Yars’ Revenge Xbox 360 Review

April 28, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews & Features, Xbox 360, Xbox

Publisher – Atari – Developer – Killspace Entertainment – Genre – Action – Players – 1-2 – Age Rating – 12+ – Other console/handheld formats – N/A

Atari were once one of the biggest names in the console market, and Yars’ Revenge by Howard Scott Warshaw was one of their most original titles for the Atari 2600 console – released way back in 1981, and accompanied by a sci-fi comic book. The character names and a reproduction of that comic book are the major link between the 1981 game and this 2011 incarnation. So does it live up to the original game?

Yar is an alien in an armoured space suit, portrayed in the anime-style cutscenes. As the story unfolds, Yar becomes aware of its heritage and fulfils its destiny (and refers to itself in the subtly drawn animation in the third person). Further dialogue appears onscreen as part of the display during the action, but is difficult to take in.

Each of the six levels of the game is an on-rails shooter, moving the camera and the player through a pre-determined route through the action. A dodge move allows the player to avoid incoming fire, and the independently controlled cursor (using the right analogue stick) changes according to the weapon being used. There are four of them, with four extra power-ups assigned to the face buttons.

Yar starts off with a pulse laser, fired with the right trigger, and the railgun on the right bumper that requires charging between uses. Missiles can be collected and locked on to up to six targets at a time, and are particularly suited to destroying one particular enemy type. For the last two levels Yar acquires the powerful Zorton Cannon, charged by holding down both analogue sticks and then fired to damage or destroy all enemies onscreen.

The power-ups come in four flavours. Defender locks on and destroys enemy projectiles, Annihilator increases the strength of the pulse laser, Seeker attacks all the enemies onscreen, and the Shield provides temporary invulnerability to enemy fire as well as a partial recharge of the energy bar. The key to the game (and getting high scores) is to balance weapon use and shooting to boost the score multiplier. Each of the six levels ends with a boss fight. Highlights include the use of a red shield (a knowing nod to the original) and a computer protected by laser cannon that is designed to evoke memories of GlaDOS from the Portal games – but which proves a much easier enemy to defeat. Challenges – such as Hardcore mode, with less starting energy – extend the longevity, while the Achievements are harder to come by. Given there are only the 200 available to an XBLA game, this is sensible. Online leaderboards give something to aim for, but co-op play is limited to two people on the same machine.

Graphics for the most part are well done, with some nicely drawn backdrops and interesting enemy sprites. However, the fixed path tends to be chosen for the cinematic look rather than the best angle for dealing with enemies. This sometimes leads to problems as enemies and power-ups are obscured behind scenery. Sound includes some nice weapon FX and a stirring end theme.

The frustration with the game is that it is following in the footsteps of some classic on-rails shooters. Nintendo’s Sin & Punishment games did so much more with the same premise, and Rez (available in HD form for the 360) is worth experiencing. Even the classic Panzer Dragoon games packed in more variety. At just six short levels with checkpoints, there is not enough variety. The boss fights feature little in the way of originality and can be a real chore, the overlong energy bar being slowly depleted.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment with the game is that it is nowhere near as compelling as its 30-year old counterpart. That game had unusual game mechanics and made good use of the hardware. The modern day version will no doubt get lost in the stream of Xbox Live releases, trading on the famous name for attention. For score attack fans there is a strong challenge here, for everyone else it is a bit of a missed opportunity.