The shoot-'em-up has been on the endangered species list for so long that it's surprising every time a new one pops up--especially when it's not a just a new entry in an established franchise like Gradius or R-Type. PlayLogic is defying the norm with Xyanide, a new shooter for the Xbox that couples frenzied, old-school shooting action with a unique control and power-up scheme. We got our hands on a prerelease build of Xyanide to see how well it will satisfy the itchy trigger fingers of shooter devotees everywhere.
If nothing else, the game's storyline is unusually deep for a shooter. You play as the pilot of a small fighter escorting an "execution ship" to a black hole, where the ship's occupant, a witch named Aguira, is scheduled for termination. En route, the execution ship is hit by an asteroid bearing the substance xyanide, which is known to transmute mere ideas into reality. Aguira uses the power of the xyanide to construct level after level of enemies bent on stopping you from reaching her and carrying out her sentence. It's up to you to fight through anything she throws at you so you can end her menace and complete your mission.
Xyanide is basically a 2D shooter with some light 3D elements, which sounds a little odd until you see it in motion (good thing we have new videos). You move your ship around the screen in 2D, firing your main cannon in any direction using the right analog stick. If there's an enemy firing at you from the background--that is, it doesn't share your plane of movement--firing at that target will direct your shots into the background appropriately. The 360-degree firing mechanic is a little different from what you see in the average shooter, and it took us a little while to get used to it. However, we eventually began to appreciate the offensive freedom and maneuverability that it affords. It's also nice not to wear out your thumb by hitting the fire button a thousand times a second.
From the get-go you've got a decent number of offensive capabilities. You've got two basic guns: a spread shot that works better against numerous small enemies, and a more concentrated, rapid-fire beam that takes out heavier enemies more quickly. Your ship can itself become "mutated" when you pick up xyanide power-ups, which causes one of your two weapons to advance to the next level (the weapon you've got selected when you grab such an item will determine which mutation path you follow). Each of the two weapons also has a missile function with automatic lock-on, and this will get upgraded at the same time. Finally, you can pick up special attacks in four categories: offensive, defensive, shielding, and support. Each of these can be activated at will once your energy reserves have charged up sufficiently. The special attacks are also enhanced when you mutate, so there are tons of possible combinations with effects like firing lasers in all directions around your ship, slowing down nearby enemies, and creating a defensive energy shield to prevent your ship from being damaged.
Xyanide is sparsely detailed for an Xbox game, but its backgrounds and enemies have a nice, clean look to them, and it runs at a solid 60 frames per second, which is obviously the most important element in a shooter as fast-paced as this one. The action so far has presented a healthy mix of smaller, weak enemies and larger, multipart boss ships like you'd see in an R-Type game. On the biggest ships, the many weak points, such as turrets and engines, are overlaid with a crosshair of sorts, making it easier to know where you should be aiming your guns.
The core arcade mode in Xyanide represents the main component of the game. You can also bring in a friend for two-player simultaneous action, and a level mode will let you access individual levels after you've cleared them. You can also unlock some new ships and get on Xbox Live to compare your scores with those of others. But it looks like the meat of the game will be in plowing through Aguira's waves of defenses and hopefully taking her down at the end.
Xyanide is slated for release later this year, and we'll bring you a full review at that time.