7strains : The Infectious

Survive the onslaught of strains with nothing more than rocks at your disposal! 1-4 player co-op and versus, 16 challenges, 4 survivor difficulty modes, 7 unique enemy strains, 26 customizing menu options, random terrain generation, high scores, and 16 music tracks! Play the challenges with your friends or setup a unique experience within the custom skirmish settings.

It is unfortunate how much we rely on on-line connections for multi-player these days. It seems that people move further and further apart, and local multi-player just isn't feasible as it used to be. Perhaps that's because I'm old and all of my friends have since mostly married and moved their separate ways, but it does seem to be a prevalent attitude given how much people on the Internet bemoan the lack of on-line multi-player in reviews and forum posts. I note this because 7strains: The Infectious essentially is a multi-player twinstick shooter right down to forcing everyone to join a lobby even during single play being reviewed by someone unable to play it on the terms it demands to be played.

Initially 7strains began its life as a rather unique playing twinstick shooter which forced players to cease all movement to aim and shoot at seven different enemy types using limited ammo. While that is no longer the case with a recent major update, the player still must pick up rocks to fire at these strains and will look to reclaim them in order to be able to shoot again. In single player this proves to be annoying to have to pick up expended ammunition; I can understand the desire to avoid blanketing the screen in laser fire as per most twinstick shooters and trying something different which requires more deliberate shots, but I don't find that works well in a single player game in which the player is tasked with wiping out a horde of enemies. I suspect this could be more enjoyable in multi-player since having extra people would both make it easier to control the horde while also enhancing the rock reclaiming aspect as everyone would be forced to compete for available ammo. It should make for an interesting dynamic and the primary reason to recommend the game but unfortunately is one lost on me, the single player.

The game still carries over its desire to force players to remain still which firing by granting a longer range for the rocks to be thrown, but in practice I found the concept in the originally released game too cumbersome and now in this patched version a worthless benefit. The diminished range of a mobile shot is plenty enough to deal with the threats, especially with the extended range granted by holding down a face button or remaining motionless not being much of a benefit to offset being a sitting duck. Factor in having to chase after a now further away rock and having to dodge more threats just to reload, and there appears little use for aiming method. It doesn't help that the seven different strains represented in the game are easily dismissed with the standard short ranged attack. If those pesky dodging orange strains could be taken out from afar, for instance, then perhaps sniping would find a use in the game. As it is, far too much of the strategy is as simple as getting a strain alerted to close in on the player and then firing within range. While this strategy is less effective when surrounded, I found the large rock formations to provide plenty of cover, and the AI lacks the intelligence to wander the field so that these barricades don't result in such safe areas to hide.

Most strains pose little threat to the player although the variety is welcomed. The main threats come from the orange strains which dodge rocks from afar, but those are easily dispatched like the rest with a close range shot. The same goes for the gray strains which are extremely fast but put an easy target on themselves with how they make a beeline for the player. The larger brown strains take four hits to dispatch and alert nearby colonies of the player's presence, but they don't even pursue the player and can be left alone until the coast is clear to take them down. The strains' behavior are likely best suited to competitive multi-player where players can alert a crowd and sic them onto a local opponent. It's unfortunate that on-line multi-player isn't available because while the unique design of 7strains bares playing, the only way it appears to live up to its potential is playing with other people, a feat not so easily done for some these days. The variety of settings and innovative play make for a game worth checking out for those with local friends, but the single player experience feels hollow and without purpose.

The presentation is nice if simplistic, but graphics definitely aren't a selling point when the game is composed primarily of circles and ovals. Cover artwork aside, 7strains isn't much to look at, and I wish there was more to it than just colored circles over a lime green wallpaper. The theme suggests infections, so a more cellular take on the graphics and enemy design would be more captivating. Only one strain, the green ones, duplicate, and the rest just appear over time. All others just appear out of thin air, and their presence on the field affects neither the environment or the arrival of other strains from my experience. The simplistic presentation and lack of foresight in its scope and goals make 7strains an average twinstick shooter at best but is possibly redeemed thanks to its innovative takes on the genre. The Infectious is a decent entry into the Xbox Indie library but one best reserved to those who can take advantage of its local only multi-player and perhaps enjoy the wealth of game settings the title offers for its scoring focused arcade gameplay.

★★★☆☆
August 28, 2010
July 12, 2010 | 80 points
Developer | Video | Download

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