|If there's something to be said for straightforward hack-and-slash games that don't pretend to be anything else, there's a whole lot you can say about X-Blades, the upcoming action title from Russian developer Gaijin Entertainment. In X-Blades you control Ayumi, a scantily clad treasure hunter whose perilous line of work requires mowing down dozens of critters with dual miniswords--dual miniswords that double as pistols, mind you. But the feature that really sets this game apart from others in the genre is the heavy focus on the elemental qualities of your enemies and unlockable attacks.
Ayumi isn't a terribly big fan of clothing.
X-Blades isn't heavy on plot, but there is a thin layer of storytelling to help explain why you're cutting through hordes of mysterious enemies (if not why you're wearing so little while doing it). Ayumi is out to find a magical artifact, an orb imbued with a great deal of power. Along the way she discovers that she is somehow linked to this orb through a mysterious force she doesn't fully understand. The game's plot is unfurled in a series of anime-style cutscenes. We saw only one of these, but it was quite stylish.
The controls in X-Blades are simple. You've got a button for attacking with your blades that you can tap repeatedly for a combo, and another pair to lock on and fire with your pistols. The pistols just so happen to be part of the blades, further streamlining the basic combat. But what complicates things are the spells you can unlock when you collect enough enemy souls. Once your proverbial soul wallet begins to bulge, you can pop into the pause menu to purchase a new spell. The first one we went with was the earthquake attack, which has Ayumi jumping high into the air and smashing down to create a halo of destruction on the ground--a fine way to clear out a gang of enemies too pesky to take on with just your blades. Powering these spells is what the game calls "rage," which is essentially mana, or magic points. You build up your rage by attacking more and more enemies, or by happening upon red crystals scattered throughout the temples and ruins that make up the game's landscape. Rage spells are mapped to any of the buttons on the controller not taken up by the sword and gun attacks.
Basic spells such as earthquake work well against the early enemies that have no elemental affinity to speak of, but soon enough you'll encounter trickier foes that can only be taken down with a specific type of attack. The first one we ran into was an ethereal ice spirit roaming around the game's introductory ruins level. This ice enemy was immune to our basic attacks, the blade and pistol, so we had to go in and unlock the ranged fireball spell. Sure enough, the ice spirit went down with nary a whimper once we took to using the fireball attack. This spell also came in handy during the one boss fight we encountered, against a bipedal wolf creature known simply as "The Light." Of course, there are many other elemental qualities to choose from besides fire, and you can even upgrade your bullets if you so choose.
X-Blades has yet to be given a firm release date, but you can expect its arrival later this year. Interested players will have a selection of 360, PlayStation 3, and PC versions. We'll bring you further coverage on X-Blades as more information becomes available.