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Destructoid review: Onslaught

6:00 PM on 03.13.2009 // Jonathan Holmes

When the Wii was first announced, a lot of people were like, "ZOMG! Swing a controller like it's a really sword! All my dreams have been fulfilled!" That's not how I felt. The first thing that got me interested in the Wii was the fact that its weak guts and lack of a hard drive would encourage smaller games to come to the console. I like games that take risks, and just like with films, games with smaller budgets tend to have more freedom to take those risks.

The second thing that got me excited about the Wii was the console's pointer controls. I've yet to feel truly comfortable with most home console FPSes, and that has everything to do with the "artificial" feel that comes from the dual analog control setup.

Why am I talking about all this? Well, because Onslaught, Hudson's latest WiiWare release, actually combines the two things that got me most excited about the Wii in the first place: low-budget risk-taking and pointer-powered FPS controls. I should love this game just for existing, right?


Hit the jump for the full review.

Onslaught (WiiWare)
Developer: Hudson Entertaintment
Publisher: Hudson Entertainment
Released: February 23, 2009
MSRP: 1000 Wii Points

I don't love Onslaught. Not even a little bit. That doesn't mean I'm saying that you shouldn't buy it, but I'm telling you right now, it's hard to imagine this being anyone's game of the year, or even game of the month. 

It takes a little while to find out that you don't love Onslaught. For the first twenty minutes that I played the game, I really, really liked it. That's not quite right; I didn't know it well enough to say that I liked it, but I did know I was attracted to it. For a $10 WiiWare game, it looks really great. The frame rate runs at a smooth 60 fps, the game's weapons and character designs are cool, and the monsters coming at you actually look pretty polished. As for gameplay, pointing at something, pulling a trigger, and watching it explode is fun. In the game's first level, you spend almost the entire time shooting alien bugs and watching them pop. As stupid as it is, it's hard not to like.

The game's plot is about space marines stranded on an alien planet; their only real motivation is to kill bugs and not die. At first it feels a little like a watered-down Halo rip-off, but after the first half hour, it feels a lot more like a cross between Metroid Prime and Geometry Wars. Like those two games, you rarely end up fighting against stuff that can actually shoot back at you. Your enemies come at you, you shoot them, and that's pretty much it. To keep things interesting, you get to start off with four different guns (rifle, SMG, shotgun, and rocket launcher). Ammo is limited for all of these weapons, and the only way to get more is from random drops from dead bugs, so you'll have to be fairly careful with your aim, lest your cannons run dry. You'll also want to keep your gun fully loaded at all times, because you don't want to have to reload in the middle of a "FABULOUS" combo.

That's where the Geometry Wars aspect comes in. Onslaught is a game played for points, and the easiest way to get points is to rack up combos. Just like in Geometry Wars, you'll spend most of your time strafing around groups of enemies, keeping your aim trained on them and simultaneously keeping them at arm's length while you blow them away. Unlike Geometry Wars, there isn't a lot of strategy to killing your foes en masse. The only thing that makes racking up combos feel special is the now-infamous "That's why you're still a kid!" vocal cue that chimes in EACH AND EVERY TIME YOU GET A COMBO. It's completely nonsensical (who is that disembodied voice, and why are they chastising you for being good at the game?) and I'm sure it will get on a lot of people's nerves, but for me, this charmingly stupid voice-over idea is a shining light of personality in a game that is otherwise totally generic.

There are a few other touches that make the game feel like more than just another FPS. Just like in Aliens, the blood of the bugs you're blasting is toxic, and if you shoot them at close range, you're going to get wet. After a few seconds, the blood starts to burn you, which requires you to wipe it off with your left arm via a quick shake of the nunchuck. You also have grenades and a laser whip at your disposal for shorter-range combat, but neither play well in combos, so you won't be using them a lot. 

The game is made up of 13 missions, which, as they unfold, reveal some new bugs (hoppers, flyers, tanks, etc.), as well as slightly different environments (cave, daytime desert, nighttime... sand dunes), a cool tank-type vehicle, and a few bosses. Each mission is timed and ranked, and in order to unlock all the weapon upgrades and extra difficulty levels, you'll have to get an "S" on all of them. It's a tried and true tactic to add some replay value, something the game desperately needs due to its three-hour length, but it doesn't really work. The new weapons are just like the old weapons, only stronger, which balances out against the new difficulties being the same as the old ones, only with more durable enemies.

Onslaught's only genuine replay value comes from its online mode. You can play ranked or unranked matches against up to three other random players across the globe, or play against specific people via swapped friend codes. My experience with playing matches online has been great; opponents have been located fairly quickly (about 30 seconds max to get a full game on) and I didn't experience any lag. My only problem with playing the game online is that shooting strangers isn't really part of the equation. All online games take place in one of the campaign mode's 13 missions, and you play for points, not for killing other players. It's actually more fun to think of the mode as a co-op experience, because just like in campaign mode, if the bugs win, it's game over. Teaming up with strangers to defend space stations from giant bugs is fun, but it would have been nice to have the option that literally every other online FPS ever made gives you: deathmatch. 

After giving it some thought, I actually can see how Onslaught could be someone's game of the year, but only if that someone was very young, and/or has never played a online FPS before. Onslaught feels like the slow start to what could have been a pretty cool retail-quality title, but just when you feel like it's really about to pick up, the game ends. The online mode does a lot to make up for that, as it does provide plenty of replay value for leaderboard-climbing high score junkies, but the lack of genuine strategy needed to achieve said scores keeps online matches from ever becoming truly addicting. I don't regret buying the game, as my time with it has been consistently fun, but I don't see myself picking it up again unless I have absolutely nothing else to play.

Score: 6.0 -- Alright (6s may be slightly above average or simply inoffensive. Fans of the genre should enjoy them a bit, but a fair few will be left unfulfilled.)

Jonathan Holmes, Bad Joke Uncle
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