Beginning life as an anime-inspired indie PC game, Astebreed’s timely arrival on PS4 brings with it a number of graphical improvements, as well as a revised control scheme aimed at console gamers. The game begins with you in control of Grato, leader of a team of mecha pilots, and during the action packed prologue you’re taught the seemingly inescapable truth that the invading alien race, the Filune, both grossly outnumber and outmatch the weaponry held by the Mars colonists.
However, it’s during this battle that you manage to steal a prototype mecha from the Filune, which somehow plays host to the consciousness of Grato’s daughter Fiona. With the act of returning this prototype to the Terrans, you know that it may well turn the tide of the war. It’s Roy Becket, the live-in cleaner who takes over as the protagonist after the prologue, who Grato entrusts with his mission of defeating the Filune, as you pilot the enhanced prototype, the Xbreed.
At the opening of the game, you’re offered the Arrange Mode which has readjusted controls for playing on the PS4, while Original Mode is the same as the PC release. As a shoot ’em up you’re equipped with a standard shot, which in most situations is fairly ineffective, as well as an energy blade, which is an excellent means of gaining control of a seemingly lost situation, and a lock-on targeting system similar to that of Panzer Dragoon, which can take out multiple enemies at once.
It’s safe to say that the lock-on will often be your main port of call in the chaos that unfolds, though always in combination with your two other main attacks. Your lock-on has two modes, with the right analog stick bringing up either an expanding cone of effect in whichever direction it’s pointed or a spherical lock that’s engaged by clicking the R3 button. You also have a powerful EX Attack mapped to the L2 trigger.
The key to play is the effective use of the energy sword, which is capable of stopping yellow and purple enemy fire from reaching your mech, though it’s use will reduce your combo meter.The only type of weapons-fire that you truly need to worry about is coloured red, and frankly that’s a concern a lot of the time while you’re trying to pilot your craft.
The PS4 controls are streamlined in such a way as to make the game more welcoming, and potentially easier, than those of the original version. It’s interesting to see a developer make such an assured change to the way its game controls, even if the differences seem minimal, but the option to use the slightly more complex Original mode controls will give those who get into the game an extra layer of challenge and nuance.
The game’s plot is brought to you from two angles, with character dialog taking place throughout much of the game’s action, as character heads and subtitles appear in the bottom left-hand corner of the screen. Pivotal moments, meanwhile, are told via static anime-styled artwork with an energetic Japanese delivery.
While the game’s anime-esque plot and graphical style are undoubtedly served well by sticking to the Japanese audio, the fact that so much of what goes on is spoken about while you’re trying to avoid a hundred bullets makes understanding the plot and the character’s relationships extremely difficult. This isn’t really the kind of game where you can take your eyes off the action.
A second playthrough was needed just to pay heavy attention to the corner of the screen, and staying alive while doing so was definitely a tall order. Thankfully the Extra section of the game offers a huge repository of player information where you can delve into all of the characters, world and history. It’s definitely worth checking out as they’ve put plenty of thought into building the game’s setting.
The graphics are attractive, but I feel that the various enemy-types are somewhat forgettable, though they’re often gone with such speed that you won’t have much time to ponder on it. As the game shifts perspective, from side-scrolling to vertical scrolling via heading into the screen a la Space Harrier you’re given brief moments to appreciate the solidity of the environments and marvel at the glorious particle effects that often engulf the screen.
As with many shooters, things can get a bit too manic at times, though Astebreed is relatively forgiving in its collision detection. Your rechargeable health bar won’t quite allow you to walk through a hail of bullets, but it gives you enough leeway not to punish you the odd misstep as you push ahead.
The music by Samlie is brilliant, shifting from ambient tones to frenetic future-dance the next. It all fits well with the tone of the game and adds to the energetic on-screen action without distracting from it. The overall feel reminded me of a variety of anime, from Appleseed and Neon Genesis Evangelion to Knights of Sidonia, which is excellent company to be in.
The game itself is relatively short, coming in at just six chapters that can be played through in under an hour, but that’s to be expected of a shoot ’em up, and the real draw here is to aim to beat your previous high score. The scoring system rewards you with a bigger combo the longer you go without being hit, and though you can sweep through the levels making heavy use of both the shot and energy sword, the sword will actually reduce your combo meter so you have to use it sparingly if you’re aiming for the top of the leaderboard, making it a wonderfully tactical battle.
Astebreed is a remarkably well-built indie title, which nails both the mecha genre and its anime flavouring. Anyone who’s enjoyed Radiant Silvergun or Ikaruga will find plenty to like here, and though it can be easy to blast through the levels as quickly as possible, its rewarding mechanics and high-score leaderboards will ensure plenty of reasons to make repeat visits.
Version Tested: PS4