Brandon Boyer

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While there hasn’t been nearly enough time since the New Xbox Experience update landed to fully dig into all of the new community games it has also brought with it, one game has jumped out ahead of the pack both in terms of sales (it’s currently, according to the new dashboard’s sorting options, the most popular community title) and in wider recognition over the past few days.

That game is Weapon of Choice, which seems to exemplify precisely what Microsoft’s community games campaign was set up to do: giving passionate one-person teams their platform for indie success. Industry news site Gamasutra talked with that one person, Nathan Fouts (who recently gave up his position at Resistance: Fall of Man creator Insomniac to form his startup, Mommy’s Best Games) where he admitted that his game wasn’t up to snuff to be accepted into the Xbox Live Arcade program proper, but perfectly fit the community game mantra.

Weapon of Choice is, at heart, a game you’ve played before — again and again and again, especially if you had your roots in early computer games — a bombastic and testosterone-drenched side-scrolling shooter with a ludicrous sci-fi storyline, blaring guitar riffs and multiple-screen-filling bosses. It’s so filled with the vitality of a singular vision, though — Fouts pulled in help with music and scriptwriting, but otherwise took the reins on all its art, programming and sound effects — that it’s hard to escape its auteur, throwback charm.

That’s not to say that it hasn’t brought anything new to the table: apart from handling as fluidly as a 16-bit shooter should on modern hardware, Fouts packed a few very smart gameplay aces up his sleeve. The first is ‘death brushing,’ a ubiquitous ‘bullet-time’ trick that zooms in on and slows down the action when you’re very near death (as you will be, often — Choice‘s screens are chaotic with over and undersized alien enemies all squelching and squeezing various fluids and particles from themselves at any given moment), allowing you to make narrow and stylish escapes.

For those moments where death brushing hadn’t worked out as well as you’d hoped, once you’ve died the game calls up a ‘vengeance missile,’ which, before you’ve called your next character into play, gives you a one shot first-person-bullseye-targeted chance to eliminate whatever it was that’d brought you down before.

Finally, the game gives you the chance to rescue that downed character that you’ve just replaced by slinging them — or other downed operatives you’ve find on the field — over your shoulder and carrying them to end-of-level safety, bringing about tough choices about who you decide to leave behind. It’s not until you’ve depleted your stock of rescued characters that the game is truly over.

It’s no surprise that, according to the interview with Fouts, his recently rediscovered teenage game design sketches share an uncanny similarity to game he’s just created: Weapon of Choice is that game that the disaffected youth of the Psygnosis/Factor 5/Epic MegaGames/Apogee shareware era had always dreamed of making, and all the more glorious for it.

Weapon of Choice [Mommy’s Best Games, YouTube trailer]

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