Spirits of Xanadu Review
Xanadu is an abandoned space ship littered with blood trails, cryptic audio logs, murderous robots, and intense mystery surrounding the events that have taken place there. Originally a research ship orbiting a strange planet, there has been no contact with the crew for months, and one single operative has been sent in to investigate and hopefully bring them home.
Acting as this lone investigator, the player navigates their way through this shadowy and terrifying ship trying to find answers while avoiding the many enemies lurking in the dark hallways. A creative idea with a very retro feel, Spirits of Xanadu is a unique and thrilling new game.
Referencing a Classic
The studio behind Spirits of Xanadu is, not surprisingly, Night Dive Studios. A small studio, their most popular release was 1999s System Shock 2. Working as a sequel to the 1994 game of the same name, this hallway-crawling survivor horror game set on an infected space ship bares more than a few similarities with Spirits of Xanadu. You could almost suggest that Spirits is a re-imagining of SS2, featuring a similar storyline and gameplay, but with slightly more up-to-date graphics. Night Dive set Spirits of Xanadu in an alternate 1980s, using many movies and games to help shape the structure of the game’s storyline. Spirits references the old school shooter style, but using a modern sense of horror and suspense gaming.
The game throws you almost immediately into the story with no tutorial or game tips on how anything works. With very simple controls to walk, shoot, and touch things, the player must start feeling (literally) their way around the world of Spirits. Upon boarding the abandoned Xanadu, it is immediately clear that something has gone terribly wrong. The halls are patrolled by homicidal robots who will shoot on sight, and must either be evaded, destroyed, or re-programmed. Exploring every level of the ship, the story of what occurred on Xanadu starts to reveal itself in pieces. With blood trails leading into rooms and ominous audio recordings it is easy to quickly surmise the horrific events that took place.
Given a simple task to re-boot the power on the ship and re-set its course for home, the player is given a play-through during which each death will see them re-spawn in the holding quarters, but quitting will re-set the ship entirely. Spirits of Xanadu is entirely a trial-and-error based game, especially since so little guidance is given, but for a 30-minutes-at-most long game, this is really a welcome challenge. With a lot of areas to explore, items to investigate, and story to uncover, Spirits really manages to feel longer than its short gameplay time.
A Retro Feel
Spirits of Xanadu is truly an homage to the late 80s, early 90s, at its core, referencing movie posters in the ship’s recreational room and using the gameplay to provide a throwback to 80s and 90s gaming. With a simplistic style, it would be easy to see Spirits’ gameplay and assume it was a silly game. However, despite the low resolution, there is great beauty in the atmosphere that Spirits manages to create. With a highly interactive environment, the ship offers infinite exploration and creates a frightening feeling of isolation while playing. Overall, Spirits of Xanadu is both a well-made game and a loving homage to early games like System Shock 2 and Alien. There’s no doubt you’ll enjoy playing Spirits of Xanadu for its design and simplistic beauty, but maybe, to be safe, play it with the lights on.