Xenophobe is a side-scrolling shooter game first released in the arcade with a unique control set-up. There are three flight joystick type controls, which is a very odd choice for a side-scrolling action game with humanoid characters. The game allows for three-player coop, and the screen is split three times, which works well for the corridor nature of the gameplay. Many of the alien designs are modeled heavily off of Aliens / H.R. Giger's artwork, although with a cartoony bent to things, with very expressive faces on the larger versions of the aliens. There is a loving, satirical bent to a lot of the background choices and features, including having a Star Trek style beaming down sequence, as well as some of the player characters resembling figures from popular culture.
Some of the home versions of the game, such as the Lynx version, allow for extra gameplay features and items. Unfortunately, most of the special items were originally supposed to be included with all versions, but these were scaled back before the arcade version was released.
Character selection varies depending upon which version is being played, although the player can often select from different crew-members. They only varied in looks, but each has a different, expressive head and corresponding animations, and in the arcade version they are in teams of three with differently colored uniforms.
Once each player has selected their character, they approach the first base and beam down. The characters begin with a weapon resembling a phaser, which fires small, short-range energy pulses. Should a player get knocked down, they will lose grip on their weapon and it will be sent flying. If this happens too often, the weapon will explode, leaving that character with only their fists. There is, however, a little droid that will roam around and dispense phasers, usually if a player is unarmed for a considerable length of time.
Players navigate the base by moving right or left, and they may jump or crouch. Ducking decreases speed but also decreases profile, so it's often recommended unless speed is of the essence. There are also items on the ground, some of which are picked up by pressing a button. These may restore health, solve a puzzle, or will just add points (although originally all items were planned with one use in mind). A player may also interact with glowing buttons in the background, which can halt a base's self destruct sequence (or start it), change displays, activate elevators, or other actions.
Should a player be knocked down, they can still shoot in one direction until they pick themselves up off the ground. In a desperate situation it's safer to keep firing rather than stand up, because when lying down they're already as low as they can go. Getting up may mean getting knocked down again, increasing the chance the weapon will be destroyed.
In multiplayer games the players work cooperatively, although the opportunity to be a bastard and take all the items still exists. There are also grenades which can do a significant amount of damage to enemies, or to friends. Fists, too, damage fellow player characters. Players can stay in the same room and help each other fend off aliens, or they can split up (always a good idea, huh?).
Play continues until all aliens are eliminated from the base or ship, the base self destructs, players activate the evacuation sequence, or all player characters are killed. Should everyone survive, bonuses are totaled up and the intrepid crew heads to the next infestation site to beam down again. It's worth noting that the thing characters beam down from is a disc that the player ship sends to each of the bases. The characters are seen beaming down from that disc, rather than the ship itself, which is slightly more plausible than the Star Trek version of beaming!
Enemies and Obstacles
The enemies in the game are aliens reminiscent of Giger's xenomorph, but only somewhat. It grows rapidly in stages, eventually reaching a point where they're a serious threat. Aliens also have tentacle arms which reach through the floor and ceiling; if they grab a character they slowly damage them, though they can be blasted away with a few hits. There are also several obstacles in the game, including a malfunctioning grenade dispenser that fires off grenades at random, an electrified field, and acidic slime dripping from the ceiling. There are also amoebae and out-of-control defence drones that don't know friend from foe.
The aliens in the game contribute to a percentage of infestation. If this percentage is reduced to zero, the stage is immediately cleared and the player(s) are extracted from the base. This provides a significant bonus of points, much more than if the self-destruct timer destroys the base.
Alien stages are as follows:
- Pod (early stage): The first two stages are when the creatures are at their weakest. A few hits should kill them.
- Pod (late stage): Little difference between the two beginning egg stages and this, except if it changes again players will be facing a creature that can actually do damage.
- Critter: Resembling a cornucopia with legs sticking out, this little bugger crawls along the ground and attaches to an explorer if it gets close enough. They must throw it off as soon as possible, because it nibbles on them until it's thrown loose, causing damage over time.
- Rollerbaby: The next stage is one of the most troublesome. In its open form it merely crawls along the ground and does damage to the player character, but if it rolls up into a ball it is all but indestructible, going so far as to deflect weapons fire. Blasting it will also make it bounce around the room, causing characters damage if it makes contact with them.
- Snotterpillar (full-grown): This the deadliest of the normal aliens. It has a lot of hit points, and takes quick leaps in the rooms, bowling characters over and causing significant damage. It also flings acidic spit from a distance. These guys can be blasted apart in mid air as they're about to hit, which is super awesome.
In addition to the main aliens, there are especially deadly aliens with psychic powers (called Festor) that appear by peeking around doorways and from behind scenery in the darker sections. If a character is standing and facing them too closely, they will be caught in an electric brain beam, causing a lot of damage and throwing them far once they're released. This creature also throws pre-pod eggs that cause damage as well, and in some versions these can become new pods.
It's worth noting that the aliens themselves are generated randomly throughout the level. Killing end-stage aliens does not mean players are less likely to see more end-stagers later, and killing eggs doesn't decrease the overall alien count. So players can shift from room to room to try to get a more favorable situation, but it's often risky to do so.
In addition to the normal blaster, players can find grenades that are thrown in a short arc and do a lot of damage to enemies and allies nearby. These are very dangerous and take some getting used to.
In addition there are several firearms which have strengths and weaknesses:
- A laser-like beam weapon that shoots at extreme distance rapidly, but doesn't do much more damage than the basic weapon.
- A lightning gun that fires at a moderate distance but does a lot of damage
- An extermination gas gun that shoots a very short distance but does extreme damage
Gameplay continues until all players are eliminated, assuming continues are not an option. In the Lynx version players are allowed to go through the roster of main characters before the game was over.
Player with the highest score has bragging rights!
The Atari Lynx version allows for multiple players by linking several systems together. In addition, one player can actually play one of the aliens and grief the other players by jumping at them, spitting at them (meaning in the game), and stealing items off the ground.
Items are more functional than in other versions, and one item worth noting is the jet pack (which can be just as harmful as helpful to the user!). It also has an end boss (!) called the Mother Festor.