Hey, listen: if you know me at all, you know that platformers aren't really my thing. Every once in a while one of them will come along and blow me away (Limbo, Dark, Escape Goat, etc), so I'm always willing to try one out. I enjoy having a new experience and putting myself out there in genres that I'm not necessarily comfortable in because I believe it'll not only make me a better critic and consumer, but also a more well-rounded human being. I guess that's why I still play games anymore, because I still believe that they have the ability to make me grow and learn new things.
A.R.E.S.: Extinction Agenda is not something new or interesting, refusing to expand my horizons in any way. It's an action-platformer that strives to walk, jump and shoot in the steps of Capcom's seminal Mega Man franchise. The problem is that A.R.E.S. isn't up to such a bold task. Not even a little.
The premise is slight and really only serves as an excuse to get you blowing up evil robots. You play a combat specialist robot named Ares. Him and his robot commander, Tarus, are dispatched to the Minos Space Station to investigate why all of the robots on the station have suddenly become murderous. There are little attempts to expand upon the story of A.R.E.S.: Extinction Agenda, but apart from a half-hearted plot twist at the end, A.R.E.S. doesn't really try very hard to tell a tale at all. Which is alright if it's a decent game.
Unfortunately this is not the case. A.R.E.S. inspires to the side-scrolling action-platforming champions like the aforementioned Mega Man, but it completely misses the mark. Games like Mega Man throw insane challenges at you, but gives you the pitch-perfect tools to conquer them. A.R.E.S. demands you navigate ruthless platforming sections, but the jumping is sluggish and unresponsive and the level design is uninspired. It requires you to quickly and efficiently dispatch enemies, but the dual-joystick shooting is chunky and there isn't a lot of variety in the robots you're blasting, with their poor AI making them alternate from being boring to cheap to fight. The game also has a myriad of boss fights which simultaneously tests your action and platforming skills, but obscenely large health bars and unpredictable and practically unavoidable attack patterns make them an exercise in repeated trial-and-error AKA constant frustration.
But generally you won't die because A.R.E.S. health system is broken, taking most risk out of the game. Your character has the ability to heal by spending 100 pieces of scrap that he collects from his fallen foes. The ability then goes on a short cool down after which you can then use it again. The problem is that 100 pieces of scrap is literally nothing in the grand scheme of things. It's so incredibly cheap that even in the hardest of boss fights, I would walk in with over 1000 pieces of scrap and just cheese the fight by standing around shooting him, healing most of the damage back anyway.
The game tries to make resource management a challenging, desperately trying to convince you to use it on something other than healing. There is an upgrade system which you open up by hitting the "Back" button where you can spend scrap to make your guns stronger, or upgrade your abilities that you acquire by defeating the bosses in the game. Most of the upgrades are useless though, as the increase in stats are minimal and I'd rather just use my scrap to pump out health packs forever then to make my pistol slightly better. And regardless, you will earn so much scrap that you can reasonably upgrade the useful stuff and still have a enough left over to heal up with. At least, I did.
The game is short at around 3 hours which really isn't that big of a deal, but the way it tries to convince you that it has more replay value is either annoying or poorly thought out. The game has a Metroidvania aspect where you will not be able to access certain areas, which usually collect data chips that unlock new and mostly insignificant upgrades. The problem with this is that A.R.E.S. is not a Metroidvania game. After you obtain the upgrade from a boss that'll let you get past that barricade earlier, you are shooed along to the next level. To go back you have to quit out of the game, go back to level select, choose the past level, then run all the way through it again until you can finally get treasure. It's simply ridiculous and clumsy and doesn't fit in with A.R.E.S.'s fast-paced action-platformer aspirations anyway.
The game also has a second campaign where you play as Ares' commander, Tarus, but I have no idea why you would unless you really love A.R.E.S.: Extinction Agenda. This is because the Tarus campaign is basically the same thing as the Ares campaign. You go through the same levels, fight the same enemies, defeat the same bosses, and for the most part acquire the same weapons and upgrades albeit in slightly different forms, and while there's a different story, it still isn't any better than Ares' tale. The most profound difference between Ares and Tarus is that Tarus acquires a jet pack instead of the dash move that Ares receives, and holy shit does this jet pack make the platforming sections so much more reasonable to traverse. But apart from that, you're just playing through recycled content again, which is terrible and downright desperate.
At least the game looks and sounds nice. A.R.E.S. has a great 2D/3D art style that gives the game a very distinctive and interesting look, what initially attracted me to the game in the first place. Indeed the game also has some cool character designs, with cool looking enemies and the two playable character being neat takes on eastern mech designs. The soundtrack is perfect adrenaline fuel, crafted by the fine folks at HyperDuck SoundWorks (Break Limit, Dust: An Elysian tale, Penny Arcade’s On The Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 4, etc). The rockin' guitars in the score makes you feel cool and badass, even if the game's mechanics fail miserably at it themselves.
A.R.E.S.: Extinction Agenda aims its sights high, but completely misfires. The poor platforming, janky shooting mechanics and cheap boss fights are the ultimate downfall of this action-platformer, but the ill-conceived economy in the game which makes healing cheap and easy removes a lot of the skill in the combat and boss fights in the game only adds insult to injury. While it does have strong production values, they can't save A.R.E.S.: Extinction Agenda from being just a bad game that tries to pursue greater ones.
TWO OUT OF FIVE
(A bad game with an abundance of flaws which outweigh its positive aspects)