Platforms: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), PS Vita
There are "bullet hell" shooters, and then there are tactical-based shooters, games where you can fly around in an open space and tackle missions while obliterating enemies with whatever ammunition you have on hand. EA's Desert Strike and following sequels were famous for this, and it's always been a head-scratcher as to why the publisher didn't continue that series while it was hot.
Regardless, we now have a spiritual successor with Pablo Testa's Project Root, an open-world shooter where you complete missions with a brave pilot, shooting enemies on the ground and in the air while keeping yourself in one piece. Along the way, you can level up your defenses and arsenal to a great advantage – which you'll need when it comes to facing the more immense bosses in the game.
Those who like "throwback" shooters like I do should get a lot out of Project Root – although there are some issues you should be aware of.
Bring Your Shooting Skills
In the game, you're Lance Rockport, a pilot working under the team of Arcturus. Your main goal is to slowly but surely turn the tide for your squad in the face of a corporation known as Prometheus, who has taken over both the air and the ground with their militant forces.
Of course, why rebel forces would send in one man to do all the dirty work is beyond us, especially considering the army that he's going up against. Nevertheless, it sets up Project Root's unique battle system, where you slowly but surely work your way through a series of missions, whether it's blowing up a number of Prometheus' supply tankers or escorting an ally through hostile territory.
The open-world approach does the game some good, as you can take on adversaries from any given side. Rushing in isn't always the smartest move, as sometimes going slow and steady to wipe out enemy opposition will keep you alive the longest. Along the way, you can also pick up power-ups from downed enemies, including lock-on missiles and a neat little device that wipes away enemy fire like bugs from a windshield.
As for the gameplay, it's fun, although hitting some enemies takes some getting used to thanks to their movement. Thankfully, the game's controls are more than fair, giving you room to maneuver with a twin-stick set-up. That way, you can avoid incoming fire and still unload on an enemy trying to bring you down.
It's not always perfect, as frustration sets in throughout the game (more on that below), but it is suitable for those who have been looking for a modern fix to fulfill their tactical shooter needs.
A Well-Rooted Indie Game
Being independently developed, Project Root doesn't quite have the budget to resemble a stellar-looking AAA project. That said, Pablo Testa did a great job with the game's visuals. They don't exactly sparkle like other games you'd find on the Xbox One or PS4, but they offer some variety, like when you're flying through snow-capped terrain (covered with laser-shooting walls, naturally) or over wide-open forests below as you wreak havoc from above. More could've been done with the game's cinemas (and, for that matter, the story), but that's a minor complaint.
As for the music, it's okay, but hardly the kind of "go get 'em" soundtrack that will keep you motivated to keep going. If you can blare your own tunes, go for it. You're not really missing much between the average tunes and sound effects here.
The Root of All Evil
And now let's get to the real problem that exists in Project Root – it can be incredibly difficult at times. The game barely gives you a bone when it comes to providing you with extra lives or health icons as it is, but the lack of checkpoints could drive some players into full-on rage mode.
Case in point – you bust your way through a level for 20 minutes to get to the end boss, only to have them destroy you with one full-on attack. Once it does, you have no choice but to start over back at the beginning, having to blast your way through adversaries again only to put yourself back into the range of said boss, and avoid making the same mistake as before. It's a tough lesson, and not one that everyone is going to appreciate.
Avid shooter fans shouldn't have a problem, though, and the upgrade system is noteworthy, as you can improve your ship both offensively and defensively to become an all-around better combatant. If you've got the nerve to stick it out, you'll be promptly rewarded with Project Root. But that's a pretty big "if".