Preview: Xenocider

It was in June 2015 that we first learned of Retro Sumus' ambitious Dreamcast exclusive shooter Xenocider. Back then, we didn't really know much about what was to become something of a labour of love for lead programmer Chui and his team based over in Spain, but now, almost five years later were are very close to having the final product in our hands, and - most importantly - in our Dreamcast consoles. Xenocider has undergone several revisions over the years, but here we are privileged to share with you details of the latest beta build, and our overall impressions of what we have played so far.
What was initially pitched as a sort of homage to 'into the screen' shooters of yesteryear such as Space Harrier, Planet Harriers and Sin & Punishment, Xenocider places the player in control of Xara, a cybernetic heroine tasked with travelling from planet to planet, basically wiping out all life and ultimately causing said planet to self destruct. As you do.

If you'll allow me to be a bit wanky for a moment, this does actually bring up some questions of ethics for me. Why is Xara so hellbent on destroying these alien creatures and the very worlds they reside on? If she didn't come blazing through the atmosphere in her ship and then start marauding around the landscapes shooting everything and setting off nukes, surely these innocent lifeforms could just continue going about their daily routine of floating around and minding their own business? I'm sure the answers will be revealed in the final game's story mode, so we'll leave this aspect of Xenocider alone for now. Wanky mode: off.
The similarities with the aforementioned properties from Sega and Nintendo/Treasure are quite clear to see from a visual and gameplay standpoint, but Xenocider does have its own identity too. The aesthetic is very much one of a sort of corrupt artificial life form being directed by a mysterious commander via a communications codec. You travel to various worlds killing stuff, you collect upgrade points that can be spent on your health, armour, weapon strength etc. This is done via a rather excellent between-level hub section aboard Xara's ship - a ship you also get to control in one of the mid-stage bonus areas that reminded me a little of something like Soul Star on the Sega Mega CD, but is actually based on Galaxy Force.

Controlling Xara is pretty simple. Each stage sees your cybernetic anti-heroine travelling into the screen. Sometimes she is travelling on a sort of hover board, sometimes running, sometimes swimming. Each stage basically has five 'lanes' which you can switch between using the Dreamcast triggers (think along the lines of Switch Galaxy Ultra). You move the targeting reticule with the analogue stick and you fire Xara's main cannon with the A button. The Y button allows Xara to jump (which you need to do to avoid pits and some enemies and ground based obstacles). The X and B buttons control Xara's Xenopods, which are basically floating assistants that afford extra abilities such as more firepower, a cluster of mini nuclear bombs, or protective shields.
It can be a little tough at times to judge where you should move in order to avoid incoming projectiles or enemies, but once you get adjusted to the sheer number of enemies heading your way, and learn to activate those Xenopods at the right times, it all falls into place. Xenocider is almost as much a reaction puzzle game as it is a shooter at times, with you needing to not only shoot enemies, but also avoid incoming fire and ground-based obstacles that will sap health and lead to your demise. Oh, and there are some truly massive bosses to fight at the ends of the levels.
What struck me from the off about Xenocider though, was just how polished everything feels. This doesn't feel like your typical indie game. True, it has been in development for almost five years, but the team is not very large and the game even came through the crushing disappointment of a failed Kickstarter funding drive. With this in mind, it becomes even more impressive that Xenocider features full blown cinematics at almost every opportunity, all seamlessly fading between menu screens, gameplay sections and end-of-level stat screens.
These are actually the first shots that we were shown of Xenocider...
...way back in 2015. Feels like a lifetime ago!
From the title screen to the game over screen, it all feels very contemporary, there's nary a static 'loading' screen in sight, and for that Retro Sumus should be applauded. Furthermore, the actual game is running on a bespoke 3D engine - gone are the days of Dreamcast indie titles literally consisting of 2D shooter after 2D shooter. In 2020, Dreamcast indie games look like Xenocider, and that is cause for some celebration.
In terms of pure content, the devs should also be congratulated. Xenocider features a story mode, an arcade mode, branching paths, and bonus stages that are totally removed from how the main game plays. There's even a full blown nod to Space Harrier Space Harrier bonus level. Add to this a number of unlocks, secret levels and various cheats and you have a very interesting overall package, with plenty to discover.
The shots in this article come from the fourth iteration of the beta version of Xenocider, as I and my colleague Mike Phelan were both asked if we would like to take part in the beta testing program. Naturally, we both accepted and as such we have been looking for bugs and giving feedback to Retro Sumus (as have other testers). For this reason, you may think we are a little biased, but in truth even if I was in no way involved in Xenocider's beta testing, I'd still be waxing lyrical about how cool it is to have a brand new 3D Dreamcast shooter on the horizon. That it is as polished and original as Xenocider is but a bonus.
There's a lot to say about this game, even in its current beta form. From the gorgeous cinematics, the brilliant soundtrack and the variation and sheer number of different stages (each with two playable paths and a boss fight). The beta isn't perfect (because it's a beta) but hopefully by the time the final version of Xenocider drops, all of the little bugs will have been ironed out. For now, we hope these images and video from the beta version will give you an idea of how well the game is progressing and how close we are to having yet another fantastic exclusive Dreamcast game for our collections.
There's no set release date yet (other than 2020), but for more on Xenocider, be sure to follow Retro Sumus on Twitter, and keep an eye on their website. What do you think? Excited for another new Dreamcast title? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter.


DankDoomSlug said...

Very excited! I’ve been following this game for a while and I’m ready to play. They did a great job so far

DCGX said...

I'm excited as well. I've had this preordered since day 1!

FlorreW said...

I also preordered since day 1. Looking forward to this gem. It looks awesome !

SegaSen said...

Looks great, I will buy it!