Shoot-'em-up games draw on a fairly standard formula, and by pitting your lone ship against countless waves of enemies who shower you in a thick hail of lasers, Razor 2: Hidden Skies at least gets the basics right. But though the game demands quick fingers and sharp eyes, there is little incentive to play it beyond the inherent satisfaction of a challenge overcome. The visuals are crisp, but the bland art design makes the levels blend together in a blur of gray ships and pink lasers. The controls allow you to maneuver smoothly, but the unclear hit detection and strangely constricted field of movement keep you from feeling really comfortable in the cockpit. These foibles prevent Razor 2's solid action from coming to life, making this a dull, unengaging experience.
The story in Razor 2 involves a threat as vague as the art style is bland. You (and only you) are embroiled in a war against endless metal ships, some with colorful highlights and sinister-looking pointy parts. Despite some variation, the visuals are a generic space cliche throughout. They are clean and serve their purpose of clearly showing your enemies and their projectiles, but you certainly won't be distracted by any attractive sights. Poorly written pre-mission briefings are spoken aloud by a robotic female voice that is almost certainly a software program, complete with mispronunciations and awkward intonations. The sound effects are serviceable, but the sweeping score, while nice, doesn't jibe with the feel of the game. While there's not much that is actively bad about Razor 2's presentation, there isn't anything particularly good either.
The game fares only slightly better once your guns start blazing. You control your ship with the arrow keys using one hand, while firing and switching weapons with the other. The keyboard is responsive, but be careful about remapping keys; the game won't overwrite their previous functions, so you may end up with some unwanted side effects. You can also plug in a controller, which is a lot smoother, but you'll also have to deal with erratic movement bugs that occasionally shove you off course. Almost every level is vertically scrolling, but though your field of vision is rectangular, your field of movement is more like a trapezoid. It narrows toward the top of the screen, so if you try to surge forward to avoid threats, you will be shunted inward by invisible walls. It's a bothersome effect that limits how precise you can be near the sides of the screen, and it doesn't go away when your view zooms out during boss fights, even though theoretically your range of movement should increase. Once you get accustomed to it, this issue becomes manageable, and the fact that it's localized to the side of the screen means you still have a good amount of room to maneuver.
Dodging enemy ships and projectiles is essential to staying alive, though it's not always clear what parts of your ship register enemy hits and what parts allow projectiles to pass through. Keeping the center area of your ship safe is your best bet, as is blasting enemies as fast as your guns will fire. You have three primary weapons with unlimited ammunition that you can switch between on the fly: a straight-shooting pulse gun, a spread-firing spray gun, and a steady-streaming bendy laser. There are also four heavy weapons that you can acquire, depending on your ship upgrades and ammo capacity: homing missiles, homing energy blasts, a powerful rifle shot, and an area-damaging EMP. Saving the big guns for the big bosses is a smart move, though the EMP's ability to clear the area of enemy projectiles can come in very handy in a pinch. There are also tougher enemies that come in midlevel that can be worth a missile or two, and the robotic lady voice is actually quite helpful in announcing their arrival. In later levels, every advantage counts because Razor 2 is definitely a challenging game.
To help prolong your survival, you can upgrade each of your weapons between levels, as well as your shields, engine, and energy cell (your shields keep you alive and your energy replenishes your shields). These upgrades are rewarding and effective, and along with the simple satisfaction of destroying your enemies, improving your ship is one of the only pleasures Razor 2 has to offer. The action is competent, yet flawed, and the visuals do nothing to distinguish the game from its countless peers. This is a bland, underwhelming experience whose eight levels struggle to justify the $9.99 price point, and even players hard up for a new shoot-'em-up should think twice before diving in.