Platform(s): PS4, PC
Our 50 best games of the year countdown isn’t in any order, we’re just going through fifty of the finest the year has given us. Find out more here.
Housemarque’s penultimate hurrah may just be their finest. If they’re leaving arcade-style games behind, Nex Machina is the perfect example of the kind of throwback goodness they’ve become renowned for throughout the years. A breathless, sometimes exasperatingly difficult twin-stick shooter, it’s a game that too many people have let slip them by this year.
It’s rather weird that some people have been lamenting 2017 as the year when single-player gaming died, especially considering it’s arguably been one of the best ones for offline experiences in recent memory. It may not have the same amount of awards as Breath of the Wild or Horizon Zero Dawn, but if you’re looking for a concentrated dose of adrenaline, Nex Machina deserves just as many plaudits.
The story is, well, it doesn’t really exist. There are aliens, and that’s your lot. That’s not what you’re here for, though. No, what you’re here for is some exhilarating shooting that offers an obscene challenge, which Nex Machina has in abundance.
Waves upon waves of differing enemies are yours to deal with and if you need to boil it down to anything more precise, you’re going to struggle – Nex Machina is incredibly straightforward, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t plenty of hidden depth. For instance, resource management is vital if you want to progress, meaning that you will have to weigh up if you want to use your upgrade before a bastardly boss or use it in a stage which is giving you hassle. All of it is hassle, to be frank. It’s no cakewalk even on the normal difficulty, so anyone who has fond memories of sinking coins into arcade cabinets will likely fall in love.
A lack of content might immediately look like it’s a minus for Nex Machina, but what Housemarque have built here stands up excellently to repeated playthroughs, thanks to the game’s varying difficulty levels. Once you feel like Rambo on one difficulty, it’s time to take things up a notch and realise just how painfully average you actually are. There are also a few great secrets worth uncovering in Housemarque’s simple but beautiful stages, detailed to look like a modern upgrade on its inspirations.
Similarly to its older peers, it’s difficult to tear yourself away from Nex Machina, that “one more try” appeal just too damn alluring. You’ll die, grunt, and go again. The boss won’t beat you, you just need to find a way to dart around him and take advantage of his weaknesses; the greatest thing about Nex Machina –arguably– is that it never feels totally against you. There’s always a solution, usually found after you’ve ground your teeth to dust through frustration.
Nex Machina may not have grabbed the headlines this year, but it really deserved to. It’s an arcade delight, a shot in the arm that reminds you that sometimes the simplest of gameplay experiences can be the most enthralling. While everyone else tried to jump on trends and increase their open worlds, Housemarque kept doing what they’ve always done and delivered a true gem that’s a fitting genre send-off for a studio that you can just tell adores video games.
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