I played the original A.R.E.S. Extinction Agenda on the PC and enjoyed the old school feel and amazing soundtrack. Finally, after almost three years, it is coming to Xbox Live Arcade with a few new bells and whistles. After some time with this version, I can say I see the new content adds to the longevity of the experience, but I also see some flaws with the overall game that I may have missed when I played the original version.
A.R.E.S. is a special operative robotic solider that is sent to investigate a space station that is in charge of removing pollution from the dying Earth. The station sent out a distress call and A.R.E.S. along with another solider robot named Tarus are sent in to deal with the situation. A mysterious vapor is entering robotics on the space station and in turn, making robots insane and dangerous. Luckily, A.R.E.S. and Tarus are immune to the virus, but that doesn’t mean this is going to be a walk in the park.
A.R.E.S. is a 2D side-scrolling shooter much in the same vein as a Mega Man game. Players move the character, jump and shoot. It’s a rather simple concept with some interesting mechanics. Throughout the campaign, players will obtain new weapons and abilities that will allow them to reach new areas and deal more damage. Platforming plays a predominate role in the levels. Even though it is never too difficult, the jumping still feels stiff more times than not.
Each of the seven levels features hidden upgrade chips that allow players to spend credits dropped by defeated enemies on advancing certain weapons and abilities. The replay value comes in the form of getting a better score at the end of each level, finding all the upgrade chips and obtaining enough credits to upgrade everything.
The EX version comes with a few extras. The biggest one is the fact that players can play as Tarus. Granted, it is pretty much identical to the campaign of A.R.E.S. but each character can level up after getting a set number for an ending level score. With each new level, new permanent boosts to stats can be obtained. Also, the original soundtrack to the game was and still is amazing, but to add a little more to it, Tarus’s play through features an all new soundtrack that is just as good.
Aside from the jumping, the other big problem I had with the experience and one that I somehow missed when playing the PC version is the checkpoint system. Not that they are bad, but what happens when I go back to one. So, let’s say I reach a checkpoint before a boss fight. During the boss fight, I use some of my remaining credits to heal A.R.E.S. I end up dying anyway and start back at the last checkpoint right before the boss. The only difference is I still have the same amount of credits left as I did when I died, NOT when I hit the checkpoint. Now, I’m out of credits, the boss is back to full health and I can’t heal A.R.E.S. I now have to do this boss fight over without the heal ability because the game started me back without giving me the credits I had, making it even more difficult.
The visual style still looks great and the attention to detail really makes the game pop. The presentation is top notch, and even if the story is minimal, it still kept me interested. The boss fights and interesting set pieces really sell the experience for me, and combined with the kicking soundtrack, it makes for a pretty fun ride.
The game is still on the short side clocking in at around four hours to complete a single campaign, but with the upgrades in place and the second playable character, there are a few incentives to go back and plow through it again. There are some frustrating moments that require trial and error, and the checkpoint system is flawed especially when it involves a boss fight, but the overall package and fantastic presentation make it an enjoyable experience. It does have it’s moments of difficulty, but fans of side-scrolling shooters looking for a decent romp through a Mega Man-esque experience should take a look at A.R.E.S.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.