For the past year I've been covering SouthPeak's X-Blades, I noted that it looked like an action title with quite a bit of promise. Originally thought to be an Xbox 360 title, PSXE was the first to give our readers a hint that it's also coming to the PlayStation 3. To be honest, I was fairly excited about the release of the game, and even enjoyed my playtime with it at E3. Now, the game has arrived, and upon playing the final game, my excitement has turned into disappointment. The potential this game once had has been overlooked with redundant gameplay, wrapped around in a shinny wrapper.
X-Blades is a hack-n-slash action game with a few minor action-RPG elements, as well. As Ayumi, the game's heroine, you'll have the ability to use a variety of different weapons, in addition to being able to cast spells, and employ strategic tactics. For starters, your weapon is actually a gun-blade, so you can use it to fire shots during long-range combat by hitting R1, or slash away during close-range combat. Magic spells include healing, fireballs, lightning, ice attacks, earthquakes, and so forth, and they can be mapped to four buttons on your controller.
The story behind the game is sort of like a medley of Lara Croft meets spunky anime chick with an attitude that's all too reminiscent of Tila Tequila, the ever annoying troll whose face has been plastered on MTV and mags for far too long now. X-Blades follows Ayumi, an adventurer who is out on the quest for invaluable stones, after discovering a map that may potentially lead her to them. Forces lurk inside of Ayumi, and she must cope with them, believing that the stones she is in search of are the secret to ridding her of the curse that lies within her body. The presentation of the story is pulled off very stylistically, utilizing the game's unique art-style.
So where does X-Blades fall apart? Well, as I mentioned earlier on, redundancy kills it. From the moment you start the game to the hours that have passed, you never feel like your game has grown or evolved. Sure Ayumi's got a selection of new spells and attacks to use, but the game's combat still feels largely the same. Additionally, the constant barrage of enemies make for some extremely long and tedious battles against dozens of the same creatures, and the boss fights aren't any better. Worst of all, the level design is poor. While 40 levels may sound epic, once you see them, you'll realize they're pretty tiny with nothing worth exploring. Instead of utilizing a more connected world, like that of Uncharted, X-Blades boasts a plethora of tiny fragments that don't amount to much.
I also noticed something extremely unusual about X-Blades, and that's the fact that the game doesn't seem to support rumble. Shooting doesn't trigger a response from the controller, neither does attacking, or even getting attacked. Very poor design choice on the developer's part. And while we're on the topic of controls, I should mention that X-Blades could control a bit tighter, too. As far as value, despite the various game endings, there isn't much incentive to play through X-Blades. With a bit more time in development and better design choices, SouthPeak could've had a much better title on their hands.
Visually, there's no doubt that X-Blades looks stunning. The environments, in particular, look downright beautiful, with gorgeous lighting that fills up the entire image, and a color palette so vivid that it oozes eye-candy. If you think the screenshots are pretty, the game looks even better running on your TV. The back of the box indicates a 1080i and 1080p resolution, although I believe the 1080p is just upscaling. In any case, giving us 1080i with the option of 720p is still very nice. Perhaps, considering how small the levels are allowed Gaijin to utilize such sharp textures, seeing as how the engine is only rendering them on a limited scale. There are some problems, such as Ayumi's animation that could've been done better, in addition to sleeker character detail. I do like the contrast of art styles, and the overall artistry is very solid. Though, I don't quite like the embarrassingly skimpy outfit on Ayumi; that is to say I'd be embarrassed to be caught playing a game where a skinny little anime girl is running around with a G-string. Nevertheless, from a technical standpoint, X-Blades is a very good looking game.
But back to the bad, the audio fails too. If you read my Tila Tequila reference a few paragraphs up, then you should know the kind of voice acting you're in store for. The voice acting is like a shower of grated cheese. And then there's the soundtrack, which is made up of nothing but really cheesy metal/rock tunes, cheesier than what you'll find in Devil May Cry, thankfully you can shut if off. Getting off the topic of cheese, there's also a technical issue with the audio, and it's the sound effects. Pulling off these devastating specials, like an earthquake, may look fierce, but you'd never know it is, considering that the sound effect for it is totally mute, and that goes for a whole bunch of other attacks.
What I once pegged as a sleeper hit has left me disappointed. X-Blades is riddled with potential, but thanks to a series of poor design choices, the game lacks the core fundamentals that made games like Devil May Cry and Heavenly Sword so great. The tiny environments, the tedious and boring combat, poor audio, and lackluster control feel really bring down what could've been a solid game. Despite a nice and polished visual package, X-Blades is not worth the coin.
2/25/2009 Arnold Katayev