Review: Xeno Crisis
By: Roberto Nieves
Developer: Bitmap Bureau
Publisher: Bitmap Bureau
Platforms: Mega Drive/Genesis, PC, Dreamcast, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Neo Geo, Evercade
The colony has gone offline. An alien enemy force is suspected. Many lives hang in the balance. The only hope are one or two very tough hombre(s) on a mission to save some colonists from their own fatalities. Xeno Crisis from Bitmap Bureau was a welcome surprise release for a hellscape of a year, and its tough-as-nails challenge is a welcome presence for those looking for a good, lean, mean twin-stick shooter.
Xeno Crisis is a twin-stick arcade shooter that is more aligned to the older days of arcades. Players use the 8-point direction of aiming to aim and shoot their way through the deadly hordes of Xeno soldiers. The ultimate goal: survive. The aliens come at the player in a style very similar to the infamous twin-stick classic, Smash TV. Levels are laid out in a grid structure, and each square is a small arena filled with enemies. Unlike Smash TV, ammo is limited, and just like the James Cameron movie it draws inspiration from, short, controlled bursts are necessary for survival. There are powerful special weapons to find that give a quick reprieve to the madness, and throughout the level, colonists need rescuing. Exploration is encouraged but at the cost of being wiped out by the enemy. Fortunately, Xenos drop dog tags, which are used as the currency for character upgrades for the game.
If Xeno Crisis reminds players of the glory days on a Sega Genesis, their insight is on point. Xeno Crisis was built on hardware very similar to the Genesis and the 16-bit systems at the time. This creates a genuinely authentic at-home arcade experience not too dissimilar from what video game players experienced in the '90s. The visual style is incredibly polished, but the sound effects of Xeno Crisis sell this true Genesis-inspired experienced. Throughout the gameplay, that classic 16-bit reverb, the kind that only BLAST processing can do, echoes throughout. The animations and color choices truly evoke this dark, dystopian space future, and the grotesque creatures and bosses further strengthen the atmosphere. Ultimately, if you didn't know that Xeno Crisis was a new game built on modern platforms, it would be easy to be convinced it was a long-lost Sega game, similar to Hardcore.
The old-fashioned experience boils down to every construct of Xeno Crisis, including the controls scheme. Compared to modern-day twin-stick shooters, movement and shooting are done through 8 directions. For new players, shooting will take getting used to, as aiming diagonally, coupled with the finite ammunition of the primary weapon, can make shooting a challenge. Fortunately, Xeno Crisis supports using dual analog sticks, making the 8-point direction aiming and shooting not as bad as it could be.
Xeno Crisis is a blast to play, especially with a friend. There is a sensation of unstoppable God Mode when playing Xeno Crisis. Every battle won is another step closer to the top of the leaderboards. Every enemy felled is another victory. Every victory a parade, I love the core movement, and shooting is tight, responsive, and never sloppy. The assortment of weapons to use, including temporary weapons and grenades, is fun as well. It's a strong arcade game that asks players to try one more time when playing. It's tough and challenging, but it never feels impossible.
Perhaps that is where Xeno Crisis may falter for some players. The default difficulty is HARD, and yes, Xeno Crisis will absolutely destroy you the first so many attempts. There is an easy mode, but even that setting is challenging. Perhaps there could have been a challenge mode to increase the number of continues for the main game, similar to Soldner X-2. Granted, to have an auto mode or any kind of forceful band holding would be detrimental to the overall experience. Additionally, vehicular moments or rail shooting would have been an intriguing addition as well, similar to Space Harrier or Terminator: The Arcade Game. Those who embark on this mission must be prepared to die quite often and learn to master every single pixel of Xeno Crisis.
Xeno Crisis is one of the best twin-stick shooters around. It may not be for everyone, but it's hard to ignore the kind of enthusiasm the game contains. Bitmap Bureau clearly loved the heck out of James Cameron's Aliens, and every pixel shows. The graphics are top-notch, brilliantly created, and placed. The controls, sound, and combat transport players back to an earlier time in games, and for me, back to the 16-bit summer of 1993, when games like Ecco the Dolphin and Vectorman reigned supreme. Of course, if you happen to be someone that has rewatched Aliens 100 times and got burned by that abhorrent abomination of 2013's Aliens: Colonial Marines, Xeno Crisis will certainly fill the void, and then some. Get on the ready line, Marine!