The Basics: She should have died. Consumed by the maelstrom; a spot of darkness before the hideous, bloated sun that loomed over the barren planet where her sentencing took place. The witch Aguira, behind whose angelic visage lurks a twisted murderer on the scale the galaxy has never seen before, leaving the dust of shattered planets and the screams of countless beings in her wake. You were her appointed executioner, her guide to the hellish afterlife that she had earned for her crimes...only something went wrong. A strange meteor struck her ship just as she was about to be launched into the void, and the space around your fighter was suddenly filled with a maze of massive machinery to prevent your escape. Now in the distance appear unfamiliar fighters coming to seal your fate...
After such a stunning pre-rendered opening, it's time to come to grips with the gameplay if you don't want to die in a screen-shaking explosion. In form, Xyanide exists somewhere between an on-rails shooter and a more traditional shmup. The screen scrolls down long, complex corridors with a great sweeping camera moves and multiple paths reminiscent of Panzer Dragon Orta, though its overall sense of style is closer to the Dreamcast shooter Borderdown. It's full of futuristic machinery and sleek metallic ships (with things getting more organic in the later levels) just begging to be turned into lovely explosions. Coupled with a soundtrack that submerges itself into the game so smoothly that it can sometimes go almost unnoticed; from the mix of soft and hard slowly rising in intensity during the opening, to the Rez-like rhythms that serve as a compliment to the first level.
Basic gameplay finds its roots in the arcade classic Robotron 2084, with one stick controlling movement and the other directing your bullet stream of death. The nature of which is dependent on what "path" towards evolution your ship is currently on. Organic fires out in a spread that's ideal for mowing down schools of small ships, but for their bigger brothers you'll need to switch to the concentrated blasts of mechanical, which is always just a trigger tap away. Much like Orta, enemies will sometimes drop mutators that will improve your ship on one of these two paths, earning you an increasing variety of special attacks, and eventually evolving the ship into a newer and more powerful forms. Also like Orta, there are lock-on missiles to paint targets with when normal shots just aren't covering it. Tactics you'll need against the massive sub-bosses and the even more powerful end of level bosses.
Xyanide provides a cargo load of features to aid you in this mission of justice. Two player cooperative play, custom soundtracks, five difficulty levels (some needing to be unlocked), level select, online scoreboards, and the possibility of future downloadable content. Though even at its lowest difficulty, it's the challenge, demanding quick reflexes and an instinctive command of the game's systems, that keeps Xyanide from becoming a short ride.
What do we think? It's fun. It's tough. It's filled explosions that put even the most spectacular fireworks to shame. What more does a shooter need to be? Xyanide may borrow a number of its gameplay elements, but the way they come together feels less like a cobbled pile of mechanics and more like a singular solid system that lets you artfully switch fighting modes and launch special attacks as swarms of fighters fill the screen. While there will never be anything more fitting that the soundtrack that was created for the game, there's something unique about rushing down a corridor, blowing up every enemy in sight, with Paranoid Android playing softly in the background. The current build does have a few rough edges, for instance the missile lock-on is a bit awkward to use in the heat of battle, but overall it's a fast-paced, unique experience that fills a gaping hole in the Xbox's game library.
Xyanide is also in development for the PSP, GBA, and N-gage.