Let's Replay: X2

Release Date
Playstation 1
Side-scrolling Shooter
Single Player
Team 17

Back in 1996, British developers Team 17 were still riding high off of the success of what would later become their flagship series, Worms. While their wormy war machine was still selling well and a sequel was on the horizon, the studio wisely didn’t want to rest its future hopes on a single franchise. X2 (also known as Project X-2 or X2: No Relief), a sequel to Project-X, was one such attempt that sought to revive an older brand from the Amiga days.

Released on the original PlayStation, X2 promised an arcade experience on a powerful home console, and the developers made fantastic use of the system’s resources. X2 is a great looking game, and the sands of time have done little to erode its visual quality. For the era, the game makes great use of a varied colour palette in patches, and is actually one of the nicer looking games available on the PS1. Many older games can lose some of their fidelity when displayed on the 16:9 LCD TVs that are commonplace today, but X2 manages to hold up rather well in the age of widescreen displays. This is testament to the graphical design of the game.

The title should also be praised for the quality of its animation. Side-scrolling shooters need to be smoothly animated despite the tendency for the screen to fill up with bullets, lasers and explosions as the action intensifies, and X2 copes with a variety of visual effects relatively easily. Enemies have individual moving parts that aim at you; some foes rotate, while others open out from pods. All of this action is conducted with a pleasing flow that really lends itself well to the gameplay and gives you a great level of manoeuvrability.

An arm cannon might look cool, but it rather unpractical
for drinking a cup of tea.

In this case, it seems such a waste that the game doesn’t really allow you to take full advantage of this smooth gameplay. While you are free to fly around the screen anywhere you want, many levels include indestructible platforms, asteroids and metal corridors that funnel you down certain paths. These paths are usually chock-full with enemies that you can’t hope to defeat without taking a few hits. While this increases the challenge and risk of the game, it often feels cheap when you are forced into the path of a never-ending armada that you never have quite enough firepower to clear. Despite collecting every power up available and concentrating your fire, there are certain parts of the level that seem to be designed to waste a few lives. You’ll spend more more time trying to dodge enemy waves than destroy them. However, the game is also uncompromisingly cruel if you happen to clip a piece of scenery or an enemy, usually resulting in an instant death. Your chances of survival are worse than a chronically depressed Lemming.

To add insult to injury, plenty of enemy bullets blend in the background, further compounding the issue and making it almost impossible to dodge them. Sometimes you’ll be blissfully unaware that your ship is taking damage as enemies pelt you with wave after wave of light blue lasers, which camouflage nicely on the light blue backdrop. This is only a problem on certain levels, but is a terrible design choice, especially when one of the main culprits is the very first level. This doesn’t help your initial impressions of the game where you’ll seemingly explode for no apparent reason.

Nick Cage’s nightmare. “Not the bees!”

X2 provides plenty of lives and one continue with its standard options, but you’ll soon chew through these. You’ll usually receive a Game Over screen on each level, requiring you to restart that level from the beginning if you want to keep playing. While this makes sense in an arcade machine that requires you to feed in extra coins to keep the experience going, it makes very little sense on a home console; forcing you to wallow in failure and frustration.

Despite the quality of X2’s visuals, the sound design doesn’t complement the game very well. A lifeless announcer will occasionally provide tips that can be difficult to hear at times over particularly loud explosions, and the soundtrack does little to evoke excitement once you navigate away from the title screen.

While there are many positives that the game has to offer, scratch off that initial layer of sheen and you’ll soon find that it offers very little else. In that manner, X2 is very much like a bunny boiler. It looks tempting on the surface, but once you get involved, you’ll soon find yourself in a world of pain. When the game was released in Japan (the home of bullet hell shmups), the difficulty was actually toned down, which tells you pretty much everything you need to know about this game.

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