Eisenhorn: Xenos Preview (PC)
First of all I’d like to get the usual disclaimer out of the way. What I played of Eisenhorn: Xenos was a Work In Progress press version of the beginning few sections of the game. As such any and all my complaints may, or may not, be addressed by the time the final version is released sometime in May.
Right. That’s the ‘terms and conditions’ rubbish out the way. Time to actually write something worth properly reading right?
The universe of Warhammer 40K is one that I have long been fascinated by. The nice mix of mechanical sci-fi and the almost magic psychic powers present within marries well with the dark and dystopian style world. The machines and cities you see everywhere in 40k look almost steampunk in nature.
Ok, you get it. I like it.
Unfortunately it’s not a universe I have ever had much time to explore. As I am constantly juggling being both a games reviewer and streamer with a full time (and paying) job, the time I get to spend doing something just for the sheer hell of it is greatly reduced. Having never had the chance to read the books I was interested in learning as much as I could about the world of 40K through the stories they tell and through the eyes of the man who’s name is their title..
Before we get into the meat of ‘wot I fink’, first let’s talk about the developers. Independent studio Pixel Hero Games both developed and published Eisenhorn: Xenos. This marks their second game to date with their debut being another adventure game called ‘Spiral Episode 1’ that released on only the iOS platform back in 2013. Having never owned an iOS device I never played Spiral but the 450,000 downloads it received worldwide seem to speak for themselves. This is a studio with a success under their belt in mobile gaming and they are now looking to bring their talents to the PC. I should also mention that there are to be iOS and Android versions of Eisenhorn: Xenos available later in 2016 so it might be interesting to see how they compare.
So what exactly is Eisenhorn: Xenos then? It’s a third person action adventure game which tells the story of the book by the same name. As such it will be a mostly linear experience with the only choices that allow you to differ from the book is whether you stealth some sections that are full on fights in the book or vice versa. It has full voice acting of all characters with the most notable being Mark Strong voicing Gregor Eisenhorn himself. The dialogue is pretty well written, but you would expect that really as the game is built from a book so all the writing was already done for them. Don’t take that as a downside though. It’s exactly as it says on the tin after all.
The combat has both it’s good and bad sides. While the rhythm based combo system works quite well it’s not as fluid as the combat in something like the Arkham games. However the controls are nice and responsive so there’s never really been a moment where you feel the game screws you over. It is interesting to note that the game is locked to 30fps as default. It can be unlocked in the options menu but it seems an odd choice for a PC game. There is also a ‘Pause For Breath’ mode that lets you pause the action for a short period of time (you seem to refill the timer faster by completing combos in normal combat) and pick targets for near instant effect upon restarting the action. I quite liked its ability to get me out of trouble.
The stealth sections were arguably my favourite part. A stealth action fan at heart they were really nicely done with just enough tricks up Eisenhorn’s sleeve to allow you to distract or attract enemies before sneakily killing them from behind.
As for the animations in general, it was interesting to me that the movement and combat were nice and smooth but the cut-scenes were strangely not. They tended to be a bit wobbly and stutter in odd places. I’m hoping to see this fixed by the time the game comes out next month.
The sound is also quite badly balanced. With some sound effects being overly loud, drowning out the dialogue or sudden jumps in the volume of the music. Again this is something that counts as polish and so will hopefully be fixed by release.
Bringing it back to the good points, the game features a party system that allows you to pick and choose between characters to bring along on missions, The press build only gave access to the two characters that the roster allows for but there are to be many more. You can also upgrade both your and your companions weapons with money you find randomly lying about in chests or gain as drops from fallen enemies. I’m looking forward to seeing how fleshed out this is in the final build as the steam page boasts that there will be “A loot system featuring 100+weapons and accessories” while I had access to only two power swords and three guns.
All in all the game has some real promise despite it’s current failings, most of which could be fixed in time for release. Having never read the book the story alone may be enough to convince me, but I’d have to wait and see what the finished version was like. The £18.99 price tag that was given at time of writing seems like a reasonable ask as the campaign is set to take around 11 hours to complete and the steam version comes with (and I quote) “All future DLC, comprising of new party members, weapons and enemies”
I never got to experience the arena mode as it wasn’t in the press build but it should add more gameplay to an already reasonably lengthy campaign.
Should I be excited about Eisenhorn: Xenos?4>
Yes but with trepidation. If you are a fan of the books, I wonder how much enjoyment you would get from the game knowing the story going in as the game brings nothing new to the table. I’ll be keeping my eye on this one though…