Never has an arcade shooter been more essential since, well, PS4’s launch day. Our Review:
Way back in 2013, on the day of November 29th 2013, a certain console known as the PlayStation 4 was released into the European wilderness. It naturally saw overwhelmingly strong sales and an immediate mass following. The launch of the console was also somewhat controversial as people claimed there wasn’t a ‘killer-app’ game in that initial launch line-up, something that made the console even more essential on launch day than it already was.
Enter PlayStation Plus. On launch day, it offered two brand spanking new PS4 games for no extra dollar..Contrast, and Resogun.
Contrast was brilliant, but Resogun? Resogun, seemingly out of nowhere, became that killer-app. A free game on PS Plus became an enormous hit with myself and my circle of friends and because this time around you *had* to have PS Plus to play games online, it was available to damn near everyone that bought the console at no extra cost. And it lives on as one of my favourite games for the system, and I know for damn sure Paul feels the same.
Resogun was launch day arcade shooter excellence, we had to know what developers Housemarque were going to do next. A sequel? A spiritual successor? In Nex Machina, there’s a nice blending of the two and there’s every chance it could be just as popular as Resogun, but is it as good?
The result of a meeting between Housemarque founders Ilari Kuittinen, Harri Tikkanen and legendary game designed Eugene Jarvis (Defender(!), Robotron – which is cited as being a source of inspiration for Resogun -, Smash TV) Nex Machina is a mash up of Resogun and Jarvis’ greatest hits. It’s a local co-op twin stick shooter with the Resogun heart beating throughout. As you tear your way through the bullet hell levels you’re saving green humans from the machine onslaught whilst piling up the highest possible score you can. It’s fast, it’s frantic and relentless with Housemarque’s trademark gameplay stamp all over it, something we’re huge fans of here at FingerGuns so that’s just fine by us. At times you’re going to find yourself screaming at the TV and making the same mistakes over and over again (see above video for evidence of this. My first playthrough wasn’t particularly impressive…ok it was bloody awful), spending your time with the game with a niggling feeling in the back of your head that you know exactly how to get through each level, saving every human and defeating all enemies but for whatever reason you keep getting it wrong.
I certainly felt like I was being too cocky at times, assuming that I had the enemies movements down when I clearly didn’t, and my tactic of saving the humans then going after the metal army wasn’t working either. You spend a huge majority of this game inside your own head, knowing exactly what you have to do, sure that you’ve got the game mechanics beaten in your own head when really the game overwhelmingly knows exactly what your movements are going to be before you do, and throws in a smorgasbord of badness your way to restrict progression. Stupid mistakes got in my way of progressing quickly, and that’s nobodies fault but mine.
Nex Machina is tough as balls, there’s no getting around it. It’s designed this way and if you don’t pay attention you’re going to get crushed repeatedly until you turn it off to play Yooka-Laylee (just me?), but damn, that age old ‘I can do this, give me one more go’ mentality kicks in and you find yourself shooting the ever-loving shit out of absolutely everything in your path, tactically avoiding the hordes of clone spider-bots to get to the humans who are being individually picked up by the brutes, you have to act quickly lest humans will be taken from you before you even know where they are. I made it a staple of my time with the game that I would immediately find out where every human is first and then figure out ways of saving them before I Hulk-smashed all over the mothers that were killing them right in front of my eyes. Spacial awareness is the name of the game and being able to get to the humans quickly, effectively and with little fuss was the aim of the game. Many bothans died to bring me this information (well, I died a lot).
If you get dead-ed whilst tearing through a level the whole thing resets and you have to save the humans all over again. It’s almost handy that you have a life to spare because you can use that life to navigate the areas to discover where the humans are being held. Being able to string human collections together into combos and get combat multipliers is beneficial. You have to be strategic in how you defeat enemies and space out when you collect humans if you want to challenge the world leaderboards.
At times they can just be wondering the battleground, other times they can be trapped in a certain area surrounding by robots ready to pick you off. In certain areas they can be behind laser beams – which you can quick dash through to save them – or stuck in areas you can’t unlock unless you take down all of the enemies around you first. Your job is to save the humans but you’re going to have to bloody work at it if you’re going to save them all. Don’t even get me started on the secret areas you can discover where there are secret humans…, something I only discovered once I saw an end level screen for the first time and I had missed about fifteen humans in that area. Multiple playthroughs are essential and if you can, play with a buddy who can take care of the enemies whilst you round up all the humans.
This is where the game really shines, and it’s fair to say that Nex Machina wasn’t designed to be played on your lonesome. Yes, it can be done and you can get through the game that way but it’s not really getting the most out of it, it wasn’t until I put the controller in the hands of my non-gamer partner that it came to me: the secret sauce of Nex Machina is the co-op modes.
It’s excellent fun to play with someone else as you’re just shooting, shooting and shooting some more at times with our backs to each other like we’re Joel and Ellie fighting off Clickers. It’s beaten out Overcooked as our go-to co-op game and well, if that isn’t high praise I simply do not know what is. From the second the game begins it doesn’t let up, it’s not like the first few levels are particularly simple to newcomers, I’m pretty sure I made a twin-stick shooter gamer out of my partner that night and we’ve played it together many times since.
It’s beaten out Overcooked as our go-to co-op game and well, if that isn’t high praise I simply do not know what is.
It’s not like you’re equipped with a mighty arsenal of weapons to take on the big bads either. This being a twin-stick shooter you’ve got your standard weapon which naturally provides infinite ammo and your quick dash, and that’s it. Throughout the game there are a variety of unlockables including shields, lasers (praise be the lasers), rocket launchers and dash updates, but overall once these unlockables run out you’re back to your standard weapon. Don’t get me wrong, it packs a punch and can get you out of a myriad of tight spots in seconds, but there’s always this over-arching feeling that you’re pitifully under-equipped for the task at hand. You are out-manned by an astonishingly infinite margin but hey, you’re not playing a Housemarque game because you want it to be easy, do you?
Nex Machina is the arcade experience you’ve been waiting for ever since you topped the world leaderboards on Resogun. It’s relentless, visually stunning (with a nice PS4 Pro visual boost, take a second to appreciate those terrific location transitions) and will have you chomping at the bit to be just that much better as the game progresses. You’re going to die (a lot), you’re going to miss humans and you’re going to make stupid mistakes that you know could have been avoided if you just focused that little bit more.
It’s a monumental pain in the ass at times and is perhaps too much of an onslaught for the less experienced in the genre (our advice is to start out on rookie. You’d be surprised how big of a leap it is to ‘experienced’), but for those who are after a game where you can take on the world in a variety of modes (MUST. COMPLETE. FEATS. BOARD.), there’s no reason at all why Nex Machina shouldn’t be the top of your list.
Don’t blame us though if you end up throwing your controller through your shiny new 4K TV screen.
Nex Machina is released on June 20th 2017 on PS4 (reviewed) and PC.
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a code for the game from the publisher. For more information on how we review and score games, please see our review policy.