In recent years, first-person shooters are something of a rarity for me. I’m more fond of things from a scaled-back perspective, allowing me to take on more of an observer role. First-person games tend to be more intimate, and my interest in games has shifted more to empathizing with others rather than indulging in the self. Yet when games like Exophobia pop up on my radar, it’s hard not to want to explore a violent, claustrophobic, sci-fi setting.
Quick structure disclaimer: Given this (and all the others) is only a demo, I won’t be too in-depth with my coverage, and will only reflect on the good and the bad. No overly long personal history or filibuster. No nonsense. That said, I will provide a synopsis for the game below.
“Explore and fight your way through a crashed human spaceship infested with relentless hordes of aliens as you become more powerful with exciting weapon upgrades and powerups in this retro inspired first-person shooter.“
Approximately three seconds into watching any trailer for this game, the DOOM vibes will be wholly present. For those fond of the obvious inspirator, they will find new life within Exophobia.
It will not take long to become immersed in the environment of the game. The low hums of the soundtrack and the loud creeks of doors. Ambience plays a crucial role in setting the scene for a hostile alien takeover, which escalates rather quickly upon the first encounter. In standard metroidvania fashion, you start off fairly weak, and this pulls no punches when it comes to difficulty.
In a nice touch of modernity, there are many different options for how exactly you want your playstyle to be. A large range of difficulties, graphical and audio filters, and control sensitivity to suit exactly how you feel most comfortable playing. I played on mostly standard settings—normal difficulty and no other substantial changes—and still struggled in some facets. As much as it seems like this would make a great guns-blazing wreck-a-thon, there’s a lot of detailed planning involved.
Success in Exophobia involves learning and adapting. You could simply run in and shoot things until they die; that could work for you if you’re good at games like this. However, it also encourages one to slow down and take in your surroundings. Secret blocks containing health pickups; enemies that attack you in different ways; alternate paths that contain buffs. There’s detail to those willing to analyze the area and take advantage of exploration.
Perhaps this is a given, but shooting things is fun. There’s a reason Call of Duty and Halo are among the biggest game franchises on the planet. Never a dull moment when blasting alien baddies throughout the demo, even if it can get a little frantic with how slippery one can be. A proven method of entertainment that serves well here, too.
But the graphics… oh, sweet mercy. Such gorgeous hues of red and blue. A great blend of retro pixels and modern sheen. A colorful, yet still brutal display of cybernetic action and whimsy that’s masterfully crafted to a specific style. One of the best-looking games I’ve seen in some time, even more so than many AAA games. Really fond of the many stills that communicate things like enemies being hit, running towards you, and attacking.
More an issue with the demo than the actual game, but unless I am missing something incredibly cryptic, I could not finish it due to a bug. Visiting a room with a couple conveyor belts carrying explosive barrels, I cannot seem to leave the area after arriving in it. There’s a symbol on the door that establishes that I haven’t fulfilled a condition in the room, but even after killing all the aliens and collecting what looks to be explosives in a hidden room, nothing occurs.
Nothing an update can’t fix, and since I’ve written this up, I did notice the demo did, indeed, get an update. Perhaps others faced this issue, as well.
Aside from code issues, from a broader point, there is a specific maneuver called “sliding” that is not all that intuitive to me. You can use it to knock around enemies and stun them for a moment, and is a great way to un-shield shielded enemies for a time. Issue is that it seems to be very picky about when it wants to work or not. Sometimes you’re not exactly in front of the enemy, so it just slides past them. Sometimes you’re too close or too far away, so it refuses to work in those cases, either.
Sliding, for me, is more of a gamble than anything. It can make for some effective strategizing against enemies and furthers the good flow of combat. Yet it works to my liking so little that it ends up mostly situational. There are moments in the campaign where it’s necessary—sliding under chains of fire. Outside of these times, it’s too unwieldy for me. Though it does make you a tad quicker when going through previously traveled rooms.
Again, you can alter your control scheme to your desired settings. However, the standard settings still feel maybe a hair too slippery for me. Especially incorporating sliding and all, it almost feels like I’m traveling around on ice when trying to avoid bullets. Good for avoiding, but bad for aiming.
Those fond of retro-inspired first-person shooters with a sci-fi aesthetic should take the next shuttle to Exophobia. With incredible visual design and all the mechanics of a fun metroidvania shooter, it should appeal to many different players out there, especially with all the accessibility options available. Look out for this game’s full release later this year.
Exophobia has a demo you can play now on Steam. (Link under “Game Summary.”)
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Thank you for your time. Have a great timezone.