A.R.E.S.: Extinction Agenda
A.R.E.S.: Extinction Agenda is a new platform shooter from Extend Studio that's heavy on the fantastic sci-fi art as well as the action. Its gameplay is reminiscent of classic sidescrolling arcade shooters mixed with a little modern-knowhow and Metroidvania-style level design and progression. While it may feel old school in concept, the game is anything but outdated, and the heavy dose of action and exploration you'll receive will keep you in a trance for many hours.
In the late 21st century, pollution threatens to render the Earth uninhabitable. Scientists band together to form United Earth, an organization whose sole purpose is to save the planet. Eventually, a Deep Space Reprocessing ship was created that could stockpile and re-purpose waste to essentially recycle everything on the planet. But when a strange crystalline structure hits the DSR, the atmosphere is tainted with gas and the robots begin to malfunction. Now, mankind's only hope is a new combat robot built with an immunity to the toxic gas who must enter the ship, fight off infected robots, and rescue the human survivors.
As Ares, you've got a robotic boatload of abilities at your disposal, and it seems like you unlock something new every other level. The basic jump and shoot are present, of course, but you can also double jump and roll with ease. Your gun fires in any direction you point, allowing you to stay on the move while fending off robotic menaces. You can even fashion and toss grenades and unleash a screen-clearing energy blast, which is no subtle effect, mind you. It's worth noting that A.R.E.S. plays well with a keyboard and mouse setup, but if you've got a dual analog controller available (or, as the game was obviously designed for, an Xbox 360 controller), you'll be in real action-gaming heaven.
At the heart of what makes A.R.E.S. so intriguing is its deep menu system, specifically the recycling menu. Each time you defeat an enemy, it drops a handful of scraps on the ground. Collect these multi-colored bits and head over to the recycling menu and you can craft them into useful items such as grenades or health packs. This constant collect-recycle-collect loop works almost like experience points, encouraging you to clear every enemy out of every corner of every single level so you can reap the rewards.
Level design in A.R.E.S. is also worth a big mention. While the game plays out in a linear fashion, the path you take is anything but set. There are multiple doors, branching corridors, secret areas to roll into, things to destroy, and more. Plenty of items are waiting to be discovered, all you have to do is be adventurous enough to take the doors less-traveled and hunt them down.
Analysis: It's a bit surprising to see a game this ambitious, this soaked in atmosphere, and this good-looking from a brand new indie developer. Extend Studio has outdone itself with A.R.E.S.: Extinction Agenda, the first in a planned series of adventures that will flesh out the already well-written storyline. Let your eyes soak in the wonderous beauty that is an arcade-style sci-fi action game with plenty of big explosions and colorful special effects!
Inexperienced action gamers beware: A.R.E.S. is no walk in the park. Even in the first few chapters you'll run into a difficult moment or two. Boss battles, mini-bosses, and the infamous "room where the doors seal and enemies stream out of somewhere until you defeat them all and the doors open" traps will keep your health from staying topped up at all times. Avoiding damage is as important (if not more) as doling it out yourself, so play defensively and carry a big stick.
The artwork in A.R.E.S. is something to behold, it really isn't possible to say this enough. Screenshots don't do the experience justice, you really have to see it in motion to understand why it's so great. The game's environments are rendered in 3D even though the game takes place on a 2D plane, and the attention to depth and detail are stunning. Motion of both the enemies and Ares is fluid and warm. Explosions are crisp, clear, and almost anime-like in design. Sometimes you'll unleash a special ability just to see what it looks like again!
The artwork is amazing, the gameplay is frantic and enjoyable, and your interest in playing only gets stronger as the game goes along. Gamers who have been around the block a few times won't find anything groundbreaking, but the sum of A.R.E.S.'s parts are worth far more than the whole. This is a game you won't regret playing!