Friday 18 May 2012

Syder Arcade (PC/Mac)

There's a timeless quality to hardcore arcade shoot 'em ups, and I seriously doubt there'll ever be a time where taking control of a starfighter and blowing the shit out of countless enemies who spray waves of laserfire will stop being fun. Syder Arcade certainly isn't breaking this tradition of entertaining, challenging, and explosion-tastic scrolling shooters, and this brilliantly executed game has found the sweet spot of bullet-hell game design; the special place where old-school levels of difficulty dovetail with replay factor.

From the off Syder Arcade makes no bones about this good old fashioned difficulty - the default "young gun" difficulty setting's flavour text states that it's not the player's fault they grew up on modern consoles, and the gameplay that follows shows this is not a game to hold the player's hand.

You'll see no regenerating health here, and just because you've taken a million hits and your starfighter is burning around you don't expect the next bonus dropped by a dead enemy to be a repair pack. Toughing it out on your last millimetre of health and killing everything on the screen until something drops some for you is the name of the game here, just like old times.

In time honoured bullet-hell fashion early in the game the player's going to find themself facing burning hails of enemy laserfire; there's little in the way of soft touch, easy to handle attack waves here. If Syder was a person and saw you lying in the street with a broken leg it would probably just tell you to man up or maybe just put a lit cigarette in your mouth and move on.

Graphically, Syder Arcade is fantastic. My first thought on booting it up was that it looked like what Amiga game designers might have seen in fever-dreams of the future; brilliantly realised sprites over a beautiful background in that palette of blues and purples that always gives me flashbacks to the Team 17 logo and skiving off school to play Alien Breed.

Then I found out that graphics options included an Amiga filter and I pretty much died. Aside from building a great game that looks and plays like something that would be a black hole for £1 coins if it was in an arcade cabinet somewhere, the Studio Evil team added onto this a huge wedge of graphics options, from the eye-bleeding "hipster" mode to settings that make the game look like it's being played on a range of retro kit, from EGA/VGA PCs to Commodore 64s.

Three different starfighters to choose from adds to the gameplay options, and none of them is a standout, all-beater that renders using the other craft void, which is nice to see in a game like this. Each comes with its own secondary attack, my favourite being the "gravity well" ability to summon a swarm of asteroids, which would be so much fun in everyday life.

The designs of the starships in the game shows an initial similarity to those of the Homeworld series, but quickly gets crazy with loads of different enemy types thrown at the player, some with truly creative, unique designs.

Shoot em ups wouldn't be quite the same without bosses, and Syder Arcade gives the player huge capital ships with individually targettable weapons, bridges and other such spaceship accessories for you to blow up with your various toys of death.

Added to the campaign mode is an endurance mode, which is predictably hard as nails but makes for some great gameplay - throwing so many bad guys at the player it's possible to keep your score-related secondary weapon pretty much permanently charged, and filling the screen with constant streams of fire and forget missiles is one of the most satisfying things ever.

A frustrating glitch, however, did raise its head. Quite a few times in the first mission (but curiously never after that) I ran into a peculiar bug where one of the slightly tougher bad guys would appear on the radar screen, and their energy bar would also appear, but they wouldn't actually spawn, leaving me with no option but to quit and restart. I agonised for ages on whether or not this glitch alone was worth docking a joystick from the game's final score, but I can't really do it. Apart from this one snag the game is a brilliant piece of work, a chrome-plated supercharged gunship of a shmup, and I can see Syder Arcade remaining on my hard drive indefinitely.

(Please note that the aforementioned bug is now fixed in the latest version of the game! Syder Arcade is available for Windows and Mac for £5.99).

Download the demo/buy the game here (from the Studio Evil website).
4 out of 5

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