Aces Of The Galaxy is a new arcade space shooter by developer Artech Studios and published by Sierra Games and released this week on Xbox Live Arcade. Artech are known for Boogie Bunnies, a mildly entertaining puzzle game featuring dancing rabbits, but fear not this time around things are much less fluffy.
Aces Of The Galaxy pits the humans against the carbon lifeform hating Skurigans, the already weak relationship is not helped by the fact that the humans have apparently stolen the Skurigan Omega Prototype space fighter.
The game is set in a third person perspective and it is a challenging and entertaining romp, the first time I played it I expected something comical after seeing the rather pompous menu character art but I was glad I was mistaken. You pilot your craft along a pre-set path with the left analog stick and battle waves of enemies against a thriving 3d style background. The Skurigans are a formidable enemy with a huge plethora of spacecraft in their arsenal but fortunately you are piloting the dreaded Omega ship (of which there are three versions) so there is a chaingun, torpedoes and cluster missiles at your disposal.
Controlling the ship is straightforward with the weapons mapped to the A, B and X buttons and you are granted unlimited ammunition for them all. The chaingun is the only weapon to reload instantly however, with the other two (missiles and torpedoes) taking time to rearm. The right bumper gives the ship a temporary temporal shift feature which places you into a pseudo “bullet time” mode so you can avoid enemy fire or to target an agile enemy ship. The trigger buttons also offer up quick left and right dodge moves which comes in handy in certain situations.
The chaingun is a slightly annoying weapon as there is no option for automatic fire, however it is apparent that after playing for extended time that this was a difficulty levelling choice, otherwise the game would be too easy. The other weapons are obviously there for mass group attacks and for escaping a tricky situation when your back is against the wall. The combo score multiplier is a nice addition and ensures that more skilled players will benefit. In operation it is simple, you merely keep a consistent barrage of fire raining down on the enemy ships to keep the string of hits going. This means there are good rewards for well judged switching between the three weapon types.
It is clear this game is firmly aimed towards the extreme hardcore fraggers who like a challenge because there are no restarts, no additional lives, no saves and no checkpoints. If you want to beat a level then you sure as hell better be sure your reflexes cut the grade. Is it a tough game? You bet your cotton socks it is, wusses need not apply.
The game is not totally linear and throughout you are presented with a possible three tracks, picking up the warp powerup within each level enables you to choose your path through the game. From asteroid belts to the Ice Nebula, there is a certain amount of diversity to keep people coming back for more. Not only this but the enemies vary between the levels as well so it helps to keep the action fresh.
To be fair, even with these options, the game does still get repetitive and I was reasonably bored about three quarters of the way through, the fact there are no boss battles doesn’t help matters either. Yeah, sure you meet Skurigan officers at the end of each stage but they are no more impressive than some of the regular enemies and add nothing to the sense of completion. The overall game ending is also totally disappointing even though the cool idea of being able to shoot the end credits makes a welcome appearance afterwards.
There are three difficulty levels in the game in single player and once they are completed (or you get bored) you can play with a friend either locally or over Xbox Live to battle the Skurigans. The difficulty level cleverly ramps up with two players, however it proves a little hard to follow the action onscreen with all the missiles, bombs and chaingun fire from two ships. It is still enjoyable, however the long term attraction might be limited.
Aces Of The Galaxy is well worth the reasonable outlay from Xbox Live, it is certainly not going to redefine the 3d space shooting genre but it is a fun and entertaining experience and I can think of many worse games to pass a few hours of downtime during the evening.
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