The shoot ‘em up genre has seen something of a resurgence in recent years, with bullet hell games in particular becoming ever more popular across a variety of platforms. The Xbox One though is lagging behind in this regard with very few titles available that will satisfy fans of the genre. That has now changed with the latest release of Project Root on the console, a game that has already been on other platforms for some time.

What is intriguing about this particular game though is that it goes against some of the fundamental gameplay principles of traditional shoot ‘em up titles. Rather than forcing the player to travel in one direction, such as a vertically or horizontally scrolling screen, Project Root allows for more freedom. You can choose to go in any direction you wish and freely roam the world while controlling the ship from a more established top-down camera angle.

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This interesting change in the gameplay formula makes for a novel way of going about tackling the objectives, allowing you to explore and carry out bonus challenges that you otherwise would not be able to do. It does have its share of problems though. The tasks that Project Root sets are far from inspired and don’t really take advantage of the open world in which they are located. A greater variety in the objectives or if the order they were completed in affected the overall mission, it may have made exploration more rewarding. This is same problem that comes with the XP system used in Project Root. Killing enemies and completing tasks hardly raises your experience at all, making upgrading your ship and roaming the level looking for enemies a tedious grind.

Other gameplay problems also present themselves because of the unique way in which Project Root works. Due to the fact that your ship is located at the bottom of the screen rather than in the middle and because enemies can approach from all direction thanks to the open world nature of the game, it leaves you constantly being killed by ships that instantly appear behind you. This is magnified by the enemies being able to absorb large amounts of damage before dying, removing any chance for you to kill them before they simply run into you. This of course also goes against the idea of shoot ‘em ups testing your reactions and twitch gameplay as the ships and vehicles attacking you are effectively just bullet sponges.

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The controls themselves feel slow and unresponsive the majority of the time, while the two main weapons you will use throughout the campaign are severely limited. The mortar weapon in particular seems to rely on a good deal of luck rather than precise targeting. This all adds up to a game that feels as if you can’t control exactly what you are doing – an unforgivable sin in a genre that requires such precision.

The developer also seems to have done everything possible to make the game as difficult as possible. Unfortunately though, in pursuit of increasing the challenge they have sacrificed much of what could have made Project Root fun. There are no checkpoints or save points in any of the levels, meaning that if you die you will lose all progress. With missions lasting anywhere between 30 minutes to an hour you will no doubt experience plenty of moments of frustrations when you inevitably die and have to start a mission over after putting in 50 minutes of work. Even lowering the difficulty to easy does little to make the game fairer, especially when it takes so much effort to meaningfully upgrade your ship.

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There’s still a certain amount to like about Project Root though. For starters, the visuals are sharp and striking. The various environments are varied enough that you’ll never grow bored of where you are and will enjoy exploring the map. Explosions that accompany the destruction of enemy bases and vehicles look great, giving a real sense of the damage you are capable dishing out. One issue that plagues the title in terms of the visuals is the on screen text that provides information on your current objectives as well as details on the plot. The text is so small compared to the rest of what’s shown on screen that it can be difficult to understand exactly what is going on in terms of the story. On the other hand, the audio will severely disappoint. The soundtrack is completely uninspired and appears to just be a loop of two or three separate tracks.

It’s possible Project Root has tried to do much in combining the super-fast pace of twitch gameplay based shoot ‘em ups with an open world exploration game. The idea certainly shows some promise but the implementation leaves plenty to be desired, with elements from both genres thrown together in a way that simply doesn’t work. Combine that with the uncompromising difficulty, imprecise controls and abysmal audio and you have a game that is hard to recommend to all but the most dedicated shoot ‘em up fans.

This review was based on a retail copy of the game for Xbox One provided by the publisher through an Xbox Live code.

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