Friday, January 13, 2012

Tyrian 2000

Platform: PC
Developer: Eclipse Productions
Released: 1995
Genre: Shoot 'Em Up

The Story
In the year 20,031, terraforming is big business, and there's no one bigger than the megacorporation Microsol. And when they come across a strange mineral called Gravitium that can control gravity itself, they look to become even bigger still. But you can't conquer the market - not to mention the galaxy - without shooting a few people in the back, and that's just what they do to the only person who knows about the mineral and their plans and isn't willing to go along with it. Unfortunately for the megalomaniacs at Microsol, that person just happened to have a friend named Trent Hawkins. A friend who happens to be not only one of their most skilled terraforming pilots, he's also pretty handy with a weapons system as well and looking to give his now former employers a little payback.

After stealing a ship, Trent heads out for the nearest non-Microsol planet to spread the word about Gravitum and bring the corporation down. The only problem? The absolute shit-ton of battle-ready ships between here and there, all of them looking to silence him before the entire sector explodes into a corporate/government war.

The Game
[I]Tyrian 2000[/I] was originally just [I]Tyrian[/I] before it was re-released with a bunch of new stuff, like a new chapter in the storyline with new levels and weapons and the like. But even before that, it was just a little something cooked up by a couple of guys trying out some scrolling game architecture. Feeling they might be on to something, they started shopping what they'd made around even though it couldn't really be called a game at the time. A few folks at Epic MegaGames happened to like the looks of the ingredients they were working with, brought in a few more cooks from developers Eclipse, and voila! A few years later a tasty arcade-style treat was served to the general public.

Small game makes good. It's beautiful, man.

The Characters
Trent Hawkins is our main character, the man who's seat you're sitting several yards above throughout the course of the game. Though he doesn't really say too much, the walls of text that spring up in between missions and chapters let us know that he's not a very happy man. Of course, his best friend has been killed by the company he was working for, and now that company wants to kill him with extreme prejudice on the way to taking over the entire galaxy. Not many people are going to be at their best under those conditions. As a result of all these shenanigans, Trent seems to turn into an angry, bitter shell through the course of the game, and who can blame him? Most of the people in his galaxy are complete assholes.

I could probably learn a little bit about each of the main bad guys in the game and tell you about 'em. There are at least a handful in there, and they are kind of colorful characters. But in the end, their primary role in the entire game is just to be bunch of complete assholes. Microsol as a whole has gone completely nutty, it seems, and all of them are fully prepared to take whatever steps necessary to procure complete control over everything and everyone in the galaxy. It's quite possible that the Gravitium has some kind of mind-bending element to it, but from the way they talk in the game, it's also quite possible that Microsol was already entirely staffed with megalomaniacal, delusional, and totally psychotic jerks.

Don't let any of this turn you off from the game, however. I think they're all great. I love every single one of those unrepentant douchebags!

The Writing
When I realized that this was going to be a bullets-flying-everywhere-shoot-em-up extravaganza, I wasn't expecting there to be, y'know, a story. And yet there is one! It's a bit hard to follow at first since a metric shit-ton of stuff is suddenly thrown at you all at once, including a bunch of stuff that doesn't seem relevant at fist but becomes so toward the end of the game. If, that is, you're bothering to pay attention to the story. It's not explicitly necessary, as it's just kind of something to read in between missions and has little to no bearing on the gameplay whatsoever except one to justify there being any gameplay in the first place and two giving little hints now and again.

That prompts the question then, should one even bother reading the story of T2K? My resounding answer is YES!

Once enough has been revealed that you can start making some sense out of everything that's being thrown at you, there actually is a pretty good story amidst the technobabble. The tale of a vengeful yet reluctant hero singlehandedly taking on the various dangers of the sector and smashing them flat one by one. Trechery, betrayal, high stakes, all that sorta good stuff. And surprisingly enough a great deal of humor, mostly of the absurdist and meta types while incorporating a lot of satirical jabs at some of the staples of science-fiction writing.

