Given that the first-person shooter genre is overwhelmingly an arms race in both the technological and gameplay sense, it’s hardly surprising that there are few quality first-person shooters to be found among the budget-price offerings on Xbox LIVE Arcade.
With FPS hybrid Xotic, three man Seattle studio WXP Games hopes to be the exception rather than the rule by substituting graphical grunt for strategic, arcade-tinged gameplay.
The Orb once was, but now it isn’t. Equally annoyed, saddened and bored by this turn of events, The Orb possesses things but such practices are frowned upon and thus it's up to the player – also a creature of mysterious origin – to hunt down this mischievous circle and destroy it.
The player’s weapon of choice is the Macroterra, a living gun able to imitate the standard arsenal found in every goddamn FPS, minus the ability to concisely convey exactly which gun it's currently emulating. The enemy are a few imp-like fireball lobbers of various flavours and the odd suicide-bomber spider. The goal: it’s all about high scores. Omnipresent blister-like spores that explode when shot favour the bold with extra points, and may even trigger the pop-reflex of adjacent spores. This sets off a chain reaction that grants large score bonuses and power-ups to the player, who may keep going by shooting still more spores within five seconds of the last one exploding.
The ultimate objective, therefore, is not merely clearing a level, but rather doing so in a fashion that awards the maximum number of points for the minimum quantity of player death and faffing about. To discourage an excess of the latter, time and shooting accuracy are also factors in overall score calculation at the conclusion of each sojourn, and scores are immediately compared and ranked across Xbox LIVE.
Another distinguishing feature of Xotic is pick-ups that allow temporary flight or the construction of barricades – in mid-air even, to act as platforms for access to secret areas. Additionally, the game’s small levels are rather out-there palette-wise, with the resident flora and fauna providing the ugliest assault of neon psychedelia this side of an explosion at a rainbow factory.
Between murderous jaunts into the DayGlo lairs of The Orb, the player’s health, armour, ammo and weapon types may be upgraded in exchange for experience points, and perhaps the occasional sprint to procure additional pairs of sunglasses.
Sadly, no matter the number of dark lenses between the player and the screen, Xotic repels with the force of a thousand pimply pressed hams. The controls rankle first. Inflexible, mind-bogglingly stupid key mapping leaves the jump button on the bumper, and leaning out of cover requires a press of X or B to specify a side and then a press of the right bumper to execute the move - unless players wish to only lean in one direction the entire game.
As the player struggles to execute this leaning manoeuvre – one that Xotic would have you believe takes more co-ordination than a minute-long headspin-to-dragon punch combo – damage will arrive from directions unknown and unspecified, because some enemies are just too hard to spot, even when being devoured by them eyeballs-first. Enemy turrets are particularly annoying in this regard, but creature spawn points are a close second, blending into the floor and propelling nasties at the ankles, as is their wont.
A damage direction indicator would have helped here, although to be honest there may well be one, it is just imperceptible through the preponderance of glowing objects – some useful, most cosmetic – that clutter all parts of the screen not currently occupied by the unnecessarily detailed HUD.
The lack of auto-aim is also a negative, particularly as a large part of Xotic requires the execution of precision shots at numerous small targets whilst on the move and under time pressure, something the Xbox controller isn’t particularly suited for. Oh, and pray there isn’t too much going on while this is attempted too; frame rates are quick to shrink should the player enjoy the company of too many others at once.
All that said, by far the biggest problem with Xotic is that even if it sported a cleaner look, ran perfectly, and the controls weren’t so counter-intuitive, it would still be as dull as a spoon edge. There just aren’t enough baddies to blast, even the relatively mundane concept of shooting stationary spores to achieve combos sounds far more exciting than it really is, and many levels presented here aren’t even memorable enough to complete, let alone repeat.
Xotic is terrible in most respects and unremarkable or flat-out boring in all others.