For their latest arcade shooter, Housemarque have teamed up with Smash TV legend Eugene Jarvis to create a world where humans have become so dependent on technology that they spend all day staring at their mobile phones. Blissfully unaware of what is happening around them, the machines have risen up and, as in all robotic uprisings, they decide to wipe the humans off the planet. It’s up to you to stop them.
Nex Machina is the culmination of the Finnish developer’s games on PlayStation, cherry picking the best features from Stardust, Resogun, Dead Nation, and Alienation and mashing them up in a twin stick shooter that is pure arcade action. It’s exactly as fast-paced, action-heavy and explosively pretty as you’d expect.
There are five worlds, each consisting of fifteen smaller arena levels, plus hidden levels and the obligatory end of level boss. Each is teaming with enemies, and both enemy robots and the worlds themselves are made using the same voxel technology we saw in Resogun. With blocky explosions kicking off all around, the levels feature destructible areas and blocks which can reveal secrets or power ups. Many other features found in previous games such as score multipliers, dashes, and humans that need to be rescued make a return, as do ‘Visitors’, chains of enemies which must be destroyed to collect a multiplier, which you might remember from Resogun.
All this familiarity make me wish that the game had something completely original to offer, a feature or mechanic the Finnish developers had not tackled before. There are a couple of throwbacks to older games that you could say are a little lazy, such as how the first end of level boss performs almost identically to the ones found in Super Stardust and Resogun. All three games have a large circular enemy who spins round with three attack patterns, each one adding an extra pattern of bullets and jets of flame to dodge, and while it might be a good introductory boss, it’s something we’ve now seen a little too often.
The game is full of neon colours and creatively designed enemies, something taken from Alienation, and later levels feature huge swarms of creatures, echoing Dead Nation. Along with your standard weapon, which can all be upgraded with further spread and reach, there are secondary weapons include rocket launchers, smart bombs, and power shots. The dash move can also be powered up to include an explosive finish – Resogun says ‘Hi!’ again – and a mini level before each boss where the perspective shifts from top down to almost third person.
One thing you won’t find is the weapons crafting system from Alienation, as this is a pure arcade game. From the second it starts you are assaulted by waves of enemies and the only breathing space you get is the second or so it takes to transition to the next level. You can race through all five worlds in around an hour when playing on Rookie mode, but that has infinite continues and slower enemies, allowing you to learn the levels, secrets, and attack patterns. The real game begins on the Experienced difficulty level which adds more enemies and humans which move slightly faster, and only 99 continues. After that comes the Veteran difficulty which adds even more enemies and almost doubles the speed of their attacks. Ironically, you’re going to need to be a machine to beat that mode, and there’s still the Master difficulty level after that.
Alongside the main Arcade mode, ‘Arenas’ challenges you complete the worlds with modifiers such as time limits, fast enemies, and score multipliers. Housemarque promise monthly tournaments and there are world, country, city, and friend related leaderboards, so you can see how you compare against your friends. There’s also a nice ‘nemesis’ feature which highlights a random player who is just a little better than you and challenges you to beat them – a nice touch for those who don’t have many online pals. Completing the Arena challenges will score you coins which can be used to unlock other challenges or customise your character with new armour or helmets, all of which are purely cosmetic.
As you might expect the game is extremely polished, controls are slick, responsive, and precise, the graphics are sharp with over the top effects, and the pounding techno-tinged music thumps through the speakers adding to the urgency. You can also bring a friend to the party with local co-op in both the Arcade and Arena modes. Unlike many other arcade shooters, you are going to need to engage your brain, working out the best paths and tactics, with higher difficulty levels requiring laser sharp concentration. During one Arena I was staring at the screen so intently that I didn’t blink for about ten minutes and my contact lenses dried out on my eyes!
Nex Machina is the pinnacle of all things Housemarque, with concepts and ideas that have been refined over many games in their purest form. That’s both its strength and its weakness, as there is nothing you haven’t seen before in one of their previous games. If you are a fan of the Finnish developer’s game, this is still an essential purchase, but if you’re a newcomer, this is the best place to join the party.
Version Tested: PS4