Choosing to review a game based on a screenshot has me hating myself once again. I saw a screenshot for Project Root, a shmup with a top down view, and I was taken back to days spent paying Xevious. Maybe I should have just spent more time with those memories.
Project Root has a flimsy story about rebellion against large corporation who are controlling all power generation in the world, or something. A lot of the story is delivered to you via a tiny text box in the corner of the screen while you are frantically dodging bullets. Don’t be surprised if you have no idea what you are doing or why you are shooting something but saving some truck that has to drive to another building. When you do get to read the dialogues, changing fonts and frequent spelling mistakes or outright missing words ruin the quality of the exchange, which tries to paint a thick coat of evil on a faceless corporation.
You fly around some pretty areas in your harrier type jet, blasting cannons at everything in the air and bombs at targets on the ground. Your harrier gives you good mobility, allowing you to strafe enemies and wait, oh the enemy can strafe too? But the model is of a fixed wing, fixed thruster jet? Oh well. So everything in the air can and will strafe, despite looking like stock standard fighter jets. Enemies on the ground range from gun and missile emplacements to roaming tanks and battleships, which will teach you to approach most bases slowly and methodically, wiping out the annoying homing missile enemies and making sure to not leave too many threats behind you, as the camera is claustrophobically tight, meaning you will end up taking a lot of damage from projectiles that enter the screen so close to you that you will battle to react quickly enough. This camera angle cannot be changed, meaning you will spend more time looking at the radar in the corner of the screen than at the rest of the game because, despite not dying to a single bullet and having more than one life, the length of the levels and lack of any checkpoints means you will have to be careful if you want to survive.
Luckily XP carries over if you fail, so you can slowly start to improve your resistance to damage or improve the damage of your weapons. The upgrades are rather small percentage gains that add up as you get a few of them, but levelling can be a bit of a chore. It does, however, let you finish early levels in a much quicker timeframe, dropping down from 30 minutes to do a whole level plus side-quests, to around 10 minutes.
The lack of any map and zero indication of distance when you have multiple objectives is a huge problem in this game, meaning you will spend a large amount of time not knowing where you are in a level almost void of landmarks, taking detours around large forcefield walls that prevent you from travelling to certain sections of the map until you complete your objectives. This is made worse in one level where you lose radar, which leaves you bumbling around looking for the signal jammer.
The overly large levels without landmarks, complete with the forcefields forcing me to go to specific places first, all made me wish the game had opted for a fixed scrolling movement instead, as exploration feels, for the most part, punished by impassable walls. Walls are also a huge danger in the game as enemy craft and your own tend to get stuck in them, causing you to become an easy target or miss power-ups that are just out of reach.
The grind is rewarded by some large, impressive end of level bosses, but these also take advantage of the camera angle and will often shoot off a fatal barrage of fire from off screen, incinerating your ship. Some of the bosses I didn’t even see their entire ship during the fight as it was easier to circle strafe around the target from a screen-and-a-half away. They might have health and firepower, but they are pretty stupid.
With shorter levels, tighter controls, better upgrades and less bugs Project Root could have been a highly enjoyable return to the shmup, but as it is, this sprawling shooter is going to get buried in my pile of regrets.