Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Retro Respawn: Tyrian 2000

It's possible to consider Tyrian the perfect game. It has a flawless mix of action and humor with excellent replay value. It's also quite possibly the best top-down airplane/spacecraft shooter of all time. Taking place in the distant future, you play as Trent Hawkins, an ace pilot working for a huge, evil corporation. Said corporation kills your best friend and parents, at which point you embark on a lengthy adventure featuring revenge, escapes, twists, backstabbing and stuff blowing up spanning 5 episodes. The plot itself unfolds through transmissions you receive between missions. Following the plot is entirely optional and doesn't affect the gameplay at all. So whether you're a "story guy" or not, you're set. If you DO follow the plot, you will really get an appreciation for this game's humor. Amongst the plot driven transmissions, you will run into ads for silly future products as well as reference to other games from Epic like One Must Fall 2097 and Jazz Jackrabbit.
*pew pew pewwwww*
Odd for this genre, you can actually take some heavy damage before you go down. Your shields, which recharge at a rate depending on the strength of your ship's power source, need to be depleted before you take hull damage. Your shields, power source and hull are upgradable, so later in the game you'll be able to weather some serious punishment. That said, don't expect to fly through (get it? FLY through? Eh? Ehhh??) this game with little effort. Enemies will be able to take (and dish out) heavy damage as well.
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Like others in the genre, you can upgrade your ship and its weapons. You have one forward weapon, one rear weapon and two "sidekicks". The sidekicks fly next to you and have limited ammo. They're not firing all the time, however, and have dedicated buttons for firing them (Q and E). They also don't have to be the same as each other; you can purchase left and right sidekicks separately. The weapons and sidekicks can range from mainstays like vulcan cannons and homing missiles to crazy omnidirectional star bursts and flamethrowers. Trying out every weapons combination in one playthrough is near impossible.
There are many game modes, including Arcade Mode which takes out the plot elements and shopping for upgrades with money turns into in-game instant powerups. There aren't as many weapons as story mode and you can't upgrade armor, shields or generator, but in this respect you're outfitted with a decent ship from the beginning. Additionally, the multiplayer (2-player co-op) is a fun, not to mention different, experience. Both players essentially control half of one ship, designated "Dragonwing" and "Dragonhead". Dragonhead is the small and maneuverable, yet fragile ship while Dragonwing is, naturally, the big, slow heavily armored ship. They also have abilities and power-up unique to each other. When joined together, they form "Steel Dragon", where player 1 controls the ship whilst player 2 controls the turret. It's a blast!

Many top-down shooters originated in the arcades, so they're inherently difficult; designed to eat up your coins. Tyrian isn't so hard that you want to rage quit, but it certainly isn't easy. You really feel a sense of accomplishment from completing a level. The fast paced gameplay prevents you from ever using the word "boring". Even by today's standards it's an action-pack title and there really are few things in life as pleasurable as having hoards of enemies mowed down before you by your awesome firepower.

Sure, the *bang bangs* and the *pew pews* are solid, but the music of Tyrian is a defining feature for the title. The effort and passion from the composer is blatantly evident. In most video games, the music nice, but forgettable. Then every once in a while a game comes along where the music becomes part of your life. I mean, who doesn't know the tune to Super Mario Bros? Can you imagine where Contra and Castlevania would be with mediocre music? Tyrian's music is brilliant; something you would listen to even without the game.

By 1995 standards, the visuals were good. By today's standards it's still pretty. The scrolling background is highly detailed, the enemies even more so. Weapons like lasers and flamethrowers look lasery and flamethrowery, respectively. Movement animations inherently don't apply to top-down air/spacecraft shooters and that axiom holds true for Tyrian. Ships move around, deadly things come from them, they have maybe 2 or 3 frames of animations, nothing fancy but not certainly not bad.  The visual style is timeless and the resolution is high enough that even on big, modern monitors it doesn't look too pixelated. 

Between the many game mode, the multiplayer and the plethora of hidden minigames, there is plenty to do. Nowadays, it's all fairly standard in a good game, but for its time, the developers really went out of their way to provide more game content than most titles of the day. You l33t hax0rz out there can even grab the art and source code, because that was made public near the end of the 2000s. Thus, Tyrian has been ported to many platforms.

Given the sheer amount of weaponry and other upgrades in the game, by the time you finish the story mode you usually want to play again just so you can try out more weapon combinations. Challenging yourself to play "Super Tyrian" mode will keep you going for a while and the 2-player co-op is still fun, even by today's' standards. In fact, you can play this classic with a friend over the Internet (although it will take a little research into how). I still find myself play Tyrian 16 years after I first experienced it.

Tyrian is very well rounded, especially for the genre. It's a PC gaming landmark and really, is a legend in its own right. I would recommend this game for any gamer and since it's now freeware you really have nothing to lose. The pick-up-and-play value is incalculable... in fact, I think I'm gonna go play me some Tyrian.

Scoring is done on a scale of 1 to 5, overall score is the average of the first 5 categories. Scores are defined as:
1: Completely horrible.
2: Below Average, doesn't even meet the bar.
3: Average, what you would expect, nothing more nothing less.
4: Above average, developers really went the extra mile.
5: Pretty flawless, little if anything can be improved,

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