Xenowerk – Review

Title   Xenowerk
Developer  Pixelbite
Publisher  Pixelbite
Platform  iOS, Android (reviewed)
Genre  Top-down shooter
Release Date  June 17, 2015

Cast your mind back to 1991 and the release of Team17′s top-down shooter, Alien Breed.  It wasn’t groundbreaking in any way, but what it did it did beautifully, and it very quickly became a cult classic that is still copied to this day.  For the most part, that initial tense atmosphere has never quite been replicated, even with Team17′s own recent remake. Pixelbite, known mainly for its deeply ingrained presence in the racing genre, are the latest developer to venture into the twin-stick shooter realm with Xenowerk, where chaos, explosions, and survival are the order of the day.

The premise is one which is simple enough to be immediately discarded, yet solid enough to work with the circumstances in play.  You’re tasked with exploring a biological lab where recent events have made it radioactive in places, and overrun by alien species in others.  Armed initially with very meagre weaponry, you must work your way through the various levels to eliminate all enemy forces and avoid being killed by any environmental hazards, or the alien hordes.

The story doesn’t really get much deeper than this, but what it lacks in Pulitzer potential, it more than makes up for with its never-ending action and, at times, tension.  As you progress through each level, taking out enemies on the way, you’ll pick up experience points and cashola.  The more you collect, the closer you get to being able to buy new weaponry and additional gear.  Every now and again, a kill will result in a gear cog appearing on-screen, which translates into an upgrade for whichever weapon you are using at the time. Even though you have two weapons equipped at any given time (which you control through your inventory screen), the upgrade will only apply to the one being used when the cog is picked up.

Weapons will never run out of ammo, so there’s no need to hunt down resources throughout a level, and will instead overheat.  This can happen pretty quickly, depending on the stats attributed to your weapons of choice, so your only option if you are to survive is to switch to your other equipped weapon or wait until the current one cools down.  The problem with certain weapons is that they can overheat so quickly that you’ll switch out to your other weapon, overheat that one, and the first one won’t yet have cooled down.  In this case, it’s better to retreat to an area you’ve already cleared out and wait until all weaponry is ready to go before proceeding.

In order to create a sense of balance, there are various buffs that come with certain armour types which affect your person or your weapons.  One may come with a speed boost, allowing you to move quicker through the level while others may replenish lost health or prevent your weapons from overheating.  These are all unlocked as you progress, or can be accessed using in-app purchases if you’re feeling a little too impatient to wait.  Weapons are classed by the amount of damage per second they unleash, their rate of fire, and the cooling properties of their heatsink.  So a hugely powerful weapon like the Thumper Pyro may be a veritable army on its own in terms of damage per second, but will ultimately be compromised by the dreadful rate of fire and a relatively poor heatsink.

Armour is also rated by three separate classes: the power boosts that they bring with them, the strength of the armour itself, and the speed at which you can move when wearing it.  Unlike the weapons, there is no need to calculate a balance when selecting which armour to wear, as each one is considerably more powerful in all aspects than the one before, with the Heavy Armour coming with all power boosts by default, full armour, and a 115% speed rating. By the time you unlock all weapons and armour, you’ll have access to the beastly Dragon Pyro flamethrower (8100 dps), Ripper assault rifle (120,000 dps), and Heavy Armour, which will make you practically indestructible.

It’s also worth mentioning that, with the game’s very low price tag, it’s more than tempting to opt for the faster road to greatness – buying 100,000 in-game coins will set you back only £2.64 and that will give you enough cash to go straight for the big guns (literally) and armour for a total of around £4 including the cost of the game itself.  It’s rare to find a mobile game with such a low price tag on something which offers so much, so Pixelbite deserve a great deal of credit for focusing on the gameplay rather than extorting money from players like other devs and publishers tend to do.

The only real criticism for Xenowerk would be that there’s very little variation as you progress.  The ‘easy’ Medical Research area comes with ten levels, Military Branch’s ‘medium’ area has twenty, and the ‘hard’ Factory X section brings another twenty.  The aesthetic between each level doesn’t vary much, but moreso each of the levels therein are practically identical.  One expects repetition of assets within any game (how many times did you see that same guard talking about taking an arrow to the knee in a game which took Bethesda years to develop?) but it’s tough to differentiate one level from the other once you’re immersed in Xenowerk‘s clean-up duties.

It does maintain its addictive ‘shoot em all’ nature, and there is definitely some points where you’ll consider replaying a level to achieve all three radiation symbols for killing enough enemies in a single continuous burst, but there’s a definite lack of eye candy when it comes to having something to look at while you’re blasting alien scum into piles of dust and goo.  Not enough to detract from the enjoyment, but enough to wonder why they didn’t add a little extra effort to the environments.

Graphically, though, it’s damned good.  Running at the full 2560 x 1600 with the detail set to its highest level, it still managed to perform at 60fps and it looked as good any game of its ilk would on a PC – dynamic lighting, excellent shadows, solid anti-aliasing, and a great attention to detail.  In fact, the absolute only thing that lets Xenowerk down in any way is the eventual repetition between each level where you sometimes question whether you’ve played this level before or not.  For only £4 though (yes, I paid for the in-game cash), it’s a great way to pass the time whether you’re sitting on a train trying to zone out from the idiots around you, or you want a quiet evening on the sofa with some mindless run-and-gun action.  Highly recommended.

  • Graphics and lighting kick ass
  • Excellent sounds and atmosphere
  • Fifty levels of varying difficulty
  • So many weapons from which to choose
  • Controls work very well, for a virtual twin-stick system
  • Can often be quite tense when your weapons overheat during an attack
  • Full controller support
  • Real lack of variety in level design
  • Very tough to achieve all three radiation symbols, as they're based on killing sprees and it comes down to how many aliens are sent your way rather than how many you're capable of killing

For a mobile game, Xenowerk has that rare combination of an affordable price tag and equally affordable in-app purchases. So much so that one single £2.64 IAP will see you set for the entire game. While this can certainly make it a little too easy, there's still a great deal of enjoyment to be had from ploughing through the alien hordes that each level has to offer.

The inclusion of a cool-down system rather than having to hunt for additional ammo was a great move, as it allows you to play strategically and can add to the tension. It's a beautifully realised game, if a little shallow, and has more than enough reasons to play through to the final level.

Our review policy

Last five articles by Mark R


One Comment

  1. Chris Toffer says:

    Purchased! Looks great – nice review Mark!

Leave a Comment