The guys, and gals over at 'Reverb Triple XP', and 'OPQAM' bring to us a RAIDEN style (Top-Down) free-roam shmup that is of a mixed presentation. By mixed presentation I mean that "Project Root" only partially incorporates traditional shmup style scoring, and gameplay mechanics. It also does so with a story driven plot about a war for resources, and freedom from oppression as it's main focus. Basically, as a rebel pilot of the F72-Zonda you are presented with a mission to take down various Prometheus Corporation targets, and defenses in an effort to stop their greed ridden expansion, and stock hold of energy resources. Your weaponry for the assault comes in the form of air, and ground projectiles as well as special weapon power-ups that help to clear enemies even more quickly. Utilizing all available options of attack properly for the on ground, and in the air threats is what's going to mean the difference between failure, and victory.
Upon starting up the game on your PS4, or PS Vita handheld console you will see the cinematic intro of 'Project Root', and get an awesome ship teaser with a rocking audio track that one would believe sets the tone for everything that follows. Unfortunately as you setup the difficulty (Easy, Normal, Hard) for the level past the initial training mission, and get started with the actual core experience it becomes obvious that not much effort was put into relaying the story, or in how the story was presented. This is bad in that it this is a plot progressive shmup in which the aerial combat means nothing without a proper understanding of what's going on. The gameplay, while impressive with it's 3D free-roaming maneuverability, cool graphic details, and effects still does not make the game whole. You'll find that in an obscure location at the bottom right-hand side of the screen lies a small automatically updating dialogue boxes that ties-in with the main two characters' dialogue interactions, and thus attempts to tell the game's tale to the distracted F72-Zonda pilot (You). These text based interactions are kept pointless though as you will be focusing on everything else, but that. This in itself nullifies the story portion of the game, and leaves the gamer completing mission objectives without a motive.
As you travel from objective point to objective point destroying factory buildings, and other targets of interest (in no particular order) with your air to ground missiles, and special weapon power-ups that you pick up from downed enemies you'll be constantly swarmed by flying aircraft that seem to spawn out of nowhere as well as bullet hell sprays constantly coming from ground tanks, and other enemy craft. Minding the threats, and the radar which is also presented in a small hub display makes focusing on the automatically updating character dialogue an impossibility, especially since your ship will explode easily even on the 'Easy' difficulty. Thankfully the developer did incorporate an XP point system though that allows you to upgrade your ship in a variety of different ways. Health, maneuverability, speed, and a decent selection of other upgradeable features can be improved upon to make the eight stage trek an easier one, and a longer one. As far as the story goes it's point remains moot regardless of the ability to upgrade, and stay alive longer.
The goal in each level, beyond the missed story opportunity is to take out targets of interest that are located at different points on the unusually massive map. You will be guided by onscreen arrows, and the radar should you have the chance to glance down at it between the waves of enemies, and projectile firing. As you cripple the Promethean defenses, and whatnot at each marked location a main area that is initially shielded will open up, and allow you in for final boss fight. Of course it goes without saying that you do have a certain stock of ships with which to complete said tasks. Don't expect any breaks between objectives either as you will have to complete all objectives (bombing, escorting ...), and destroy the boss ship before the stage/level is completed. As I mentioned earlier there are eight different stages/levels each with their own unique enemies, terrains, and objectives. Minding your radar, and the arrows shown onscreen will be your only hope at survival.
As far as piloting goes you'll find that manning the F72-Zonda is a fairly simple task. To fire your standard aerial guns you'll simply have to hold down the (Right Shoulder/R2) button. To fire the air to ground missiles you'll need to press, or hold the (Left Shoulder/L2) button. For 360 maneuverability you'll be utilizing the (Left Thumbstick) for movement, and the (Right Thumbstick) for rotation. When it comes to using the power-up weapons that drop the controls differ from the PS4 to the PS Vita. For the PS4 you'll have to press (R1), and on the PS Vita you'll need to press (SQUARE). One other thing that is unique to the controls is the way the main menu is handled on either console. For menu navigation on the PS4 you'll be using (R2 & L2) to switch between levels, and (R1 & L1) to switch between difficulty settings. The face buttons on the PS4 Dualshock4 controller will also be used to access the upgrade menu which is only accessible before, and after stage/level completion as well as a means to get back to the title screen, and to replay a stage/level. In regards to the PS Vita the main menu system is all touch screen controlled. It's definitely an easier way to go about things, but not entirely necessary.
The Verdict ...
What I'm about to say may seem like I'm picking at the game, because of minor flaws, but I assure you these things do affect the quality of 'Project Root' ...
To me 'Project Root' is a game that borders on indie style presentation, and a more professional style of presentation while never fully achieving either. By this I mean that the gameplay portion of the game is brilliant. It looks, and functions brilliantly outside of the "WANTED (Movie)" bullets that curve as ships do the Sugar Plum fairy dance around you as if you are a part of the "Nutcracker" ballet. The controls are also kept simple making the objectives easier to complete, and the enemy threats somewhat easier to deal with. I definitely loved the layered graphic style with it's implemented 3D elements, and intricate details. Hell, the explosions were very awesome as was the 3D cinematic intro. Where the game fails though is in the delivery of character art, and story element delivery. As far as the character art is concerned it takes away from the professional appearance, and function of the gameplay elements. It's like mixing a simple indie worthy art style, and menu navigation system with a really awesome shmup.
The story on the other hand is lost to the aggressive nature of in-game combat, and the inability to keep reading what the main characters are saying to each other. If the developer had added voice-overs, and presented the character art in a simple yet complimentary pop-up way such as holographic facial animations, or even a proper anime avatar the issue would not be an issue. I do understand budget may have played a factor though, but I still feel that the story, and gameplay clashed rather unfortunately in 'Project Root'.
Where does this leave my rating at? If I were to be honest I'd say it's not a bad game gameplay-wise, but with the story being left to the wayside, and not really elaborated on, or perfected it does hurt my opinion of 'Project Root'. At $9.99 though, and being a cross-buy I'd say it might be worth it, especially if you are looking for a new kind of shmup gameplay experience, and if you own a PS4 and PS Vita. It's going to depend heavily on whether, or not the story is important to you.