One of the arguments that come up amongst video gamers is what generation of games were the best. Surely each of them has their own merits but some carry fonder memories of some consoles, and gaming generations, than others. One person might swear up and down that the Super Nintendo days were the best thanks to their staggeringly incredible line up of RPGs while another might balk at those "unsophisticated" graphics and praise the days that brought us Final Fantasy 7. Then you've got the purists in the corner yelling about cell processors and another gamer yelling about the "good ol' days" of Atari. While I don't really have a preference in this regard, one type of video game that I loved has largely been left by the wayside: the side scrolling shooter.
I honestly don't believe that you can call yourself a hardcore gamer if you haven't at least played through a few of these titles. The blistering difficulty, the frantic gunfights and the overpowered bosses all make for an incredible gaming experience that few other titles can match. Since there haven't been many of these types of games in recent years I have to say that I was incredibly excited to finally get my hands on Omega Five and sit down with it for some time.
The story of Omega Five isn't even present. Yes, you heard right, they didn't even bother trying to paste a story to it. Instead you get a few levels that bear little to nothing in common, besides the enemies, bosses that come out of nowhere and characters with no back-story. What you do get is intense action that never lets up. I have to say that I'm a stickler for stories in most games, I find them just as interesting, and in some genres more essential, than good gameplay. But in a game of this genre the lack of a story just means the game is unburdened by maintaining a consistent narrative. It can do what it wants, when it wants and boy does it.
You will control your chosen character through four fairly lengthy levels. Now while it might sound like the game is short, and it admittedly is, taking about an hour to cut through the whole game. What it lacks in gameplay length it makes up for in replay value. The reason this works so well is that when you turn the game on all you can do is single player arcade mode or local co-op. So you pick one of the characters and even here you can see the replay value: both characters play entirely differently.
Ruby is fast and her weapons are incredibly useful; her anchor weapon is great for bosses. Tempest on the other hand is a bit slower, his weapons are powerful but he can reflect certain enemy attacks back at his attackers. This doesn't even take into account the two unlockable characters. In addition to basic difference in their gameplay each character has three weapons that they can pick up, a Type A, B or C gun. For each character each gun is entirely different and some are more suitable to some levels than others. So you might find Ruby's laser that reflects off walls useful in the underground areas but in open space you might want her Type A for the rapid fire ability.
Then as you beat the game you unlock a variety of challenge modes where you aim for the highest score that you can get. If all that variety doesn't whet your gameplay whistle then you can unlock and play the Arcade and Challenge ++ modes. When taking up these intense challenges you die in one hit as opposed to having the life bar that you normally have. It's chaotic, it's insane and it's only for those who can handle that sort of challenge.
Of course this sort of frantic gameplay wouldn't be enjoyable if the game didn't control so smoothly. You use one analog stick to move, the other to aim / fire your weapons, the bumpers activate your dodge move which takes some health but allows you to ignore all attacks and the triggers activate your bombs. These bombs are powered up by gathering pink chips that are released when you destroy enemies and, when used, will clear a screen of enemies real fast. The controls are easy to pick up and within a few minutes of playing you should be diving between enemy shots like a pro.
Tying all of this together are some beautiful graphics. I don't believe that I'm embellishing when I say that this is definitely one of the most beautiful games on Xbox Live. The character models all look good, as do the enemies and bosses, the explosions are top notch and the levels themselves look great. Admittedly these graphics come at a cost, while there's never any graphical slowdown the screen can sometimes be filled with effects that render you near blind. When a dozen ships are being blow up, some firing shots and other enemies down below firing up lasers things can get crowded on the screen. It only becomes a problem in a few choice areas though and it never really hampered the gameplay itself.
I play a lot of video games, and many of them you play through once, and never touch again. This is most definitely not one of those games. It will stay on my Xbox hard drive, and whenever there is need for a chaotic, but enjoyable, experience it will always be there. Unless you are someone easily put off by blistering difficulty then this is a must own. Heck, the game even has a way to unlock unlimited continues for those of you who don't like too much of a challenge; all it asks is that you keep on playing. Omega Five is definitely worth a look, one of the best Xbox Live Arcade games released to date.