Review by ARES_EA

Reviewed: 01/26/11

A wonderful romp you can play again and again.

Having played A.R.E.S.: Extinction Agenda a couple times and taking the time to max out all of my weapons, I figured that I had played enough to have a good grasp of what this game really is. What is it? An interesting, engaging, and very enjoyable independent collaborative effort between EXTEND Studios and ORiGA Games written on the Flat Red Ball game engine with music by Hyper Duck Music Studio. The game was originally meant to be called Trashman after the game's recycle mechanic, but was changed when the designers decided to make it the beginning of a series.

The game handles remarkably well. It plays much like a combination of Contra and Metal Slug, with a Metroid-like level design; a platforming, side-scrolling shooter with a room-to-room map system. The aiming is precise and easy to work with, allowing you to run around and dodge while pouring a steady stream of fire into anything that stands in your way. This is where the 'recycle' mechanic I mentioned earlier comes in. Most enemies that you destroy break into their component parts, which you then collect and re-purpose by using them to build grenades, repair kits to regain your energy, or add-ons to increase your weapon power. Naturally, as you go through the game, you get more abilities and four different weapons along with two different grenade types which you can use to reach collectibles and pulverize enemies, capped off with the Zypher Cannon, a screen-wiping support blast from a nearby satellite. Overall, the playing style is simple, fun, and easy to grasp. The only gripe I had was likely due to my laptop and not a game flaw, a slight lag and choppiness that interfered with the timing of my double jumps at a couple of crucial moments.

The game begins with a still-shot cutscene, detailing that something bad is happening in the Junk Sector, May 30th, 2094. A satellite in orbit is being approached by some giant meteor. Colonel Parker, the commanding officer, orders the shield raised, but to no avail. The screen goes white, then black. Colonel Parker demands a status report, only to learn that every system seems to be offline. Immediately after this happens, a group of machines break into the bridge, laying down laser death with reckless abandon. Sixteen days later, United Earth HQ gets a transmission from Dr. Julia Carson, a leading scientist in the field of robotics who was sent to investigate the incident, giving a frantic account of a fluorescent gas that the meteor brought with it that makes robots go haywire and break the First Law. With the transmission comes a sample of the gas, dubbed Zytron, for analysis. Having conducted sufficient experiments, United Earth creates a combat machine immune to the gas, code named Ares. The UE chairman orders Ares to the Junk Sector with the objective of rescuing any survivors, allowing for any collateral damage deemed necessary. Six hours later, Ares arrives in the Junk Sector's recycling plant...

This would be the point that the fully animated backgrounds and smooth motion smack you in the face, telling you that this game takes itself seriously. Tons of painstaking work was put into every aspect, and a simple look at the main character tells you half the story. The other half is in the music: a rockin' mix of metal and electronica that fits the style of the game beautifully, and I even dropped it on my MP3 player to listen to on the go. While the environments don't change much within the levels themselves, they are still a beautiful example of what an independent developer is capable of, showing that it doesn't take a big name like Valve or Bungie to make you say 'wow.' The only disconnect here is the Engrish in some of the cutscenes, which is amusing but still understandable.

A.R.E.S.: Extinction Agenda is a short game, only five levels long, but it comes with a high replay value. It will take time to collect enough parts to max out your weapons, and the collectibles aren't just for bragging rights: The red Data Cubes give you permanent powerups, like reduced cost for building grenades or additional maximum energy. In addition, the ranking system isn't just for the individual levels. An overall Synthesis Soldier Rank is calculated after every level, and for every promotion you gain extra energy. If you want to play for completion, then settle in for a looooong journey. The initial playthrough should take you about three hours, but you'll want to go back and run through previous levels to grab parts and powerups that make the next levels easier. There are two difficulty levels, as well, and some achievements are only accessible in Hard, so running through on Normal can feel un-fulfilling. Still, a run on Normal is recommended to get a feel for the game itself, and you can change it to Hard later to take the kid gloves off the bosses.

After all is said and done, I wholeheartedly recommend A.R.E.S.: Extinction Agenda to anyone who likes Megaman or Metroid. This game is also highly recommended for casual gamers, as it is short, simple, and easy to play while still being fun, challenging, and long enough to kill as much time as anyone would need. The graphics are sweet, the music is enjoyable without the game but more so with it, and you can pick up where you left off later. There really isn't much more to say, so I'm going to go play some more A.R.E.S.

Rating:   4.0 - Great

Product Release: A.R.E.S. Extinction Agenda (US, 12/14/10)

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