A.R.E.S. : Extinction Agenda – a lovely Abuse/Contra style indie game

For days Chris from HyperDuck SoundWorks has been tweeting that the new indie platformer shooter A.R.E.S. by Extend Studio would be available from Steam January 19th. Tonight he was kind enough to throw a Steam code my way, and I just had a total blast of an hour playing it!

Despite having the same name as a popular torrent client (not great for SEO guys!) A.R.E.S has a very similar game mechanic to the classic PC exploration shooter Abuse. You run with the WASD keys and aim/shoot with the mouse. If you’ve got an Xbox 360 controller you can plug this in instead, and actually the 360 roots of this title are evident everywhere, from the options menu to the control set-up. That’s probably because A.R.E.S was the XNA Dream Build Play 2010 first prize winner, and will be released on XBLA soon.

A quirky intro story about rescuing hostages starts things off, but to be fair you’d be forgiven for skipping this and diving right into the meat. The first few sections train you up. The double-jump feels a little strange, and I can’t help but feel that the duck and roll should be more automatic (probably feels more natural on an xbox controller), but within minutes you are happily running, blasting and collecting drops.

Along the way your guide will introduce new features to you at a pretty rapid pace. When shot baddies drop 3 different types of collectibles (think Mario coins). You can spend these creating new items, such as grenades, or upgrading existing weapons. This is a nice touch, as it forces you to hoover up the liberal spillage that spews from downed opponents. Work your way through enough of them and soon you’ll encounter a boss. There are smaller mid-way bosses, and giant end of level endeavours that require some serious blasting to complete. I particuarly liked the first boss (below) which reminded me a lot of the boss from Contra: Alien Wars that rips its way through the walls at you.

There are lots of aspects of A.R.E.S that offer gentle nods to gaming in general. From the screen shakes, glow effects, roaring mechanical beasts, to the manga characters and detailed scoring system – old-school console gaming blood runs deep in its veins. Graphically it’s a quirky style. Levels are built in blocky 3D, but traversed in a very 2D manner. Backgrounds are detailed and animated. Where-as the main character and enemies often appear very vector / Flash in style. Yet the boss characters look decidedly hand-drawn, with all the texture you’d expect that to give. And on-top of this is a glowing, blooming, rippling sheen. So it’s quite a mixed bag, but most of the time it manages to gel.

Special mention has to be given to the music. It fits the game perfectly. Think Japanese style synth rock! and you’ll be close. There are so many tracks, and they really pump-up the atmosphere in-game. Hopefully the soundtrack will be available to buy once the game has had a chance to settle. In the meantime there is a great interview with Chris over at DIY Gamer (and 9 tracks to listen to).

I’ll wrap-up by showing you this video. That should be convincing enough :)

A.R.E.S. is available to buy on Steam (with a 10% discount at the time of writing) and should be on XBLA soon.

Posted on January 21st 2011 at 12:05 am by .
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