Boomerang X PC Review
I’ve argued endlessly that the length of a game has nothing to do with its quality. I believe an hour-long experience can be a 10/10 and most longer games (30+ hours) usually end up dragging out the tired use of their mechanics and story anyway. I’ve fought on this point even here, in the DarkZero team forums, behind the curtain of the website. A game’s length should depend entirely on the experience the developers are trying to share; it’s a curated decision. But, in this case, the seemingly cut-down run of the campaign is actually the main downside of Boomerang X for me. Not because “I wanted my money’s worth”*, or other weird things people say online not understanding the quality of their time with a title is what actually matters, but because it actually feels like it should have been longer and it just…isn’t. *For transparency, a code was provided in this case but that’s not how I judge content regardless.
And that’s really the only bad thing I have to say about it because this game is a beautiful and thrilling joy-ride that gives the player all the tools needed to become a God and then constantly ramps up the challenge to push their mastery of said abilities beyond anything they could have imagined when starting out. It’s an FPS with heavy focus on movement, akin to the new Doom series or something like ULTRAKILL. Although this time it’s less about ordinance and even more about mobility and, man, is it fun. They went all in on the freeing nature of the controls and nailed it, keeping the weapon (singular) incredibly simple, instead opting for a couple of interesting special powers to spice up combat as the player blinks around each arena hunting targets. It’s endlessly satisfying, and that’s why it hurts so much to witness it end before really even having a chance to grow into itself. What’s there is great – including the wide array of enemy types – but it could have been so much more.
Starting out with nothing but a weirdly powerful forward leap and basic movement, the titular x-shaped boomerang is quickly bestowed upon you. It can be charged and thrown. Then it can be briskly recalled mid-flight. Then you can teleport to it. And it begins. These are the core actions – throwing your only weapon at enemies (making sure to have charged it long enough, if going for a distant shot), and then deciding whether you want to pull it back to go for another or suddenly ‘be’ where the magical shuriken currently is. It sounds cool but what you might not get the strength of without playing it for yourself is that there are no cooldowns for any of this and it is demanded of you to stay in motion most of the time, lest you be hit. So it’s a constant flow chart of remarkably-fast decision-making based on lightning glances at the environment about how to stay up in the air, what is coming from all angles that may need to be dodged, and seeking out/approaching enemies starting with the current biggest threat.
From there a couple of other utilities are dropped into the mix. Besides increasing your life from one hit to seven over the course of the 2-hour-ish first playthrough, the ability to fire off close-range cone blasts and thin piercing snipes becomes indispensable. Not for free, of course. They need to be charged up by meeting certain requirements. The ‘scattershot’ is made available by hitting two targets with a single toss of the boomerang, the ‘needle shot’ is rewarded by hitting three or more with a scattershot or needle shot, and an AOE slam-type-deal is powered by making three hits whilst remaining in the air. These are incredibly useful for wiping out groups of irritating mosquito-like prey, hitting baddies that are way out of your usual range, or for instantly taking out larger, more problematic marks. On top of that there’s also a kind of ‘super’ meter that’s charged via kills and sends the protagonist (whom we never learn anything about) into a short invincible rage, allowing them to dash from creature to creature, potentially wiping an entire wave. And, last but not least, is ‘flux’ – a slow-mo mechanic that can be used almost as much as you’d like, to help catch a break in the heat of a tight fight or to hit a nigh-impossible strike.
Looking over that last paragraph, it may seem like there’s a lot to juggle but it all flows together so seamlessly, never becoming a burden to track. In fact, you don’t need to use them at all if you don’t want to. I actually went through the first time without using flux at all. I basically didn’t realise I had even unlocked the ability and when I finally saw what it did I thought I’d challenge myself instead, for the glory…and the achievements. If you’re a long-time FPS fan, I’d highly recommend doing the same. Having to play so fast forced me to become way better at the game, making subsequent plays (with flux) feel almost like cheating. I played through four times in total, actually. The second time I thought I was on New Game + and beat the game in under an hour, unlocking another achievement and showing me that there was yet another challenge to hit sub-45 mins, which I went and did right after. Then, finally, I beat NG+, too. Which, to be fair, does scale the difficulty up and mix the enemies around enough that it was almost like a whole different set of levels.
There’s only about twelve in total, I believe, culminating in a final boss fight, unlike anything else before it. Each of these stages are made up of sets of waves of enemies, although only those marked with a special icon are required to be eliminated, giving you the choice to spend time taking out the types you don’t like or concentrating on only the necessary assassinations. Playing fast is my preferred style, which also drew me into tackling more achievements. That’s Boomerang X’s fault. I clicked with the mechanics so much I had to squeeze every last bit of gameplay from it because the main story’s offering is simply too shallow. This is the problem I had. Of course the actual narrative was mostly nonsensical interactions with a giant cute centipede who regales you with tales of the ancient civilisation you’re fighting through, which is totally fine, but I needed more ways to make use of the incredibly compelling base systems. I want to be pushed farther. I want to see a race level, more traps that need to be avoided, more bosses, and even crazier enemies than the Horizon Zero Dawn giraffe-things and all the other unique additions with their engaging attacks and hidden sweet spots you need to hit!
This review is already one of my longer ones but I can’t help rambling about this game and how annoying it is to see such a wasted opportunity. To have seen a glint of perfection slip through my fingers, ripped away from by an untimely demise. Boomerang X needs more material. It deserves it. Clearly a lot of love and time were put into crafting this wonderful, crisp foundation but if nothing ever gets built on top it will have all been for naught, and that’s painful to see. The problem with Boomerang X is that I loved it but I can’t even point out even a single great moment as part of my recommendation. It’s a gorgeous outline of a title that doesn’t exist – an enchanting but ephemeral concept that is likely to simply fade out of people’s consciousness, even if they really enjoyed it. There’s currently nothing to anchor it in memory but there’s so much space to play with. I am begging to see more for this one, I just hope it’s not too little too late.