|System: X360 (XBLC)||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Mommy's Best Games||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: N/A||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Nov. 19, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: N/A||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Robert VerBruggen
Combine the 2-D run-and-gun gameplay of Contra, the double-joystick shooting of Geometry Wars, and the hyper-masculine ethos of Gears of War, and what do you get? Something truly disturbing: Weapon of Choice, one of the most violent and captivating games to come to the Xbox 360's download service. There's no way to tell it's an Xbox Live Community title, rather than a full-fledged, Microsoft-vetted Xbox Live Arcade entry, and it's easily worth the 400 point ($5) asking price.
Instead of progressing through the game in a linear series of levels, you choose from a total of four different paths. Whenever you begin playing, you'll be launched to your mission's start point, and first, most players will, by instinct, run off to the right and start killing stuff. You're fighting off an invasion by an alien race, and a fork in the road soon confronts you: you can do what your human military commander tells you, or you can obey the advice of another alien race purportedly trying to help you. Once you've played those two paths, you can try running to the left at the game's outset to find two more endings (to which you'll be chaperoned by the mysterious hologram Agent Axon).
Each play-through takes only about 15 or 20 minutes once you get the hang of it, but it doesn't take much time to realize how innovative this game is. For one, the controls are brilliant. You'll move your character with the left joystick and shoot in all directions with the right, an intuitive system that served Geometry Wars well and feels just as natural in this completely different setting. The left trigger jumps, which takes a little getting used to but becomes second nature quickly. The right trigger switches your gun's mode of fire, and the right bumper switches to a secondary weapon. That's pretty much it.
Also, there are plenty of minor but clever tweaks to the basic Contra gameplay model. One is that instead of a fixed stock of "lives," you have a number of "operatives" to play as until all are dead. Each has a unique weapon (weapon of choice, get it?), a standard gun that's good for long-ranged shots, and a special way of double-jumping. The unique weapons shoot lots of fun contraptions, ranging from what appears to be a long string of chainsaws to little robots that in turn fire lasers (which you can aim with the right stick, concentrating multiple beams on a single enemy). The special double-jumps are a lot less useful, but sometimes help in tight spots, if usually by accident. Each character also has a "Spiderpack" that automatically grabs hold of nearby surfaces (sometimes when you'd rather it didn't), enabling you to climb walls and walk on ceilings.
You start the game with very few operatives available; the rest are MIA and awaiting rescue at various points in the game, for a total of seven. When you find a downed operative, you can carry him to the end of the level, thus unlocking him for use and in effect increasing the number of "lives" you have (both in the current game and subsequent ones). Similarly, when you get hit, you can use the next operative to pick up the one that took damage, and if you make it to the end of the level (which will usually require surviving an epic boss battle), you'll start the next with all your operatives again.
Another tweak, called Death Brushing, significantly mitigates the run-and-gun genre's notorious difficulty; you won't need (or, so far as we know, find) a 99-lives code here. Whenever you get perilously close to an enemy, the background goes black, and an ominous skull appears. The action goes into slow-motion, and your character gains a little speed relative to the alien enemies. By running away from the danger and firing toward it, more often than not you can avoid taking the one hit needed to down your operative.