In the darkest reaches of inner space, deep beneath the waves, a lone submariner is struggling to stop a disaster. A disaster that has big bug eyes, lurid green scales and is looking for lunch!
X-Out is the first of a new wave of underwater shoot-'em-ups: one where the aliens have got bored of flying through space just to get fried, and decided to take a dip instead.
The core game is a scrolling firefight through undersea caves, killing so many slime-featured creatures that it's easier to weigh the carcasses than count the points. The locations include ice caves and volcanoes, and as the playing area's three screens high, the right path is often less than obvious. Wave after wave of aquatic exotica glide towards you firing away, and you've got to blow them fin from fin while keeping well clear of the walls. Throw in some gun-meltingly hard mid- and end-of-level nasties, and you know you're onto a good, if not altogether safe, thing.
That, however, is only half the story, and the best of X-Out comes first. In ordinary shoot-'em-ups, you only get to "power up" with special weapons as the stage progresses whereas here you get these powers right at the off. The game opens in an underwater arms and sub dealers where you're given the choice of all the firepower a growing psycho-killer could wish for.
First, you choose a ship. There are four basic models, each with differing attributes: the cheaper it is, the fewer weapons it can carry, but the more you can afford (nine being the maximum). Then you get down to the heavy business of weapon selection and positioning them on the craft. Everything from basic shot strength to the number and style of protective satellites you carry is changeable, and of course certain combinations are better for certain sections. More shops follow en route where you can spend all those lovely points you earned getting there.
Of all the weapons on offer, the ones you can't refuse are the drone satellites. Once placed on the ship, they fly in a pre-determined pattern set by you - handy if you happen to know attacks will come from a set direction on the next stage... And there are some fun, if illogical, little flame numbers. The fire claws squeeze together, frying all in between, while the flame-thrower sends a blast far ahead of you. Energy walls and missiles are also available, just to add a little more spice.
These innovations would all be in vain if the graphics couldn't deliver, but you've no worries there. One of the major reasons for an early death is stunned inaction due to the array of enemies, their quality, and the vast number flitting toward you at any one time. And, no matter how frantic the action gets, they just don't slow down!
The graphics may be wonderful but the sound isn't so great. You're limited to the usual ongoing spot-effects as you wade into another batch of aliens, but that's your lot.
The ships move fast, which is just as well as everything goes critical real quick. The drone ships are initially off-putting, causing more deaths than they prevent, but once further into the level they cease to be a luxury and become a necessity. Some special weapons too can cause confusion, as they need extra key commands to activate.
Shoot-outs need some magical spark to set them ahead of the pack. X-Out's ship designer system is just such inspiration. It allows you to experiment and re-orientate the whole scenario by using different outrageous strategies. How far can a ship with no armour get? What's the most devastating arsenal you can assemble on a big ship? When this level of tactical planning is applied to a fast and furious firefight, then it's obvious you're in for a treat.
Dip into the briny with X-Out and get into some serious laser-powered destruction. You may be outnumbered, but you'll never be outgunned!
How do they make it so colourful, and so fast?! The best shoot-'em-up I've seen for a long, long time.
First Day Target Score
Complete Level One.
Green Screen View
A waste of great colour, but playable.
P. Whole armies of varied and fast-moving sprites.
P. Massive level guardians.
P. Standard effects.
Grab Factor 94%
P. Never had so few ships had so many guns!
P. Designer system is great fun.
Staying Power 81%
P. Loads of levels.
P. Fiendishly hard to complete.
The most innovative shoot-'em-up for yonks.