At PSX 2016 this year, the popular Finnish developer, Housemarque, unveiled the latest in its long lineage of arcade shooters. With titles such as Resogun, Super Stardust HD, and Alienation under its belt, the studio's got a lot to live up to, but it seems that the new game, Nex Machina, will rise to the challenge. We got to play through the game's first level, and came away feeling excited and optimistic for what's to come.
The story is centred around a "what if?" situation based on the modern day. Humans have become so addicted to their mobile devices and technology that they have become unable to take their eyes away. With the humans being mostly out of the picture, the sentient machines that they've built have decided to rise up and take over the world, killing all the humans they can in the process. You play as the lone (assumedly human) hero, whose sole mission is to destroy all the machines and save the humans from themselves. A fascinating premise to be sure, but it obviously is only serving as a means to an end.
The real draw here is of course the gameplay, which feels like the culmination and marriage of everything Housemarque has done in its past shooters. Levels are broken down into a series of sub-stages in which you freely run around and blast away at enemies, and you're whisked away to the next zone as soon as the last machine explodes in a flurry of gyrating voxels. While fighting the machine menace, you must also be on the lookout for humans playing on their phones, and various powerups that improve your odds of success.
What's immediately striking about all this is how fast it unfolds. Housemarque is known for making some high-octane action games, but Nex Machina ratchets it up to another level. You're constantly on the move, outmanoeuvring increasingly more aggressive and numerous enemies in an effort to eke out a victory. Couple this with the utterly unforgiving manner in which a mistake is punished by instant death, and one would think that Nex Machina is a game that only a certain kind of advanced gamer could appreciate, but the most impressive element is how well balanced all of it is. It's remarkable how in control one feels even when buried in a hopeless swarm of enemies; as long as you keep moving and keep shooting, there's a good chance that things will turn out all right.
And, aside from the stellar gameplay, this is a pretty game to witness. Resogun took Housemarque games to a new visual level with its introduction of voxel-based models and enemies, and Nex Machina goes one step further. Environments and enemies will regularly crumble into dozens of multicoloured, independently moving cubes, and it makes for a diverse and energetic visual experience. It never feels like there's too much action on screen, yet there's a lot of information to be taking in all at once.
All told, Nex Machina is shaping up to be quite the love letter to fans of Housemarque's shooters. While there's nothing here that hasn't strictly been done in its predecessors, the various mechanics and gameplay elements are polished to the nth degree, and feel just as addictive as ever. We're looking forward to what's in store for Nex Machina, as it's shaping up to be Housemarque's finest foray yet in the genre.
Are you a Housemarque faithful? Will you be picking up Nex Machina the second it deploys? Look away from your smartphone and into the comments section below.