Preview – ARES: Extinction Agenda

One of the winners of 2010’s Dream Build Play competition, ARES: Extinction Agenda has now been given the opportunity of a release on Xbox Live Arcade. The game might be a little way off completion, but we went hands on with the demo to take a first look at the title and a little sneak peak as to why the game won against such stiff competition.

Set in the distant future, the game places the player in the role of the combat robot ARES, sent to free hostages from a group of renegade robots on a crashed ship. At this point you’re probably thinking “so far, so Mega Man” and while the theme is slightly similar, knee-jerk comparisons with Capcom’s Blue Bomber won’t just end with storyline.

A rich looking 2.5D platformer, ARES even has that same feel about his armour that you get from a Mega Man Zero character. That’s definitely no bad thing, especially when combined with the same Manga-lite style which the Zero series of titles also utilised so well. Where ARES excels though, is in it’s game world of broken spaceships and out of control robots, managing to be very appealing visually. What’s also impressive is ARES, his robot enemies and the environments are all extremely detailed and well animated, making it a lovely piece of eye candy.

The end result is something very contemporary and given that Capcom seem to be struggling to fit their creation into the modern gaming scene, it’s interesting that the approach taken by Extinction Agenda makes it feel much more in line with the expectations of modern gamers.

The gameplay elements in the demo we played were quite simple and worked well for the most part. By using both analogue sticks the game allows shooting and movement at the same time, with a nice big reticule to show you where you’re firing. This is handy for being able to dodge enemies and their fire but, despite feeling responsive for jumping and getting around, there were times when the shooting mechanic felt like it could use a little fine tuning. Very occasionally we found ourselves running in one direction to avoid an enemy, but being unable to shoot at anything other than the ground. Hopefully this is something that will be rectified by the final release.

Dispatching enemies as you traverse the sectioned off level allows you to gather up scrap which can be used to build items like health packs and grenades, as well as upgrading weapons. This means there’s a fine balance to picking the right resources and upgrades, something which will probably be essential given the size and ferocity of some of the huge towering bosses the game will feature. The final release promises to allow you to revisit areas to mine scrap from enemies, hinting at a solid potential for re-exploration of areas with new abilities, in a similar vein of a Metroid-esque adventure.

The game already includes a range of new power-ups and upgrades which are unlocked as you progress, including being able to call in aerial bombardments when your charge bar is full. As visually impressive as this smart-bomb appeared, it did feel a little unbalanced in the context of the game since enemies never swarmed you like a traditional shooter.

There’s also additional items such as the grenade attack which can clear wreckage in the scenery, allowing the player to progress. The core ingredients are certainly there to have the player seek out extra health and more powerful upgrades to increase their chances, and although the demo level was quite short and geared more towards action rather than exploration, we’re hoping that latter element hasn’t been overlooked and will come to the fore in the finished product.

We’d have no hesitation in saying that even if it hadn’t won, it would have been remiss of someone, somewhere to let ARES: Extinction Agenda never see the light of day on XBLA. The game is showing a lot of potential and from the minute you start playing it feels like something which would be totally at home on the platform; something which captures that ethos of what the Arcade should still be about, and which is currently being diluted as larger developers try to muscle in.

Hopefully Extend Interactive will be able to capitalise on the very solid foundation that the game is built on and produce a must play title.