Thursday, July 14, 2016

Spectra Review (XONE)

Spectra looks like F-Zero, but it isn’t a racing game.  And it isn’t a music / rhythm game despite looking like Amplitude or Frequency.  Instead, it is a sort of action arcade game where you ride along a neon-highlighted course to collect point markers while thumping electronic music blares in the background.  After an extremely positive first impression, however, Spectra turns out to be sort of shallow and lifeless.  See our full review for all of the details.

Game Details

  • Publisher: Gateway Interactive
  • Developer: Gateway Interactive
  • ESRB Rating: “E” for Everyone
  • Genre: Action
  • Pros: Amazingly great soundtrack; cool visuals
  • Cons: Shallow gameplay; not enough graphical variety; extremely difficult
  • MSRP: $7.49

Originally released in May 2015, Spectra’s original publisher, Mastertronic, ran into financial troubles which led to the game being removed from the Xbox One Store just a few months after launch.  It was re-released as a self-published title by developer Gateway Interactive in July 2016, however, so you can now buy it again. 

The gameplay in Spectra has you piloting a little craft down a two-lane procedurally generated “road”.  There are yellow bits you have to collect in order to score points, big pink obstacles you have to avoid, and occasionally an orange boost pad that gives you a score multiplier.  If you hit something, you lose the points from that score chain.  Also, there are no borders on the track, so you can fall off, which ends your run.  The idea is to score as many points as you can while surviving all the way to the end of each course. 

That is easier said than done, though, because Spectra is bloody difficult.  The game actually controls just fine, as all you’re doing is just steering with the analog stick, but the course design is absolutely brutal and since they’re procedurally generated you can’t really ever practice them.  The game is so fast and so intense that you have to have 100% concentration just to survive, which leaves you exhausted by the end.  Forget about actively trying for high scores.  It also doesn’t help that the ten courses correspond to the ten songs on the soundtrack and some of the songs are stupidly long.  Shorter songs, and therefore shorter courses, would have helped a ton here.

Instead you have extremely difficult and extremely long courses that wear you out by the end because they’re so intense.  The gameplay also doesn’t ever change or evolve, so the game is exactly the same on your 100th track as it is on the first, which gets kind of old after a while.  Just a couple of changes like having some sort of gameplay variety along the way would have helped a ton here.

The real appeal of the Spectra, though, and what will likely keep you coming back even if the gameplay loses its luster, is the fantastic soundtrack.  The chiptune music from composer Chipzel is absolutely incredible.  Each of the ten tracks is distinct and catchy and memorable and you’ll find yourself playing the game over and over again just to hear them.

The visuals also look very good, but some more variety would have been nice.  Every course has the same exact theme. 

All in all, Spectra is sort of a hard game to really put a fine point on.  The gameplay is disappointingly shallow, but it can be addictive and the awesome soundtrack will keep you coming back long after the gameplay wears thin.  You could always just listen to the soundtrack on YouTube, but the $7.49 asking price for the game is pretty darn reasonable.  Spectra won’t be for everyone, but buy it if you’re looking for a few hours of challenge and some awesome music. 
Disclosure; A review code was provided by the publisher.