Slave Zero X

Posted:  Feb 22, 2024
SDHQ BUILD SCORE: 
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Review

Slave Zero X was provided by Ziggurat Games for review. Thank you!

This game was tested with a Steam Deck LCD. OLED testing is coming soon.

Slave Zero X is an interesting beast. As a prequel to the original Slave Zero, it instead opts for a 2.5D beat 'em up style as opposed to being a third-person shooter like the 1999 original. I think the last beat 'em up I played was Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World on the Xbox 360, so Slave Zero X was a bit of a sudden reintroduction to the genre for me!

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Slave Zero X takes place in a dystopian future ruled by the tyrannical SovKhan.

The game starts you off with some fairly basic enemies, fortunately for me! In fact, for the first few levels, you can defeat most enemies by mashing any assortment of buttons without much care or consideration for what you are doing. However, once you get past those stages, enemies start to get more challenging, especially the heavy ones that can grab hold of you and deal massive amounts of damage or get you stuck in a stun loop. It's imperative to position yourself and use the right moves at the right time.

For example, a couple of hours into my playthrough, I encountered a point where you have to defeat a couple of waves of enemies and then a boss. The kicker is that the checkpoint is before these enemies and the boss, so if you die on the boss, you have to fight the enemies again. Positioning the checkpoint this way means that you must be careful fighting the enemies before the boss, so you can enter the boss fight with max health and your special gauge charged.

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You can unleash devastating attacks on your enemies with the right combo or by using Fatal Sync.

Interestingly, Slave Zero X offers no difficulty options, there are no Easy, Medium, and Hard settings here, but the difficulty seems to be balanced well. The boss battles can be a bit of a rude awakening, especially the first one after you're used to fighting enemies that pretty much offer no resistance.

Combos are satisfying to pull off, and the game allows air juggling, so if you move correctly and time your moves, you can keep enemies in the air and give yourself a bit of a breather. Suppose you're achieving a combo while in Fatal Sync mode, a powered-up mode where you can deal more damage and steal life from enemies and bosses. In that case, you'll be able to keep yourself alive while destroying your enemies...and it will probably be the primary way you heal in-game.

There's also a "Burst" feature, which is a neat little attack that you can activate reasonably often, which will push nearby enemies away from you and will often greatly fill up your Fatal Sync bar. The only downside is that it's mapped to L3 by default, which is a fairly strange choice.

Mastering Fatal Sync and Burst is key to making it through Slave Zero X, particularly the boss battles. I struggled greatly with the second boss as I didn't understand these mechanics well, but once I got used to them, it made the game much more playable.

To upgrade, you will be utilizing the in-game shop, where you can increase your character's max health, get longer Fatal Sync time, improve your "Burst", and increase the amount of grenades you can carry.

While fighting, you can't "dodge" or "block", but you can parry attacks by attacking precisely as the enemy attacks, and when you "dash", you do gain invincibility for a very short time, allowing you to avoid an attack if you timed it exactly right.

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Using the game's Fatal Sync feature, you can heal yourself by dealing damage to enemies.

Story-wise, there is full voice acting, and they have got a couple of notable voice actors in the cast who do a decent job at world-building. Essentially, the story has you, a vengeful warrior, taking it upon yourself to stop living machines, known as Slaves, from being released unto the world. It's a passable story, but I found it mostly there to justify the relentless onslaught of enemies and why I am destroying them all.

The game's environment borrows greatly from its 1999 sequel, with a dark and grungey atmosphere. It feels pretty nostalgic, considering it's a brand-new title. Fans of 3D games back in the mid-90s will probably appreciate the aesthetic, it's timeless and works quite well here.

One thing that I did find frustrating in Slave Zero X is that some of the levels felt pretty long. Some levels can take over 20 minutes further in the game. As it's impossible to save the game mid-level, it can be rather frustrating to get near the end of a level, die repeatedly to be set back at a checkpoint, and then have to quit the game for some reason, only to come back later and have to start at the beginning of the level again, instead of the checkpoint.

