Aces of the Galaxy for Xbox Live Arcade: a QJ.NET Review

Aces of the Galaxy: a QJ.Net review - Image 1We recently sat down to have a look at Artech StudiosAces of the Galaxy. Set in the vastness of space, it’s a rail shooter that hopes to excite folks with its brand of frenetic rail-shooting, cluster bombs and torpedoes galore, within the scope of a battle between two different races. The question is, did Aces of the Galaxy bring on the excitement? Find out after the jump!

Aces of the Galaxy: a QJ.Net review - Image 1 

Rail shooters come in many different forms. We have the human-styled rail shooters, such as Time Crisis or The House of the Dead, that are prevalent in arcades. We also have the trance-inspired musical rail-shooting stylings of Rez. Heck, we even have rail shooters that come with dragons, in the form of Panzer Dragoon.

Rail-based space shooters, however, are perhaps the second-most prevalent type of rail shooter out there. Rail shooters of this type are few and far between though, with the illustrious pedigree of Starfox and Starfox 64 being two notable games of that sort in the history of space rail shooters. Perhaps the last game to successfully integrate this form of space shooting came in the incarnation of Gummi Ship sequences within the Kingdom Hearts multiverse, but even then, we didn’t see much of the rail shooter there.

That’s all about to change.

We recently sat down to have a look at Artech Studios and Sierra Online‘s Aces of the Galaxy. Following the lead of the above-mentioned games, it’s a rail shooter that hopes to excite folks with its brand of frenetic rail-shooting, cluster bombs and torpedoes galore, within the scope of a battle between two different races. The question is, did Aces of the Galaxy excite us?

The Skurgians want you dead, and for good reason. - Image 1The Setup

Aces of the Galaxy plops you smack dab into the middle of a war between the human race and the alien race known as the Skurgians.

Apparently, the Skurgians dislike the humans big-time, and since we humans have stolen the latest in their spacefaring technology, the Omega Spacecraft (note: they hate you in particular since you’re in the cockpit of the stolen spacecraft), they’re inclined to want to kill us all.

Of course, seeing as we’re humans, we have to defend ourselves, right? That being said, it’s a mad dash as your fighter tries to outlast the aliens in a race to get back to the relative safety of the human fleet. In later levels, you’ll also be a primary fighter as the fleet tries to make its way to the main Skurgian armada, with an armada-destroying bomb in tow.

Your Weapon Loadout

Aces of the Galaxy equips you with three weapons and a couple of tricks for the whole time you’re in space. You have your Chain Gun (A), which you have to tap repeatedly to fire (no auto-fire function here, folks), your Cluster missiles (X), which allow you to lock onto four targets with seeking missiles, or your Torpedo (B), which fires a single powerful shot that blasts things in its immediate radius. The Cluster Missiles and the Torpedo both have a short reloading time, so while that’s happening, you’re left with your Chain Gun.

An additional trick you’re given, courtesy of the nature of the Omega, is the Temporal Shift (Right Bumper). The Temporal Shift ability allows you to distort time, slowing down everything on the screen except the Omega. This is perfect when you need to dodge incoming beams or aim that Torpedo for the perfect shot.

Lastly, you’ll also get a scanner which automatically reveals the cloaked ships to you when they pass by your screen. It’s used sparingly, but is important to note for those times when you think there are no enemies on the screen.

Learning when to use each weapon and ability is important if you want to survive the gauntlet you’re being put through. Under normal circumstances, your Cluster Missiles can only lock onto four enemies at a time, so you have to pepper the sky with Chain Gun fire if you want to take large enemy clusters out. Your Torpedoes, on the other hand, are slow and used mainly when the bigger, more dangerous ships come out to play.

While the mechanics look simple, being able to execute all of them in a dazzling ballet of death is tougher than it looks. Proper dodging using the trigger buttons is paramount if you want to get a high score.

Fight to the death on three different level types - Image 1 Fight to the death on three different level types - Image 2 Fight to the death on three different level types - Image 3 

Fight to the Death

Despite looking like a casual-friendly game, I definitely get this vibe that Aces of the Galaxy is really meant for hardcore players.

For one thing, this game lacks continues of any sort. If your three lives run out, you begin from level one. There is also no option to save, nor any checkpoint to continue from, so you have to play through each stage from the beginning if you die.

Lastly, there’s no way to change the layout of the buttons, which is a shame. I would have liked the option to place the Chain Gun on a bumper button so I could use it better in tandem with the cluster missiles, but the layout as it is will suit most people fine.

The game does give you some variety though. If you find a warp powerup during a level, you can actually choose the type of level you can go through in the following stage. The changes aren’t drastic, but there’s a nice change of scenery at the very least, as well as different placements of powerups and asteroids/warp gates for you to go through.

Cooperation is Serious Business

Co-op mode is also available through local or online play, and it’s definitely a doozy. The difficulty ramps up considerably on two-player mode, and it’s tough to wrap your head around the whole battlefield in front of you when there are two identical-looking fighters that are flying around all those laser beams and mines.

You might also mentally mix up which targeting reticule is yours, but if you’re constantly communicating with your partner (instead of fighting him for points like I was), you’ll probably do a good job of finishing the game.

Aces of the Galaxy: Going through a warp - Image 1 

Extra Features and Observations

I noticed a couple of things during my playthroughs that I thought would be of special note for the players here, though they aren’t game-makers or game-breakers.

One thing I noticed was that a certain ship has this ability to become an instant deathtrap the moment you destroy it. There’s a slow-moving ship in the game that lays mines in front of you; once you destroy it, a tail section will hurtle toward you which you have to avoid or risk getting damaged. It’s easy enough in theory to evade the tail end of the spaceship, but sometimes, you’ll hit it while barrel rolling away from laser beams, so be mindful of that now.
The aliens also have neat little quirks. After losing your very first life and continuing the game, the first boss-type enemy you encounter, Brood Master Vrax, speaks some dialog to you, completely amazed that you came back to life. It’s a game, after all, but it’s nice to see that even your enemies can be phased by the fact that you can reconstruct your body and your ship in the middle of space in the blink of an eye.

You’ll also have to remember that this game doesn’t have any bosses, exactly. The boss-type characters fly around the stage, shooting at you in their extra-large, extra-fast fighter, but eventually act more like nuisances to your quest rather than legitimate foes that need to be defeated. That being said, if you can take one down, kudos to you!

You versus overwhelming odds - Image 1 

Putting It All Together

This game places you in a cartoony world where your lone spaceship takes on unbelievable odds to achieve victory in nine stages. It’s a fun, though difficult, romp, and it might take you a couple of tries to achieve some level of mastery of the Omega spacecraft.

What makes the game worthwhile, however, is that it’s all done in fun. There’s this pervasive sense of achievement you can pick up from playing the game casually or in a hardcore manner. Points are given freely, and hitting your first million is easy, which is nice if you’re a casual gamer. At the same time, the game rewards perfection with additional achievements. In fact, there’s one achievement that rewards you for scoring 10 million points during a play session.

Furthermore, the game’s two-player cooperative mode encourages a healthy dose of both competition and teamwork, and it’s a great way to unwind, if you can figure out which reticule is yours.

All in all, the game is an accessible, yet sufficiently challenging, experience for gamers of all types, and one I recommend if you’re looking for a space shooter to while away some time.

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