A.R.E.S.: Extinction Agenda

Once more, a recent indie title can be played to the point of rolling the credits in under six hours (and that includes one particularly hard jumping sequence that probably took me a half an hour all by itself). It apparently expects you to play it through multiple times, trying to better your performance ratings. Is this the general trend these days? It seems like not long ago that Portal‘s length was a cause of widespread complaint. I suppose this is something that ebbs and flows. You certainly didn’t find 40-hour epics in the arcades of old. When I first tried MAME, I was shocked at just how short those games became when you have infinite quarters. But that’s what fit the arcade machine model, and I suppose the current trend towards many short cheap titles reflects the market of XBLA and its ilk.

A.R.E.S. is a 2D (with 3D graphics) platformer/shooter in which you play an advanced humanoid robot fighting hordes of less-advanced evil robots. In other words, it’s the same story as Megaman, and to a large degree the same gameplay as well. But where Megaman has cartoony, round-featured art that indicates a target audience of children, A.R.E.S. has a shiny mecha anime look aimed at slightly older children. The game supports both gamepad and mouse/keyboard controls; in the latter, the keyboard moves your avatar around while the mouse cursor aims your gun. I’ve encountered such schemes before — I think Crack dot Com’s Abuse was the first. I found it extremely awkward in Abuse, but it feels pretty natural to me here. I’m not sure if this is more due to the game or to my improved skills as a player. Probably the game. You throw a lot of bullets around here, and the targets tend to be fairly big, so it’s not like you need to aim all that precisely.

Dead robots turn into scraps that you can collect and “recycle” to purchase health packs, grenades, and, most importantly, upgrades for your various weapons. I found that a single pass through the game wasn’t enough to get me enough scrap for everything I needed to take out the end boss — I got the upgrades I wanted, but only by spending so much that I couldn’t afford enough health packs. The game encourages you to go back and replay earlier chapters in situations like this. In other words, it’s got grinding. The unusual thing about this is how non-diegetic it is. Not only does the plot not allow for the possibility of taking a break from the immediate crisis to go level up your gear (a dissonance that’s pretty common in CRPGs), the mechanics don’t allow for it either. This is a game that keeps locking doors behind you. The only way to access earlier areas is through a menu, and when you do, you effectively go back in time, but with cooler stuff. I recall commenting about similar things going on in Lego Star Wars, but it seemed more like a tool for completists there, and less like a necessary part of one’s first pass through the game.

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