PixelJunk Raiders is a Hard Game to Like, Let Alone Love

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A solar system sized quantum anomaly has engulfed the home planet of the Tantallian civilisation.

Sounds serious, doesn’t it? And it is. The planet Tantal is now being overrun by weird-looking alien troops, and as a hired mercenary, it’s your job to go in and rescue any survivors. Though while you’re there, you may as well take the opportunity to do a bit of looting, too.

A 3D Rogue-like, PixelJunk Raiders provides you with plenty of heroic missions for you to sink your teeth into. Each mission drops you into an area of the planet Tantal, though with missions being randomly generated, you never really know what to expect. What you will quickly realise, however, is that your job is never easy. You’re going to need to work for your spoils.

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Despite being a mercenary, you start with pretty much zero equipment and the most basic of skills in PixelJunk Raiders. Succeed in missions, and you’ll be able to rank up, unlocking new abilities such as a guard break attack or increasing your stats. And the more Tantallians you save, the more Alien DNA perks you can unlock. Equip them, and they might have a major impact on how you play. My first Alien DNA acquisition, for example, increased my critical hit rate by 20% and allowed me to restore one unit of health every time I performed a critical hit. But on the flipside, any damage I sustained was increased by 50%.

Succeeding in missions, however, is quite the task, especially at the start of the game when you’re new. A good weapon greatly improves your chances, but unfortunately they’re a bit thin on the ground. Also, they break via use. You’ll gain a light sword at the outset of the game but it won’t last more than a mission or two. At that point, chances are you’re going to have to rely on your fists for a while until you find something else decent to hack at enemies with.

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There’s a lot of hacking and slashing, or at least thumping, to be done; enemies attack in groups, and your small pool of health means that when they hit, they hit hard. Combined with awkward controls, you’re in for a world of hurt. The lock on system isn’t great – you can only lock onto enemies by guarding. And if you want to dodge an enemy attack, you can only do that when you’re guarding, too. With most of your opponents taking a while to put down with your fists, it’s easy to become quickly overrun. Death often follows, and when that happens, you’re respawned back at the starting point of the mission.

You have a few lives to beat each mission with, but throwing a spanner in the works is the fact that every time you die you lose any items you were carrying. So, if you were already having trouble overcoming your alien adversaries and rescuing Tantallians, your task becomes that bit harder. Eventually, you might be tempted to just throw in the towel and give up.

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Even outside of PixelJunk Raiders‘ irritating mechanics, there are issues. The Tantallians you’re sent in to rescue, for example, just stand around as if they haven’t a care in the world – to say you’re sent in to save them, enemies don’t seem that interested in doing them harm. In addition, the locations in which they reside are dull and lifeless – a shame considering the game’s colourful art style – and the game’s attempts at humour fall flat. It’s just too forced. Overall, it’s largely a joyless experience.

Those who persist with it may eke some enjoyment out of PixelJunk Raiders, but it fails to make a great first impression and then struggles to redeem itself from there. Exclusive to Google Stadia, it is currently included in the library of games offered to Pro subscribers for free, however. So, if you have a Pro subscription, it’s worth giving it a go to see if you gel with it; its random nature means everyone’s experience with it will be somewhat different. And, being on Google Stadia, you don’t even need to download it – just press the play button and away you go.

PixelJunk Raiders is available now on Google Stadia