard task of killing all enemies to progress, I found myself stuck towards the end, with a myriad of somewhat confusing indicators at the top of the screen indicating that there were still some enemies left.
I spent several minutes traversing the level until I found a symbol that looked similar to one of the numerous power-ups littered throughout the level, shot it a few times, and was happy to discover it was in some way an enemy. Despite this, props should be given to the game for giving the player a sort of compass around the targeting reticule that helps point the way to the nearest enemy. It could make things a little clearer at points, but this inclusion is still better than what other games might do.
The game has a very interesting and surreal art style, with neon glows, grotesque monsters, and luminescent plants of all varieties strewn throughout various types of landscapes. Though some of these elements work, the game’s overall look and feel never quite clicked with me. For one thing, the level of graphical detail can be quite poor, especially on enemies; the game looks like a sub-par PlayStation 2 game at points.
It almost gives off the feel of a small indie PC title back from the days of Doom and Quake at points, which isn’t really a good thing when you consider how much detail most modern games have packed into them. The game may have had a small budget due to its status as a downloadable title, and it unfortunately shows at points.
Progression through Xotic, however, is relatively well-done with some flexibility thrown in due to its character customization and not entirely linear level selection. Getting a good score and a quick finish in levels (the latter of which is encouraged by a large amount of bonus points that gradually shrinks,) awards experience that can be used to unlock additional upgrades and abilities for both your character and your weapon in two separate skill trees. Levels are also displayed on a selection grid for players to choose the order in which to tackle them, and is not a matter of automatically loading the next area right away. Some props should go to developer WXP Games for allowing some choice in these aspects.
Xotic is not a complete waste, but it ultimately feels very vanilla and basic. Perhaps if it was cheaper, or had been allowed more development time and/or a bigger budget, we might have seen some more innovative features or attractive play mechanics. As it is, the experience feels somewhat like a relic of game design that is now a bit dated. Maybe someday, the developers will make a sequel that better realizes the score and combo-centric ideas of this title. As it is right now, there’s not enough depth to highly recommend it.
This review is based on an Xbox 360 copy of the game which we received for review purposes.
Gameplay in Xotic soon becomes repetitive and enemies are more frustrating than fun to fight. Topping it all off, the game suffers from an overall lack of polish that makes it feel rushed and a bit dated.