Ares Omega PC Review
No doubt one thing the rise of indie developers has brought to the industry is the huge wave of top-down shooters. One thing I came to understand when studying Computer Games Programming at university is that those games are on the easier side of the spectrum to create, which would explain the increased releases in the genre, since fresh video game developers are trying to make a name for themselves with their initial release, and what better way to learn by starting with something less complex. The problem is, when there are so many of one thing, you have to make a title that is either creative, has some imagination or at least is a good game that feels great to play to be able to standout in such a crowded market, otherwise the game is going to be easily forgotten. Ares Omega is sadly a great example of releasing an unimaginative title that has issues, and will ultimately be forgotten.
Ares Omega sets up the story by telling us about a remote facility on Mars that specialises in researching weaponized machines. This facility has gone dark, off the grid. The advancements in AI have led to – for reasons never explained – machines mass murdering the entire habitants in the facility and taking control for themselves. Someone sees this as a problem, who? No idea, as the game never says, but it does tells us that you are a marine sent in to retake the base by eliminating said robots and their commanding leaders. I guess the guy is a technophobe, like Will Smith from I, Robot. There is nothing here but an unoriginal quick introduction to set the player up as to why he’s popping metallic ass on Mars, and that is fine, these type of games do not need a story, but this shoehorned snippet of information is the least of the game’s worries.
There is nothing compelling with Ares Omega, nothing that screams at you to say “pick me,” it’s all very average. What makes it worse is it isn’t just one part of the game that feels this way, but that everything about Ares Omega feels like it never tries to be more than satisfactory. It’s all rather barebones. I love the concept behind mixing a roguelike with a top-down shooter, it should be a recipe for fun addiction, but here it feels like a chore, there is no excitement, and my time with Ares Omega didn’t make me motivated to kill robots, nor put a smile on my face, or do anything to my face. In fact. I sat there with no expression. I’m sure if people saw me playing this they must have thought I was trying to impersonate the Terminator.
I know this is Selenion Games’ first release, and I certainly don’t want to bang on about negativity for a project I’m sure they put their love into, but for me, Ares Omega was not a good time. Featuring roguelike elements, which means death is a constant experience, Ares Omega should be screaming at you to get back into the action on each death, but I never felt that pull.
Let’s start with the good. The upgrade system is a groovy mechanic. I have always enjoyed the idea that after death, you can somehow improve yourself, in this case, experience and cash is used to buy better weapons (pistols, sub-machine guns, assault rifles, shotguns, snipers and other special weapons become unlocked once the character hits a certain level),while levelling up from experience points gained by killing enemies accumulates skill points to improve stats. This could be more health, increased shield to absorb more impact, more ammo, more damage – the typical improvements that usually come with upgrades for shooters. This leads to eventually the game becoming easier as you keep failing to progress further into the game, and I like that constant improvement that comes with surviving longer each turn. Sadly, there is nothing else to play for – no scoring system or leaderboards to match up against, no challenges or cooperative action, just an armoured space marine tackling generic looking robots in dull decorated hallways.
It doesn’t help that the procedural generation system has nothing to build levels with but box shapes littered with a few destructible furniture to refill ammo or health packs, or the occasional curve passageway to break up the flow of right angles. Everything looks flat and dull, and its industrial colour scheme of black, grey and brown make for such a bland place to walk through. The point of procedural generation is to make sure each attempt has a different design, but I felt each retry, and in fact each floor you proceed through, blended into one that it’s hard to tell them apart. Even the enemies suffer from the same issue, with robot designs lacking any real imagination, and fighting the same limited horde of enemies becomes a drag after multiple plays. The only excitement from the random level design is when enemies are spawned inside doors, trapping them for an amusing kill.
A lot about Ares Omega lacks polish. To explain this, I should start from the beginning of my time with it. Having experienced a few top-down shooters in my life, I decided to go with the Xbox 360 controller to play the game, it’s always been a great pad to use for such titles, but not so here. I ran into my first problem with the menus, which, by the way, are not pretty – menus, and the user interface, feel like demonstration placeholders, something ripped from early 90s PC games or from a developer tutorial on how to make game menus – but anyway, I couldn’t enter my name without using the keyboard, since no button on the pad will enable the input. I did not think much of it at the time, but when it came to the gameplay, the use of the controller is awkward, due to unresponsive aiming controls. Playing Ares Omega is better using the WASD of the keyboard, while the mouse pointer makes it helpful to hit targets.
Well, I say better, but in reality, blasting robots isn’t engaging, and the designer has implemented ideas that are awkward. One of the biggest issues is the weapon select. When I run out of ammo for a gun, I want to be able to switch to another weapon with ammo and get firing right away. I need quick reflexes to get me out of a sticky situation, yet, for some bizarre reason, when you change weapons in Ares Omega, the marine needs to immediately reload the gun. It’s frustrating when running around, trying to attack a flood of robots, but no bullets to shoot, only to swap and have to wait two seconds to reload a weapon which should already be loaded. Health packs require downtime to use, as the marine sits down and applies it to gain health. This isn’t as bad as the stupid reload problem, but it means you need to be careful, as a robot can finish you off as you heal.
Brain-dead robots have a single attack strategy that revolves around coming at you with no concept of protecting themselves. Dumb robots means easy manipulation, especially when running around wallcover. Even bosses can’t think to outwit you. Controls for the marine are slow, and there is no way to sprint, so the only way to avoid potential danger is by using dodge, but has limited use thanks to the cooldown (few seconds). I wish the game moved at a faster pace, as backtracking from a dead end to the other side of the map is painfully slow due to character speed – the movement upgrade does not help – and since enemies don’t return, you are left with this quiet period for too long. The mechanics feel designed for a different type of game, a slower paced title, and it makes everything lose a sense of urgency. Ares Omega should provide a thrilling attempt at surviving this group of mass murdering metal walkers, except all you get are mediocre mechanics.
There really isn’t much else to say about Ares Omega. No additional content is hidden away, as this is a small title with one mode. While I like the roguelike progression, the rest of the game feels like an prototype, lacking any sort of redeeming presentation, polish or any score tracking to keep you coming back. Mix these issues in with the soulless procedural generated levels and there isn’t anything in Ares Omega that has any redeemable qualities to recommend to anyone but only those that have exhausted all the better games that have come before it.