Xotic

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Save a beautiful planet from the clutches of an omnipresent monster.

PC Release: September 15, 2011

By Ian Coppock

Some video games are best played alone. Metroid Prime is the best example of this fact. For those of you who missed out on perhaps the greatest game released on the GameCube, Metroid Prime follows a bounty hunter as she explores a beautiful, abandoned world. Critics and gamers alike praised the feeling of isolation that came with Prime. It’s not loneliness, it’s wild reflection. I’ve found that same atmosphere lacking in today’s generation of games, until I discovered Xotic, a bizarre and colorful indie game. It’s no Metroid, but it carries that same spirit of exploration and exoticism that made that game great.

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Xotic takes place on an nameless alien world. You are a bio-engineered creature who has been charged with saving the world from a merciless, god-like being called the Orb.

After eons spent as an intangible creature, the Orb wishes to feel alive again, but can only do so by choking the life out of its host planets. To that end, the Orb has corrupted the planet’s denizens into monsters, and seeded it with thousands of glowing red plants called scabs. Destroying the scabs and the monsters is the only way to kill the orb.

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The Orb is a tragic character, but it and its corruption have got to go.

Where your character comes from or what they are, exactly, is unknown. It’s implied that the alien you play has cleansed worlds of the Orb’s presence before. Your character’s primary weapon is the Macro Terra, a living, insect-shaped gun that has symbiotically bonded to you. As you level up, you can unlock different types of ammo for it.

Your character is guided by an unknown narrator whose synthesized voice sounds like the Reapers from the Mass Effect series. You and your Macro Terra must complete about 22 levels divided into four regions. Additional regions and missions are available as cheap downloadable content. In most missions, your only objective is to destroy all of the orb’s minions, and as many of its plants as possible.

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The Orb’s minions populate each level. A lot of them look like evil palm trees.

Xotic‘s primary game mechanic is a score and combo tracker. You can rack up tons of points for destroying as many enemies and plants in as little time as possible. The plants cause splashing damage when shot at, allowing you to take out entire rows of the things like a tumbling line of dominoes.

I don’t normally care about points and combos, but Xotic makes it fun. The game rewards exploration and creativity, which are traits I like to think I’m good with. In addition to the plants, there are floating gems that you can grab for additional points.

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Rows of plants garner the most points, but you can destroy floating “orb brains” for additional points.

I like Xotic because it brings the same element of solitary exploration endemic to Metroid Prime. You are alone against hordes of baddies and pickups, but it doesn’t carry the tone of a survival horror game. Rather, it’s like having a big, beautiful world all to yourself.

What breaks my heart about Xotic is that the gameplay is quite clunky. Your character jumps like the world has no gravity, making it difficult to judge distances and height. For whatever reason, it’s also next to impossible to move your gun as you’re shooting it. I died a few times because I had to move my Macro Terra’s path to match a speeding enemy’s, but couldn’t afford to stop firing because the hitboxes are so poor.

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YAAAAAAAH!

To be fair, your character can deploy a shield called the hard hologram for combat and platforming. Unfortunately, I found it getting in the way more often than actually being helpful.

It takes practice, but the headaches with the hard hologram are surmountable. With each level completed, your character gains points that can be used for upgrades. You can upgrade everything from hit points to ammunition.

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Xotic’s upgrades are simple to understand and implement.

Xotic‘s graphics are hardly top of the line, but they succeed in conveying the game’s colorful atmosphere, and that’s good enough. The level design suffers from being too linear, which takes away from the sense of adventure in exploring this alien world.

Enemies are laid out in a straightforward path between you and where the teleporter will arrive once they’re all dead. They also populate level segments replete with walls, making the shooting feel more conventional than the weird environments try for.

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Despite its level design issues, Xotic is quite beautiful.

Xotic‘s landscapes are, well, exotic. Your character visits underground temples, desert canyons, glass cities and other environments in his quest to free the planet from the Orb. The stark beauty of these environments and their relative uniqueness kept me interested throughout the adventure.

Xotic is also complimented by a contemplative, beautiful score. The music features overlays of electronica and dance, but remains quiet and cool in its sound. It was fitting for what the game tries to accomplish.

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I can’t photograph a contemplative music track, so here’s a picture of one of my favorite levels.

The feeling of solitary exploration is evident in Xotic‘s level and game design. With hidden caches of pickups and occasional but not overwhelming enemies, it pays strong homage to Metroid Prime. You don’t need to find all of the plants and pickups to progress, but you do need to find enough to prompt thorough exploration.

There are also bonus levels which contain nothing but the aforementioned plants and pickups, and challenge you to collect them all before time runs out. If you’re one of those people whose gaming is meaningless without a leaderboard, breathe easy, because Xotic has lots of them.

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Xotic is nothing if not a study in contrast.

Xotic is an interesting game, to say the least. It has a soothing world and environmental artwork seldom seen anymore. It’s marred by some annoying gameplay issues that were never resolved, but if you like to explore and shoot things at the same time, Xotic is for you. I beat it in about four hours on a diet of water and green tea, so it’s by no means impossible.

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You can buy Xotic here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

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