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On occasion, it feels like enemies are spammed in order to increase difficulty, rather than introduce new, stronger enemy types.

Some level design is a little questionable, too, with the developers opting to spam enemies instead of introducing stronger ones. At one point, you'll be fighting over 30 enemies all at once, plus background enemies dropping bombs, and it is the single most frustrating thing I encountered. If you get hit, you're essentially stun-locked as the enemies juggle you to your ultimate death. It's a huge, difficult spike, and it took me 15 tries to get through it.

Slave Zero X - Steam Deck Performance

Slave Zero X misses the mark on some things with the Steam Deck. There's no 16:10 resolution support, so you'll have black bars along the top and the bottom when you play. There's also no way to run the game at less than 60 FPS without running in slow motion, so we'll need to maintain close to 60 at all times to have a designed experience.

We don't have too many choices regarding graphical settings, just the Resolution Scale, which is either 1x or 2x, V-Sync, and Geometry Detail. Because of this, and we must run at 60 FPS, I'm only offering 1 preset setting.

Recommended Settings - 60 FPS

Set a 60 FPS lock in your SteamOS settings and your TDP limit to 12W. I tried with 15W, and there is slightly more stability, but it offers no benefit for most levels, so 12W is my preferred choice.

We're running the game's "max" settings, so 2X Render Scale and Geometry Detail is set to "Detailed", and we have V-Sync set to off. I tried running at 1X Render Scale and "Low" Geometry Detail, and there was zero difference in performance.

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Running these settings, the game mostly holds 60 FPS, but likely due to the developer's choice of game engine (GameMaker) and the fact that the game is 3D, the game struggles performance-wise. This has been mentioned on their Steam forums for over 2 years, but at this point, it seems unlikely the performance issues can be fixed, as they built a 3D game inside a 2D game engine.

Expect drops to 57-58 in intensive areas, but this is usually when the action is hectic, and the dropped frames are hard to notice unless you are trying to do a frame-perfect movement. As I'm not a skilled fighting game/beat 'em up player, the frame drops were not noticeable. There are occasional stutters, too, which are unavoidable.

Battery drain during gameplay is around 12W - 15W, but can go up to 19W in intense areas, this tends to give us around 2.5-3 hours of battery life from a full charge. Temperatures also tend to hover around the 70c - 75c mark.

Accessibility:

Slave Zero X has a few accessibility options. You can enable/disable subtitles, toggle flashing effects and camera shaking, and disable Gore when attacking enemies. However, it doesn't disable the gore that happens when the player dies, which is likely an oversight by the developers.

Conclusion:

Slave Zero X is a fairly competent Beat 'Em Up. It has some flaws, mostly in the way of optimization, and a couple of design issues that I don't agree with, but there's an intriguing world, a decent combat system, and appealing classic visuals that work in Slave Zero X's favor to make me give it a positive recommendation at the end of the day.

The game does run fairly well on the Steam Deck; you can get 60 FPS 99% of the time, and the battery life isn't terrible. The controls work reasonably well, even if there are some odd button choices (L3 is used quite often). I would still say that Slave Zero X is an enjoyable experience on the Steam Deck, and if you're more skilled at Beat 'Em Ups than I am, you may not find some of the design choices so frustrating.

Our review is based on the PC version of this game.

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SDHQ's Build Score Breakdown

Slave Zero X is a competent Beat 'Em Up. Despite some of my qualms with design choices, I did enjoy my time with the game. And it runs quite well on the Steam Deck.

Build Score

Performance: 
Full StarFull StarFull StarFull StarNo Star
VISUALS: 
Full StarFull StarFull StarFull StarFull Star
Stability: 
Full StarFull StarFull StarNo StarNo Star
Controls: 
Full StarFull StarFull StarFull StarNo Star
Battery: 
Full StarFull StarFull StarNo StarNo Star
Oliver Stogden
Oliver began playing video games at an early age, starting with the SNES console and Commodore Amiga computer. Nowadays, his interest is in the future of portable technology, such as handheld gaming systems, portable power stations/banks, and portable monitors. And seeing just how far we can push these devices.
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