The whole damn shooting match
Game: Nex Machina
Reviewed on: PS4 (Review code/copy provided)
I didn’t play much Resogun, entrenched as I was in the Xbox One camp during the opening salvos between Microsoft and Sony at the beginning of this console generation. Even so, I know of it, and I know of its importance to the fledgling PS4 and to shooting games in general. This a genre still reeling. Once upon a time, twin stick and bullet hell shooters were the very epitome of what made a good game, but compared to more complex and visually spectacular modern games, shooters struggle to remain relevant.
Briefly, at least, Resogun changed that by taking centre stage as the standout exclusive in an otherwise lacklustre lineup. Since it was launched in 2013, Resogun has achieved a Metacritic average of 84, making it one of the highest rated shooting games in recent years, and earning it the right to stand alongside its classic peers. Now, Resogun developers Housemarque have collaborated with Eugene Jarvis (creator of Smash TV and Robotron) to create Nex Machina, a twin stick shooter that draws inspiration from the very best of the breed.
First things first, Nex Machina may have obvious links to games from over thirty years ago, but it feels entirely relevant even now. The story (never revealed in game) is one of a humanity that can no longer function without staring at a personal device such as a phone or a laptop, and as a result has allowed an army of robotic servants to rise up against them. Even though this is never explained in game, it doesn’t matter, because the mission is crystal clear: destroy everything. Save anyone you can.
Players have access to a customarily simplistic control scheme that only reveals its true capabilities as the challenge grows. You can run and shoot in any direction (in the archetypal twin stick shooter style) and you can also dash, or use a special weapon. Dashing is where the skill comes in when playing Nex Machina, and in the later levels, it becomes essential to dash certain attacks, the game even allows players to power up their dash to link it to an explosion that damages enemies, or to chain up to three together rather than waiting for the usual brief cooldown. Special weapons are more thoughtful than in most other games as well, with most requiring some kind of aim, or charge to maximise their effectiveness.
Having these moves and weapons in your arsenal is essential, because Nex Machina is incredibly hard. There are four difficulty levels, and I’ve completed the game on the easiest and the starting middle difficulty. The hardest starting difficulty is ridiculously challenging, and if I’m honest I doubt I’ll ever finish it, which means in turn, I won’t ever unlock the nightmare mode. I’m OK with that though, because one of the developers stated objectives is to create a game with competitive play in mind, so it seems to me that this is a mode which is intended for only the most elite players.
Whichever difficulty mode you play on, the game follows a simple structure. There are five worlds to fight through, and each is split into a variable number of stages that can range from small, square arenas to larger ones featuring a chase with a huge boulder, or a few laser guarded gateways to fight through. At the end of each world, there’s a boss, and as with one of the biggest criticisms of Resogun, the difficulty level that these bosses pose is quite variable. Personally, I found the fourth and third world bosses the hardest, with the actual end of game boss being much easier to defeat and the first and second bosses presenting a lesser distraction than the core game.
Each difficulty level provides the player with a variable number of continues, and also increases the speed and threat level provided by the enemies. Players can usually take only one hit from an enemy or projectile before dying, and upon death, the stage is restarted. This process is instantaneous and ensures that gameplay never stops flowing, but it also makes each stage feel a bit like an individual challenge. This is a feeling that is enhanced by the sporadically placed human survivors who can be rescued if you can reach them before the robots do.
As the game escalates toward its brutal conclusion, the techno/hard house soundtrack becomes ever more powerful, driving the player urgently forward. This soundtrack compliments the bright, neon infused graphics and pulsating gameplay perfectly, and really helps to create a feeling of immersion in a game that might otherwise feel quite disengaging. The harmony of visual and aural presentation with tactile, challenging gameplay cannot be understated in Nex Machina, and the ability to restart instantly after death means that there is no release from the “one more go” feeling that is so important in a game like this.
Nex Machina is probably my favourite twin stick shooter since Smash TV. It has everything a game of this kind should have, including attractive and usually clear graphics (I had some issue with pink lasers), fantastic music and sound effects, perfect controls and relentless gameplay. It is incredibly challenging, but there is a feeling of reward in making progress, and there is also a local cooperative mode for those who want it. Unfortunately there is no online play, but the only other real issue is the hit and miss boss difficulty that I mentioned earlier. All said, Nex Machina is a really good game, and a worthy follow up to Resogun by any measure.