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X-Blades

Looking at this game’s artwork and scantily clad Manga-esque blonde female protagonist, it may surprise you to learn that X-Blades was created not by a Japanese company, but by a Russian development team. I mention this in opening, because frankly this is the most interesting thing about what is a sincerely underwhelming game; one which falls so, so far short of its tough competition in the action-adventure genre you almost wonder why they bothered.

You play Ayumi, a spunky treasure hunter who’s in it for the thrill as well as the money, and doesn’t really give a shit about the consequences. At the beginning, she encounters half a cubic shape which matches another half in her possession, and this leads her to what she thinks is a great treasure but actually turns out to be a dark lord that she unwittingly unleashes, or something. The cutscenes look pretty nice but the plot is never particularly engaging and the characters are fairly irritating. Further, the level design often feels out of kilter with the narrative – you are frequently dropped in an area with no explanation and have to battle a series of spawning monsters, with no apparent objective or justification. It doesn’t help that many foes move incredibly quickly and beating them can be a tiresome exercise in endurance; a fact not helped by the unforgiving difficulty.

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Ayumi wields two gunblades, meaning she can slice or shoot at the touch of a button, and she can also buy spells at the end of each level using defeated enemies’ souls. Some spells are mildly intriguing, but sadly neither the combat nor the enemies are interesting enough to ever really stimulate, meaning alternating button bashing between square, triangle and R1 is about as deep as it gets. Enemies are not particularly arresting or imaginative – there’s nothing like, say Devil May Cry‘s Reapers or Marionettes, or God of War‘s harpies or minotaurs. Bosses are a little more interesting, but they tend to degenerate into patterns of running away from their attacks then closing in to damage them, without any clever quirks or patterns to make them memorable whatsoever.

The level design also feels very flat. There are no puzzles, and it’s simply a case of running from A to B through bland, undetailed environs fighting swarms of uninteresting monsters. It would help if the architecture was a little more unique or there were environmental hazards to negotiate, but as it stands X-Blades is merely a simplistic fighting game which needed a bit more originality and thought in its design. The simplistic gameplay harks back to the days of 2D side-scrolling fighters such as Golden Axe (in fact there are close similarities with Sega’s recent Golden Axe: Beast Rider), but the fact is, gaming has largely moved on since then and it leaves much of X-Blades feeling overly simplistic and archaic.

The controls are fairly dependable, with melee, ranged and magic attacks all mapped to different buttons. Ayumi’s movement is extremely erratic though; she sprints around at a rapid pace and as a result fine movements feel awkward and imprecise. The camera causes problems too, given that it’s so over-sensitive. It’s something you’ll get used to after a while, but since the right analogue stick is mapped to aiming your weapons its loose feeling can cause persistent problems until you become more accustomed to it. You can also lock the camera on a specific foe, which is useful when you’re fighting fast-moving enemies or a boss.

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Visually, the results are mixed; Ayumi is nice and detailed and a lot of effort has obviously gone into rendering her barely-covered buttocks, although the enemies are bland and lack detail. Environments look fairly bland with undetailed textures, but there is some nice lighting which softens the blow a little, even if it is a little reliant on excessive bloom and lens flare. The sound effects aren’t bad – not particularly noticeable one way or the other, although the pseudo-rock combat music is surprisingly enjoyable, and at least fits the subject matter adequately. The voiceovers are not so great though – with squeaky teen characters and lots of attitude it comes off as more annoying than anything.

Sadly, X-Blades falls short of the mark in almost every department, and when measured against the big hitters in the genre there really is no contest. There are a couple of decent ideas here, but the game as a whole needs some serious refinement in just about every way to have any hope of standing out in what is a fairly crowded genre.

4 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in April 2007.

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