A.R.E.S. Extinction Agenda EX

I played A.R.E.S. Extinction Agenda on Steam several years ago and while I wasn’t left gushing for it, it managed to satisfy me. A robotic infection capable of turning even the most docile mechanical drone into a lethal murder machine is running rampant inside of Minos Station, a deep-space research station chock full of humans that now need help from their own creations. Rookie anti-zytron unit Ares is sent to investigate and rescue any survivors. Equipped with a blaster and an adaptive combat system, you take control of Ares and ensure all threats to humanity are eradicated. The game is a decent callback to Mega Man X in terms of story. More specifically, it heavily borrows the “crazy-robot virus infection" plot elements from X 5, and the fact the manifestation of the infection wants to destroy humanity. I never expected A.R.E.S. Extinction Agenda EX's would be so blatantly similar to Mega Man. 

Enter Tarus, introduced Ares' stoic, battle-hardened mentor, who becomes EX’s other selectable character with his own take and perspective on the story. Whoever created this character took a great deal of inspiration from Mega Man X’s Zero, the titular character’s superior and polar opposite. Just like in Mega Man X 4, selecting one character over the other does not change the story’s introduction or development, they merely serve as the protagonist. They do, however, play differently, and that is the main point of EX I wish to analyze.

Tarus is slower compared to Ares, but he definitely is stronger and as a tank-like character, he can shrug off. Those who played the original A.R.E.S. know the game rewards new weapons that enable alternative approaches to combat. While the names of the weapons you acquire no different as Ares, Tarus acquires “stronger yet slower” side-grades to complement his arsenal. I was infinitely pleased because each and every weapon Tarus uses complements his play-style. For example, while Ares’s Laser Reactor is akin to a machine gun with seemingly infinite range, Tarus’ looks like a long-range laser blowtorch, effectively giving him a gigantic light-saber that cuts through everything when maxed. This feature, in addition to Tarus’ different movesets and special abilities makes it worth playing the game twice.

Deep into the story, it is revealed that Tarus succumbed to the infection, which has made him even stronger. Losing his mind to the violent anti-human mantra the Zytron has developed, Tarus and Ares are eventually forced to fight each other in a battle of ideals/programmed directives. I had a pretty good time with this kind of twist, especially when you get to see it from both perspectives, but other than this and the ending sequence which I will not spoil, the story is largely the same thing as Mega Man X 5.

EX was kind enough to optimize the user interface and simplify features that made the original A.R.E.S. kind of tedious. For one, every upgrade and skill is neatly organized in the same menu. Instead of needing to stop the game to craft the consumables needed to execute the skills, we can now thank the handily implemented skill cool-downs that regulate our battle and exploration strategies by forcing us to think when to use them. Instead of having to keep track of three different kind of materials like before, EX has a single material counter that increases with every piece of scrap metal collected, with size and color determines how much is earned. The Heal skill can no longer be spammed as a result of this, and it still costs 100 materials to use, but at least it is upgradeable like anything else. Player levels increase maximum life and are not shared between characters, rising the higher you score in each Chapter and prompting you to beat your own high-scores to get more upgrades.

Where the game falls short are certain hiccups that have carried over from the original A.R.E.S. This is not a problem during boss encounters thankfully, but it makes exploration a pain in the butt. Control responsiveness slows down at random intervals, making you drop down a ledge and air-jump when you meant to jump and then boost yourself (I noticed it happening the most during the two screen-scrolling segments, but also during simple platforming). Collision also seems to be off, at times detecting that Ares’ toe failed to hit a ledge and therefore I must plummet to my doom and restart the jumping sequence all over again. This leads me another thing that the game consistently manages to screw me over with as well: flinching animations. Seriously, why do I have to lose complete control over my character because it takes the better part of a quarter century for him to recover from being hit by anything? It isn’t as big a problem with Tarus because he just doesn’t care about your silly attempts at hurting him, but it doesn’t help that during platforming with Ares, I tell the guy to boost himself and he simply loves to stop for a full second in mid-air just so he can do a cool somersault while the constantly falling stream of junk knocks him down into a pit. Tarus gets an upgrade so this kind of crap doesn’t happen to him, why can’t Ares have a similar one?

Now, into a different kind of critique: EX is what the original A.R.E.S. Extinction Agenda should have been, no question about that. Tarus and the optimizations on their own add enough to warrant that claim. But let me offer a counter-claim: with the original being three years old, why did the developers feel the need to rework the same game when they could’ve taken this project as a sequel? If they had enough time to work from the ground-up to deliver a more polished experience, why not implement the grand schemes they conceived for EX into A.R.E.S. 2 instead? They showed me they have the ability to make Ares not look like he’s a cardboard cutout figure running on the screen anymore and that they still have amazing music composers (I forgot to mention Tarus has his own soundtracks! LIKE ZERO!). They also have the right idea about how to rework a user interface to make it more comfortable.

They had all they needed for a sequel, but instead fans and newcomers have an odd sight in their store page when they type “Ares extinction agenda” on Steam. Both versions of A.R.E.S. are there; same base price, EX discount for original A.R.E.S. owners; but is there a point to this? Fans of the original have no choice if they want the new one, but what do newcomers do? Like I said before, the definitive experience right now is to get EX, but if that’s a fact, then what is the original still doing there, and for the same base price as the new shinier version no less? You’re not going to tell me that a 60% discount and a handy but largely inconsequential “easy-farming” add-on justifies paying 10 extra dollars, right? Because if that is the case, then I return to my original thought on the paragraph above: EX should have been A.R.E.S.2, not what inevitably boils down to an “expansion patch” for the original if that makes sense.

A.R.E.S. Extinction Agenda EX is by every means a fun and entertaining game. You can easily burn two to three hours per character (depending on if you want to bother with obtaining and farming for everything), even more if you’re the type to beat your high-score in different difficulties. The music is glorious and the new features are great, but I would’ve seriously appreciated if the game was a proper sequel. If you are a newcomer to A.R.E.S. however, heed my advice: Get EX and ignore the original. If you get both, it’ll basically mean you’ll be paying 14 dollars for an upgraded version of the same product plus a little drone helper. That means paying four dollars to have the game pick up treasure for you. That feature is not worth it. As for the game itself: I had fun with it, and ignoring the odd marketing choices, I recommend trying it out to anybody who enjoys a solid yet simple platformer shooter.