Xenowerk review (iOS / Universal)June 23, 2015
10 word description: Alien-blasting twin-stick shooter. 50 levels. Lots of guns.
10 word review: Great looking and cathartic, but repetitive and way too easy.
You will like this if you enjoy: High-score chasing blast-fests. Killing aliens. A top-down Dead Space without the story, variety or challenge.
The good news: Presentation is top-tier. Visuals, sounds and effects create a great atmosphere. Controls are reliable, responsive, and can be customised. Loads of impressive weapons. The IAPs are purely there for the terminally impatient weapon-shoppers – there is absolutely no need to spend more money on this game in order to play it and enjoy it.
The bad news: Challenge is completely unbalanced in the player’s favour, which I’ll explain in the verdict section. Gameplay is repetitive, despite cosmetic attempts to make it seem like it isn’t. Missed opportunity for massive boss fights.
Arcadelife verdict: I like Xenowerk, but I also loved Space Invaders, Asteroids, and Smash TV. Xenowerk feels very much like the most recent version of Alien Breed, or an isometric Dead Space with the same lived-in space station vibe and darkly amusing messages and warnings scrawled on the walls by former inhabitants.
The first few levels introduce a game that could be the perfect touch-screen sci-fi shooter. There are weird, shambling organic aliens, a decent pair of starter weapons, a very helpful map, and a great, if not altogether original atmosphere. “Cool,” you think, as you back away from a lumbering blobby monstrosity, seeing it quivering under your concentrated fire before bursting apart in a shower of green alien guts.
A few more levels further in, and you begin to suspect that you have seen everything that Xenowork has to offer. Corridors, aliens, explosions, terminals to tap, and an elevator to reach to end the level. And that’s pretty much it. It’s fun, and tugs compulsively in a way that the old-school shoot-everything-that-moves arcade games did, but it is very simple and very repetitive. It’s also extremely easy, which isn’t blindingly apparent during the first few levels.
The main problem, as far as I can figure out, is caused by the fact that the weapons and armour can be bought at any time, in any order, if you have enough cash. The cash comes in quickly enough that you can buy a game-changing super-weapon by the time you have played most of the way through the first set of ten levels. Up to that point, the starter weapons and armour are more than adequate. Once I had bought what I like to call “The Gun That Makes This Game Too Easy” (purely because I liked the look of it), it didn’t take long to earn enough cash to go straight from the starter armour to the best armour in the game. Completing levels became a sequence of risk-free speed-runs, which is arguably what the high-score chasing is all about. I know I could have stuck with weaker weapons and armour, but the player shouldn’t have to gimp his own gear in order to keep the game challenging – that’s the job of the game developers and testers. If the available weapons were restricted based on level progres, that would go a long way towards fixing the balance issue.
Ultimately, Xenowerk is an addictive, flashy looking shooter with a couple of gameplay flaws that are not critical or impossible to resolve. Blasting corridors full of slimy alien blobs is a lot of fun. If you enjoy doing it with overpowered weapons in what feels like a cheat-mode then this may just be the game you’ve been waiting for.