This is a second-rate game.
GT Interactive is a company known for publishing great action titles: id's first-person shooters Quake and Doom, 3D Realms' Duke Nukem, and their latest successful publishing effort, SCi's SWIV 3D. But that kind of stellar line-up is almost impossible to maintain. GT Interactive inevitably had to disappoint hard-core action gamers, and that particular disappointment manifests itself in the form of another SCi title, XS.
You know disappointment is waiting just around the corner when you boot up an action game that purports to be "the ultimate gladiatorial combat simulator," and instead of getting you straight to the matter at hand - such as, say, killing other opponents - you're treated to long-drawn-out FMV sequences of the aforementioned killing. After making the appropriate set-up alterations in XS, you are introduced to the evening's combatants in yet more FMV sequences - creepy cretins with names like Lee Harvey, Jake Velocity, and The Vamp - and then you're launched into the arena.
The AI seems at least partially sentient at the outset: Your CPU opponents actually engage in shoot-outs with you, defensively peeking out from behind walls and then dodging around corners. But there were times when I caught some of them hammering away at the patrol droids (who lurk around shooting contestants at random), seemingly undistracted by the unrelenting stream of deadly rockets I was unloading into them. Overall, the AI, although it tries to be innovative and does succeed on some levels, is a bit erratic.
Each arena in XS is rendered with stunning textures, but while these environments remain faithful to 3-D laws, you may still find them confusing, disorienting, and unnecessarily labyrinthine. Tasks common to first-person shooters such as leaping from platform to platform, strafing, aiming, firing, etc., all seem to require more effort than should be necessary. To achieve that immersive sense of "being there," the line of communication from the mouse and keyboard to your character's actions should at least be as direct as possible.
Had the AI features, character movements, and control been fined-tuned better, XS may have been a first-rate title. The 60 or so opponents you're pit against level-to-level are actually really bizarre and creative, but all sense of their personalities is lost as they are translated from FMV into the pixelated polygons on the battlefield. The XS designers either set out to accomplish a breakthrough first-person game and fell slightly short of the mark, or this was a rushed production job created with unit sales in mind. Either way, this is a second-rate game.