Reviews// Assault Android Cactus

Posted 4 Dec 2017 10:32 by
I remember the first time I played Assault Android Cactus.

The game was still in early access and it was the day after a friend's wedding. We were still at the venue, where we'd spent the night partying and I still had the unique taste of champagne, lager and Iranian cuisine in my mouth as well as a slight headache and burning red eyes.

The newlywed groom hooked up his PC and told me that I should give AAC a go. An hour or so later and I'd completely forgotten about my terrible dancing from the night before. I was focusing in on yet another twin stick shooter, getting into that zone. So much so that I didn't even notice that an audience had formed around us until we completed a level and heard a ripple of applause.

That's the first thing I look for in a game like this. If it manages to hold my focus. A good twin stick shooter will drop you into a state of hypnosis whether you're experienced and going for high scores or have just booted it up for the first time and are just trying to stay alive for as long as possible. AAC achieved this and managed to dull my hangover at the same time.

It was a long time before I was able to play it again. I'm not a PC gamer so when I was asked to review the Xbox One version I was all over it. The problem is that in between those post wedding blues and now there have been two releases that would really test how well it holds up.

Geometry Wars Evolved is now available on backwards compatibility on Xbox One and Nex Machina was released on console earlier this year, a game that shot to the top of my twin stick shooting favourites list.

So how does Assault Android Cactus stack up against the big hitters? Very well, actually.

AAC manages to take a saturated genre and inject enough unique ideas into it to make it stand out amongst the competition and not fall into the pit of games that are good but not good enough to turn your head away from the top of the class.

The first thing you'll notice is that it isn't as brutal as other twin stick shooters. Don't get me wrong, within moments of loading the game up your screen will be filled with enemies and bullets which require smart movement, aggressive gameplay and lightning fast reactions to avoid, but the punishment for being hit is way more forgivable than what you're used to.

In AAC your main focus is how much battery life you have left in the tank. Getting hit will slow you down, sometimes put you on the floor until you pump the fire trigger in order to get back up again. The only way to charge your android is by shooting enemies as fast as you can. Some drop charge and you'll need to rush over to pick it up before it vanishes for good.

Although this strips the feeling of being able to get out of any situation that Nex Machina has (sometimes you'll feel that your current run is a lost cause way before you're out of power) the system does force you to think about your movement and is consistently satisfying if you're about to power down and just manage to pick on up.

It's no use firing off in one direction while other enemies group behind you, just in case that vital bit of charge appears in that area, making it almost impossible to reach in time. You always need an even distribution of foes to make sure that the entire stage can be covered in a moment's notice.

The level design will also have you thinking on your toes. As basic as every room is, the shape-shifting nature of them allows you to adapt and manipulate enemies, group them together before funnelling them through a gap through cover. It's not about memorising where you need to be or where to head to next, it's about changing direction, acting on instinct and taking advantage of what happens around you.

There's plenty to do here too. From a well fleshed out campaign, to straight up infinite arcade action and a daily challenge sprinkled on top, AAC isn't a one-and-done game. There are things to work on between trying to smash high scores and, along with co-op, everything feels more than worth the asking price. Not to mention that if things start to feel a little repetitive the amount of characters on offer, along with the wildly different styles of play they offer will make sure that you'll want to put the time in.

In fact the only change AAC offers compared to other games like this that doesn't work is the need to pull the trigger to fire. Most twin stick shooters that want to maintain this sort of blistering pace know that the player doesn't want to keep pulling a trigger to shoot. If you're aiming, you're firing. For some reason AAC doesn't agree. It wants you to fire manually and I can't for the life of me work out why.

Without limiting your ammo there's no reason not to hold down RT from the moment you start until it all ends and if anything it just adds a little hand cramp into the mix.

I was also slightly disappointed with the art style and audio. Back when I first played the game it wasn't much of an issue. It seemed fine if a little uninspiring, but arcade games have really upped their quality over the past two years in terms of audio and visual treats. This hasn't aged as well as I'd thought.

It's not terribly off-putting, though, and does enough in terms of gameplay to overshadow the shortcomings. But in such a competitive market it's a little frustrating that the presentation isn't up to par.

That's where I think AAC sits for me. It's a good game, no doubt. If you like twin stick shooters then you'll love this. It manages to stand out from the crowd and be unique enough to be worth your time and attention. But if you only have enough space in your library for one or two of these games then there are others that are on higher priority.

Pros:
+ Unique
+ Enjoyable
+ Plenty to do

Cons:
- Below par visuals
- Annoying audio
- The need to hold down the fire trigger

SPOnG Score: 7/10

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