Project Root is developer OPQAM’s modern homage to classic shoot ‘em ups (SHMUPS). Its foundation is simple, but the addition of sandbox-style levels and a freeform camera makes Project Root a genuinely unique venture. When talking about challenging experiences today, most gamers refer to titles like Dark Souls or Ninja Gaiden, but many have forgotten the mercilessness of classics like Ikaruga, Raiden III, R-Type II, Gradius III or Ibara. These titles are notorious for their punishing penalty levels and enemy formations. Project Root takes the SHMUP genre to new levels. It retains the genre’s fierce difficulty while introducing new gameplay mechanics. OPQAM may be an industry newcomer, but their first project is already showing tremendous promise. With a little more graphical polish, Project Root has the potential of becoming a cult classic.
Project Root boasts a silly narrative about a large corporation monopolizing energy distribution across the cities, and it’s up to players to uncover the company's true intentions. It’s undoubtedly cliche, but it’s enough to give the universe personality and charm. As with any SHMUP, it’s not about the plot, it’s about honing your reflexes on the battlefield. Unlike most titles in the genre, Project Root introduces an open world and the ability to move your ship freely around the map. This may not sound like innovative, but considering the linearity of most shoot ‘em ups, Project Root plays differently from the games that inspired it.
"Project Root takes the SHMUP genre to new levels. It retains the genre’s fierce difficulty while introducing new gameplay mechanics."
Being able to move freely around the environment makes Project Root both easier and harder, depending on your play style and skill level. On one hand, it’s easier to dodge incoming projectiles and zig zag across the entire screen, on the other hand, enemies approach from all sides and can fill the entire battlefield with hard to dodge missles. Consequently, the gameplay requires both reflexes and a great deal of strategy. A radar in the lower left corner indicates your targets and objectives. The goal is to figure out the most effective approach. Going in too fast can leave you surrounded in no time.
Your ship has two primary attacks and a special multi-attack with limited ammunition. The left shoulder button shoots missiles at enemies on the ground, whereas the right shoulder button delivers rapid fire at flying enemies. R1 launches missiles that attacks several enemies at once, but it can only be used a few times and is best reserved for sticky situations. A giant boss awaits at the end of each level, although the boss duels are notably easier than the levels themselves. Players are granted with 3 lives during each mission. Once all lives are depleted it’s game over, and you have to replay the entire mission from the beginning. If you think Dark Souls is tough for dropping your souls when you die, try replaying 30+ minutes over and over again until you’ve mastered every nook and cranny. But hey, that’s ultimately the whole appeal of SHMUPS, right?!
"This is one of the few SHMUPs that I would recommend to players that aren’t typically interested in the genre. It’s that good."
Project Root runs in 1080p at a flawless 60 frames per second. The game’s performance is buttery smooth and the controls are super responsive. Sadly, the environments are lacking aesthetically. The ships look fantastic, and the explosions are visually pleasing, but there’s very little going on in the landscapes. Considering OPQAM has shifted away from linear level designs, it’s surprising that the maps haven’t been fleshed out with more detail. The second map in particular feels like you’re flying over the same snow covered trees and barren rocks.
Underwhelming visuals aside, Project Root is one of the most enjoyable shoot ‘em ups I’ve played since the aforementioned classics. OPQAM deserves praise for tackling the genre with innovative ideas, and I can’t wait for the final release. This is one of the few SHMUPs that I would recommend to players that aren’t typically interested in the genre. It’s that good.
Preview by: Tin Salamunic | Previewed on: Playstation 4