Project Root is a seemingly ambitious attempt to modernize the classic shoot ‘em up on consoles, but is a perfect example of the devil being in the details when it comes to emulating a genre known for precision. There’s a reasonable base of goodness here, but clouded by enough design errors that even diehard shooter fans will be hard pressed to enjoy the game as much as they’d like.
Project Root isn’t really harkening back to the golden days of R-Type, Raiden, and those sorts of games. Its closest counterparts are easily the classic EA Strike series, where players flew a gunship through hostile territory in an open map. Root takes that open map idea and adds science-fiction, then shakes it all around. The maps are large, the shooting fairly constant, and there are some interesting boss battles.
The player’s ship has both ground and aerial weapons, much like Xevious. Ground missiles will hit whatever the aiming reticle was on when fired, but there’s no distance adjustment to the reticle at all and the missiles are really dumb. So, there’s a lot of unnecessarily clunky aiming involved to destroy tanks and gun emplacements. Shooting aerial targets is entirely reliant on leading shots to where the enemy will shortly be.
This tactic is largely required because of the sluggishness of your ship. It’s like flying a boat through the air. Project Root is a twin stick game, but maneuvering isn’t nearly as fast and responsive as it needs to be. Larger enemies, like bosses force the player to rely on circle strafing more than anything, simply because the nature of the controls doesn’t allow for much else.
The biggest issue, by far, however, is the pacing of each level. The missions feel like they go on forever, with no save point options to prevent unnecessary repetition when you die or simply lose interest. The mini-map displays your main objective and it’s just a matter trudging toward, killing endless waves of randomly appearing enemies. Enemies spawn in from all directions in groups, sometimes get stuck in mountains, borders of the map and force fields, and just mindlessly fire at you.
The missions feel like they go on forever, with no save point options to prevent unnecessary repetition when you die or simply lose interest.
No one expects great AI out of a top-down shooter, but it seems a bit inappropriate that these enemies seem to follow wave patterns more similar to Galaga than Soviet Strike. Project Root’s flaws also help lead to one of the most unstable difficulty levels we’ve seen lately. The game moves from slow and easy to outrageously frustrating in no time flat and seemingly at random. A lot of this is due to the control issues, but also things like enemy missiles that are far more deadly and accurate than the player’s pea shooter weapons.
There’s an upgrade system in place, but it’s also slow and ill-paced, requiring replaying the long levels multiple times to earn enough points to reasonably upgrade rapidly. This would be fine if the levels were more bit-sized and full of things to do, but these aren’t. They’re long, surprisingly empty, and have few side objectives compared to their actual size.
Another minor complaint is that very few things in the map are actually destructible. The game only lets you blow up certain bits of the scenery , but places barrels, structures, trees, and other objects that you’ll want to shoot, yet can’t.
Visually, Project Root is solid, if not exceptional. Textures are re-used a lot, but the frame rate is solid and the graphics are generally sharp. The camera is set oddly close to the action and there’s no option to zoom in and out, which would have been a welcome feature. The music is all over the place and there’s really no voice work, which is a problem when trying to shoot enemies while dialogue text is flashing in the bottom corner of the screen.
As for the actual point of all this vehicular mayhem… well, I’ve still got no idea. The pilot is some guy who maybe is time-traveling or something to take down an evil company? Seriously, who knows? Based on her attire, I can at least feel certain this guy has a very buxom stripper/IT girl to give him mission objectives and updates at least.
Project Root isn’t really awful. In small doses, it’s actually a reasonably fun shooter, hounded by a waterfall of poor design choices and terrible pacing. There’s not a lot of competition in the classic shooter genre lately, so as a cheap fix, the game is an ok choice. Just don’t expect a lot, because it won’t deliver it.