Review by FeyntMistral
"Classic platform action shooter for the modern age"
A.R.E.S. tries its darnedest to follow in the footsteps of its predecessors (the Mega Man series, or more specifically the X series) and quite often succeeds. Ladders are nowhere to be found (thankfully) but the jumping and sliding are suitably Nintendo Hard for the older generation. There's a variety of weapons and mobility power ups which in a way remind me of Mega Man (double jumping, air dashing, and ground sliding) and in another remind me of Metroid (various weapons which have strengths and weaknesses and the ability to aim at angles that aren't just horizontal). The point that really sold me on the combat was the 360 aim for the weapons, A.R.E.S. will track your mouse and fire where you click, or fire in the direction you move your right analog stick (for those with controllers). There's also an upgrade/purchasing system fit in quite nicely, allowing you to improve the weapons at your disposal and buy additional grenades and repair kits from the spare parts enemies leave after being blown to bits.
The weapon sounds are somewhat generic, though quite fitting throughout most of the game. The bosses however are where the sound design picks up, and they tend to be much more aurally impressive. The level music throughout the game is also good and paces well with the action going on around you. While perhaps not the best listening fare on their own (in my opinion) they do a good job of setting the mood for your trek around the levels.
Graphically there's a lot going on at all times, but the game doesn't miss a beat and is all the better for it. If you'd ever wondered what your favourite action platformer of the older generations would have looked like in HD, this is probably as close as it'll get. The game is "2.5D" with 3D models stuck on a 2D planar level design. Character design is sharp, animations are smooth, and attention to detail even in the background is evident where ever you go. All in all this is a shining example to how action platformers should be made in this generation.
Ultimately this is where the Mega Man vibe comes from. Again while ladders aren't present, there are numerous sections for you to jump around in each level. Many hidden data cores are littered about the game, and some are inaccessible until you've progressed far enough to get a particular upgrade (like grenade dash jumping or the invincible slide move), necessitating replay of the levels to get them all. There are also some places which play off of the grenades you have on hand, requiring either EMP grenades to stop fans or HE grenades to destroy explosive tanks that block your way to secret areas. Only in very few cases was the level design poorly thought out, with the occasional drop into a pit when shifting from one area to another or cramped headroom for jumping puzzles.
There are two methods of playing: Keyboard and mouse or game pad. Control with a game pad is flawless (with a minor tweak to put jump on a shoulder button rather than one of the thumb buttons, allowing you to fluidly move, jump, and shoot at any angle all at once) and really brings that old school action platformer vibe through. Game play with the keyboard and mouse is less impressive, though still competently done and passable if you don't have access to a game pad. As previously mentioned both styles let you shoot in all directions around you, but by far the smoothest experience to be had is with game pad, and if you play anything outside of strategy or FPS games you likely own one (and if not, go grab a USB game pad cheap somewhere).
It's present, almost to a fault by forcing it down your throat whenever you start a stage (even if it's your third or fourth time through) because you can't skip the dialog in most cases. Despite this downside, for a contiguous playthrough the story is well told and tries to evoke a feeling of conflicted feelings about the humans you serve and the machine regime you're facing off against. It's a short story, but it ties the game together well.
It's hard to criticize the game for most of its content. The only complaints that can be squarely leveled against it is that it's short (two and a half hours on hard to clear its 5 very large levels) and there's no native controller support beyond the xbox 360 controller (requiring x360ce to get game pads like my Logitech Dual Action working). The game is cohesive on many levels. The graphics and sound combine to make a great environment to explore and you'll want to get all the way to the end. For those on Steam, the completionist in them will need to go through several times to get all the achievements anyways, ranging from getting through the entire game without using a repair kit to getting through it all without dying (ultimately the goal of any master player). If you're a fan of old school action platformers like the original Mega Man, and want something to do for a weekend or two, this is definitely a good buy.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 01/17/12
Game Release: A.R.E.S. Extinction Agenda (US, 01/19/11)
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