Aqua is the latest action shooter title to be released on the Xbox Live Arcade. Developed by Games Distillery, a fairly new game developer for the Xbox Live Marketplace, Aqua follows the story of Captain Benjamin Grey of the Emperean Navy and his involvement in the Gothean war. Together with his trusted engineer, Polly Edison, they must sail around the treacherous oceans destroying the Gothean fleet and saving the Emperean Empire from total annihilation.
Aqua’s single player campaign takes place across nine episodes containing 3-4 for each and sees the player take control of Captain Grey’s vessel. It is small compared to most of the ships the player will meet while exploring the vast oceans, but as we all know, size does not matter. The game offers the player a nice selection of weapons including a railgun, flamethrower and missiles and in addition to these there are also mines and torpedoes that can be fired separately. As the player progresses through the game, more weapons and upgrades are unlocked and a choice of three different ships becomes available. The Speedboat, as you can imagine, is faster than the other ships but not as powerful, whereas the Gunboat has the most powerful weapons but is slower. For the undecided, the Cruiser maintains a balance between a decent speed and moderately powerful weapons. Although you would think certain boats would be more suitable for specific tasks, I found myself only really using the Gunship once I unlocked it. I also found that after obtaining an upgrade that gives the ability to place a damage over time effect on the enemy, I was able to defeat large amounts of enemy ships quickly by just spinning around and attacking them all with my flamethrower while they died rapidly from this after effect.
Most of the game’s chapters require the player to simply work their way through waves of enemies and after a while it can start to feel a little repetitive. The game does mix it up every now and then - the player is sometimes charged with protecting allied ships or structures throughout the world - but sadly, these extra objectives don’t add much to the overall gameplay. There are a few collectables in the game, which are required for an achievement, but I managed to find 90% of them in my first play through. Upon completion of the game the player has the option to start a new game or to play any of the episodes under the extreme difficulty option. Some of the later episodes in the game are indeed extremely difficult, however, with my flamethrower technique I made short work of even some of the most ‘extreme’ encounters.
There is a multiplayer option in Aqua but unfortunately it doesn’t let you go online and the modes that are available aren’t terribly exciting. The two modes are Arena where you can battle your friends, and Chase, where you simply race your ship past checkpoints. If these modes were available online, with a few achievements attached, I could see myself playing them often but as it stands I doubt I’ll actually play them again. The other mode available to the player aside from the campaign and multiplayer is Skirmish. In this mode you must survive for as long as possible against large waves of enemies and it provides an extra challenge for those who found the campaign easy.
Graphically, the game looks amazing and it is obvious that the developers have paid a lot of attention to detail. The explosions look fantastic and I thoroughly enjoyed blowing up the other ships, and using the flamethrower is also a real treat for the eyes. The audio also impresses with clear and crisp sound effects and a terrific voice cast.
Overall, Aqua has a solid single player campaign which will last a couple of hours with great visual and audio, but unfortunately, the lack of online multiplayer and very few modes for local games means that you might not be too tempted to play the game again after finishing the campaign. At certain points in the game you unlock some avatar items and gamer pictures but aside from these the lack of replay value means that Aqua, despite being an enjoyable game to play, perhaps isn’t really worth the 800 Microsoft Points price tag.
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