A.R.E.S.: Extinction Agenda is indy studio Extend Studio’s newest game. The game is an action platformer, available for the PC via Steam and Xbox 360 via XBLA.
At first glance the game looks (and sounds) very much like a Mega Man clone. You are playing as a robot (A.R.E.S.) sent to various locations in a space station. The station has been infected by a gas that takes over machines, and the hostile machines have taken Dr. Julia Carson and her research team hostage. A.R.E.S. has been modified to be resistant to the gas infection for the purpose of going in and rescuing Julia. Each of the five levels has a sub-boss (the one in level three will make you hate life) and a final boss for you to do battle with. As expected, each level comes equipped with a multitude of enemies to blast. The graphics look nice and the game sounds pretty good as well. The backgrounds are all in 3d, while the sprites are 2d. The contrast is nicely done and is not intrusive to the experience. A.R.E.S. looks good in his 2d glory and animates nicely. I mention that since some of the sprites, the dog in particular, animate a little strangely. The enemies really don’t vary that much either, nor are they very hard to destroy.
While it is reminiscent of the Blue Bomber, the platforming and controls remind me of the Metroid series of games as well. There are a few strange jumps you have to pull off to get to certain points that reminded me of Metriod, and the to ability aim and shoot while running in any direction (even backwards) is more Metroid than Mega Man. I was playing on the PC, but was using an Xbox controller plugged in to my machine, as the game controls very well with the controller. I actually preferred the controller over the mouse and keyboard, although I should point out that the game only supports the 360 controller. This is because the team developed the game with the XNA Development Kit that Microsoft released. The only beef I have with the controls is that there were some points that I felt the scheme to be a little strange. For example, pushing down on the left stick (not clicking it) to crouch is a little weird to get used to. You should not think either of the comparisons to Mega Man and Metroid negative, as I enjoyed both of those games too.
Something A.R.E.S. does differently than those two games is that it throws in some weapon upgrading and item creation. You collect different types of salvage from enemies and can use those to assemble items such as grenades and health packs. The grenades are an interesting twist as you can use them to access secret areas or to dispatch enemies. The game also claims that certain types of enemies are vulnerable to types of grenades, although I haven’t seen it since I went with the policy of shooting everything in sight. You can also pick up different weapons from defeated bosses. Each weapon performs a little differently, but I didn’t find them all to be that exciting. Like I mentioned above, you can spend some salvage on upgrading the weapons. I only upgraded the assault rifle once and the main blaster once before I finished the game. I did not notice a real need to upgrade the weapons when playing with the normal difficulty. Salvage is better spent on health packs. You will need them. The last special feature is a “kill everything on the screen” special move that A.R.E.S. can use. It is executed by his unseen partner and is marked by the VALKYL gauge you see in the screens. I used it mostly to take out a chunk from a boss’ health bar, but I did not really find a use for it while playing the rest of the game. There were certain points it made sense to use it, but most of the time you didn’t need it.
A.R.E.S.: Extinction Agenda is short game – it does not last very long at all. You can play it in some short spurts and beat the game in an hour or two. The game’s website mentions that the game is episodic, so I think this is why the game is so short. The game takes some of the features of Mega Man and Metroid and merges them in to an entertaining little package. It is a good start for Extend Studio, but future titles in the franchise could use a little more depth. The game is not expensive, and the series has potential to become pretty good, so it is worth a quick play if you are craving some platforming action. The game gets three point five out of five for an average score. It’s fun while it lasts, but there really is not anything to come back to once you are done.