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The advent of Xbox Live Indie Games, on the whole, has been as welcome as a turd gateaux at a hot summer picnic. Supposedly the home of real, grass-roots game innovation, the scheme has generally brought us naught but lazy tat trying to made a quick quid with minimal effort.
In true Sesame Street style though, one of these games isn’t like the others. Because one of these games, a shooter by the name of Leave Home, is one of the coolest, most fun and most inventive games in any area of Xbox Live. You can get it for less than the cost of a pint and it’ll probably last you the rest of your days. Here’s why.
Most XBLIG are visual herpes; either bog-basic, flairless pixel art or the crayon drawings of a mad child scanned into a broken dev kit. Leave Home, however, is the Rez HD of side-scrollers. While a cursory glance might have you thinking of that other, Activision-published, 2D Xbox blaster, in actual fact Leave Home has a style all of its own.
It’s all about soft, pulsing tones and warm, effervescent psychedelia. It’s like the kind of collage a primary school kid would make if he’d been water-birthed into a bath full of mescaline. It’s ambient yet striking, but never at the expense of clarity, and weirdly for the type of game it is, half an hour in front of its visuals has an uncannily soothing, hypnotic effect.
And it’s not just the way the game looks, but the way it operates, that will massage your eyeballs into a happy fervour. There’s no black screen and score card in between levels here. Instead, the end of one merges seamlessly with the next, images and scenery melting and fading between each other until you’re suddenly in a whole new place playing in a whole new way, without even realising you’d moved. It’s stunning and subtle at the same time, and you really need to experience it.
Forget the usual aural bombast of the shmup. Forget Geometry Wars’ slightly plastic electronica, and even forget Rez’s soaring, layering beats. Leave Home has one of the smoothest, most complete, and most affecting soundscapes we’ve ever heard in this type of game. This stuff isn’t just good game music. It’s good music, full-stop.
Generally taking an ambient/IDM angle, but pulling influences from all over the place (not least of all Spectrums and C64s), a lot of it genuinely wouldn’t be out of place amongst the work of Aphex Twin and Squarepusher. It’s all downloadable for free at developer Hermitgames’ website, and we’d recommend that you grab it immediately. Whether in-game, chilling out at home, or leaping in the air in a whistle-blowing frenzy in a warehouse somewhere, these tunes are amazing listening.
That’s usually the problem with 2D shooters. The more gameplay they give you, the more fear, panic and frustration they pump into your screaming face. Not so with Leave Home. You’ll be constantly stimulated and challenged from start to finish, but never for a second disheartened. The reason? A very clever approach to structure.
Leave Home is a time-trial shooter. It comes at the genre from the angle of score attack rather than attritional slog. Every game will last for six minutes, and there are six levels, each lasting exactly a minute. At the end of your time on each one, you’ll phase to the next, until you reach the end and the last boss. But your only priority is scoring big.
You have infinite lives and will always respawn with a healthy period of intangible invincibility with which to get to a safe position. Deaths cost you points, but nothing more, and don’t even factor into any end-game stats. All you have to do is kill as many of the abstract geometric enemies as you can in the time you’re given, collect the blue blobs they leave behind, and keep getting better. And as you do, Leave Home will become ever more amazing, due to its cleverest tricks, which we'll tell you about on the next page.