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Nex Machina: Death Machine (PlayStation 4) artwork

Nex Machina: Death Machine (PlayStation 4) review

"Destructive Rapture"

In the distant future, maybe in 2084 or something, humans have advanced so much that intelligent machines and robots do all the work for them. And in a plot twist no one in-universe saw coming, artificial intelligence have decided to revolt and kill off humanity. Now the only hope for the human race is a single person, in a snazzy, colorful suit, who has the ability to blow stuff up. Players take control of such a protagonist within an overhead perspective, blasting and annihilating waves of aggressive robots, of all shapes and sizes, in arena-shaped stages. All this while attempting to save humans littered about the playing field, before huge, imposing enemies put them out of their misery.

I just described Robotron: 2084. I also just described Nex Machina.

Long-time developer Housemarque clearly wanted to make a game that paid homage to the 1982 classic, which greatly helped elevate the twin-stick shooter genre; not stopping there, they even brought in Eugene Jarvis, co-creator of Robotron: 2084, as a creative consultant. Shoot, Nex Machina was even called The Jarvis Project prior to its completion. Slap on some modern 3D graphics, update enemy designs, include a techno-esque, snythwave soundtrack, and just release the sucker, right? Good enough, right? Sure, the game is heavily influenced by Robotron: 2084, but I think Housemarque knew going the verbatim route wasn't going to cut it in this day and age, especially with so many low grade copycats flooding the market.

Not even half a dozen stages in, the game starts straying from its inspiration. Arenas, for example, aren't simply square-shaped, they instead bend, require specific enemies destroyed to open more space, and some even acting as corridors. In one early stage, the importance of using the dash mechanic to cross laser barriers is demonstrated, which also doubles as teaching players to shift through enemies and projectile attacks; a vital tactic, especially if the triple dash power-up has been obtained. This is a given, but holding on to power-ups, from spreadshots and long distance attacking, to acquiring a shield and securing a secondary attack, is also essential for cutting through the chaos. Why the emphasis? Because Nex Machina is the type of shooter where losing your powers from a one-hit kill suddenly makes it, in some instances, a challenge to conquer just one stage.

You'll need to hone these moves, powers, and skills sooner than later, as new enemies and unique attack patterns mount with every couple stages conquered. There's a "spinner" opponent that, upon being destroyed, breaks into two smaller parts and circle-strafes around the arena, all while spitting a trail of pink projectiles in their wake. Some enemies burrow out of the ground, others love to perform a running tackle towards your location, and there are various laser-beam lock-on contraptions to evade. There's also one specific enemy with the power to launch a purple-coated hook that makes it impossible for your protagonist to dash through, which is a nightmare considering the robot is mobile. I need to stress that in any given stage, all these enemy types are attacking you simultaneously, along with the basic hordes and the nuisances that drift towards the humans.

Suffice it to say, your hand-eye coordination has to be ON. POINT. just to survive the later stages. There's going to be plenty of situations where you spawn into a stage, and immediately, start dodging robots in one direction, firing your primary weapon in another, and readying your secondary weapon to fire in a third direction where a human is slowly being killed. It's pure chaos. By the time you reach the latter half of the game, it no longer feels like a Robotron: 2084 imitation and legitimately comes off as its very own bullet-hell beast.

You can play Nex Machina casually... as casual as you can in a frantic, bullet-hell shooter, and be content with the overall product. However, if you're aiming to play the game in a "classic" sense, where dominating with a high score is paramount, then you'll be surprised how in-depth and tactical everything becomes. Hidden survivors, concealed entrances to secret stages, and shrouded beacons are littered throughout the game, encouraging exploration for bigger points. Ramping up the urgency with scoring high is the placement of centipede-esque creatures that temporarily enter and exit certain stages, and you must destroy all pieces of their bodies in order to receive the bonus; often difficult to do if hordes are blocking your path as they leave the arena. Correctly dashing right as you're being transported to the next stage even grants a thousand bonus points!

Having to perform these extra feats, all while being hounded by swarms of death machines, isn't the easiest to pull off. In fact, considering how the game immediately shoots you to the next stage when the final enemy is done in, the amount of restraint needed to best this robot uprising can be overwhelming. You'd have to be in the right frame of mind to take on the frantic action this title offers, especially if you intend to beat all stages in one setting. I've had moments where I was plowing through stages in what felt like a 30-minute slaughter streak... but then saw the timer after a boss fight and realized only seven minutes passed by. Now imagine that sensation through six sets of stages.

It might not be refreshing or original, which is sure to disappoint someone looking for a unique action fest, but the game offers something just as good: an unfiltered, entertainingly-tough, adrenaline-filled experience that successfully meshes oldschool and modern designs in a solid product. If you're aching for this type of chaos and think you're up to the challenge, Nex Machina is an absorbing source of rigorous fun.


pickhut's avatar
Community review by pickhut (January 03, 2018)

Developer M2 appears as a logo at the start-up and in the credits of Dark Witch 3. Wonder just how much "hands-on" involvement did they have with shaping the game outside their credited roles?

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