A common accolade and complaint leveled at the Shoot ’em Up genre games (sometimes called SHUMPs by people with an affinity for acronyms). Plenty of games have paved the way in the years since the days of Spacewar! and Space Invaders. The game type usually has two pillars that every game that aspires to the genre must follow: the player must shoot as many enemy units as possible while avoiding sizable return fire or numerous obstacles. I’ve played my fair share of SHUMPs in my day, from arcade classics like Swoop and Asteroids to modern gems like Geometry Wars and Ikaruga. A particular favorite of mine was a sidescroller on the Sega Genesis called Sol-Deace that my dad picked up in a bargain bin somewhere. It had all the staples: from near-impossible to avoid waves of enemies to upgrade-able weaponry. Games like this set the standard for those that follow.
I sat down to review Opqam’s “Project Root” for Xbox One with a set of expectations in mind. This SHUMP was rooted in the traditions of the genre, featuring a almost top-down view (actually it was angled more like a high third-person perspective) with the expectation that you would never stop shooting. It hits a lot of the points one would hope a modern SHUMP would, but as I played I found it did little more than hit the minimum expectations.
The game, technically speaking, is quite sound. The graphics are very good for what some expect from these types of games. Environments are detailed and often are straight up beautiful, with layered backgrounds, and plenty of explosions and gunfire effects to fill out the space on the screen as you play. In fact, I would argue the graphics actually stand in the way of making this game enjoyable. This concept still has me a bit baffled but the moment I booted the game up I realized that the detailed environments coupled with an odd camera angle, constant movement, and camera rotation, made me queasy. The tutorial level alone is a huge barrier to entry, as it looks like a grid from Tron, only layered and complicated. I had to look away from the screen at points just to alleviate the dizziness it brought on. This alone may be reason enough not to recommend it to other people. I will say, however, that the seizure warning that flashes as the game boots is delightfully ironic.
I’d love to go into detail on the game’s music or sound effects, but they were so plain and minimal compared to the visuals that I was left bored. The music was just a few jingles on repeat, and the sounds were totally uninspired for a game made in the modern era.
The game puts you in control of a futuristic aircraft with air and ground based weaponry at your disposal, as well as various weapon upgrades and power-ups. Movement of the ship comes via the left joystick while the right rotates the camera around the craft in a clockwise or counter-clockwise motion. The triggers activate the two types of weapons, but the weapon cursor that indicates where ground weapons hit is easily lost in the detailed backgrounds and is often inaccurate. It makes aiming the craft that much more difficult, and often forces you to neglect your evasive duties. Enemies range from differing types of aircraft, ground vehicles, and stationary weapons. The enemies aren’t particularly different from other SHUMPs, but some are gravely overpowered and feature homing weapons that cannot be outrun, so you’ll die often. Sometimes I even took fatal shots from enemies that were off-screen… which is annoying on a level I cannot accurately convey in text. Seriously, I don’t rage quit often, but this trend had me putting the controller down several times. Eventually I stopped trying to kill enemies and just seek out the story objective so I could finish the level as quickly as possible.
Speaking of story, I wish I could tell exactly what was going on. The lack of voice overs in games usually doesn’t bother me, but this game sure needed it. The game tries to tell you the story while you are playing, which does not work well at all. The dialog between characters appears in a text box near the bottom right of the screen, and is usually a paragraph in length. It’s near impossible to read while playing, unless you are happy with dying while you scan the text. I’d like to think it has a competent story, but I ended up just skipping everything because the majority of it I had no chance to read.
It’s a shame such a technically sound game falls short on the fun. This had the makings of a good shooter, with a number of varied weapons, environments, and enemies. The thing that stood in its way seemed to be the failure to capture the fun that core game play of this genre requires. Skilled and unskilled players alike will not find the difficulty spikes from unavoidable enemies worth their engagement, ultimately leaving this game a pretty shell of the genre it represents. Don’t play this game, especially if you enjoy SHUMPs. There are many better titles out there worth your time and money.
If you can, go find someone selling retro games and get Sol-Deace. Best bargain bin purchase ever.
Project Root was provided to LevelSave for review purposes and was played on the Xbox One. It is available for Xbox One, PC, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation Vita.