Sure, you could just blast through one level after another, taking suckahs out without thinking twice about why you're doing it, but I'd recommend giving the data cubes a chance before blasting off to your next adventure. You might just be pleasantly surprised at what you find.

The Gameplay
The basic setup is that of a basic overhead shoot 'em up. Bullets - yours and theirs - flying all over the place and basically obscuring everything on the screen as you weave back and forth and left and right. Crush your enemies, take the stuff they drop, crush some more. Virtually every level ends with a boss fight against some very large and very deadly ship or monster or construct of some kind.

But like the writing above, there's actually much more to it than one would expect. There's a great deal of customization you can do with your ship, even from the get-go. The ship and weapons upgrade system is very deep and changes slightly with almost every level depending on what kind of gear becomes available between missions. And despite there being different prices for each weapon, that doesn't necessarily mean that more expensive is also more better. I spent most of the game sporting the cheapest and most basic forward gun, simply upgrading its power level again and again as I got more cash. Why? Because I wielded it as pure death, bringing destruction to every dumb motherfucker that got in my path, that's why. For the most part, none of the other guns worked near as well for me.

But that was just me. There's several different kinds of weapons to choose from, and which is the best depends a great deal on what kind of strategy you take while playing.

I really liked the generator/shields/armor dynamic the game has going. Your armor is the basic structural integrity of the ship itself, and better ship models have more armor. Protecting that are your energy shields, which gradually get refilled by the generator. Better generator means better shield refill, and if you've got the best of both then ramming other ships becomes a completely viable option in a pinch. Keeping an eye on all of this during the game adds a nice layer to the challenge as well as giving you another slightly unconventional weapon in your arsenal.

The Challenge
The natural progression of challenge is to get harder and harder as you go along. In this, T2K is not quite natural. The beginning of the game is frustrating as shit as you start out with a little underpowered vessel and almost no idea what you're doing with the upgrade system. Once you start figuring out what combinations work right for you and get access to some of the better stuff later on in the game, things quickly shift in favor of the player. Eventually survival is just a matter of holding down the fire button and weaving from side to side, filling the screen with hot lasery death from which nothing can escape.

Which I gotta admit is fun, and it felt like a nice reward for having to put up with the constant deaths that plagued me early on. The backwards challenge scale doesn't really seem too out of place, and instead it's just nice to feel like a big damn badass toward the end.

The Sights
Wow! Many of the levels have their own kind of theme - set up by the storyline stuff between them - giving a wide variety of scenery to look at. And without a single exception I can think of, they are all absolutely gorgeous. Even when I was dying and starting each level over again and again, the one thing I didn't whine and moan about was the chance to see the pretty backgrounds again and again as well. They manage to shine through even when over 50% of their area is obscured by weapons fire.

The enemy design, while not exactly inspired as they all sort of run the basic sci-fi shoot 'em up gamut, is still very well done and eye pleasin'.

The Sounds
The default music setting is set rather low, leading to an interestingly low-key soundtrack overall. For the most part I didn't even hear it over the sounds of my own lasers blasting through the air and the explosions of my opponents. And in the end, those two things are really the only music you need for this merciless path of destruction. But on the few occasions I did take the time to stop and listen to the BGM, I would consider turning the music up to a more audible setting. It's actually pretty nice, if a bit incongruent with the war-like setting of the game.

The Bottom Line
I'll admit it. I went into Tyrian 2000 expecting a samey piece of junk as any other quarter-eating arcade overhead shoot 'em up. At first glance it certainly did look like it was going to go that route. And even though it did contain that sort of thing within it, T2K surprised the hell out of me by being an almost completely different sort of experience, going above and beyond to deliver something more. Beautiful graphics, a good story, a well thought out weapons system, and ridiculous amounts of comedy, all wrapped up in the comfortable trappings of a blow-the-shit-out-of-everything package.

It's good and it's free, so go out there and get it!

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed this review a lot. Great writing!
    I think I'm gonna give this old game another go, as I remember playing it back in 1999 or somewhere close. Didn't really notice the storyline and jokes, just the exciting explosions, collecting goods and such. I totally gotta re-play it after the years!