Star Raiders Xbox Live
The space combat genre’s been conspicuous by its absence this generation, and it’s a crying shame. Space is brilliant. Spaceships are brilliant. Fighting in spaceships is also brilliant (I assume), so it should be a guaranteed recipe for success, yes? Alas no. This generation’s collective imagination has been sadly stunted by fascist exercises in militaristic fetishism, gritty profane sandbox adventures, and Wii Sports. Something as graceful and dignified as floating slowly through space, tediously taking pot shots at pixels is lost on the youth of today.
However! It seems all is not lost for the genre, as it’s slowly started to warp its way back. Halo: Reach had some space combat in it, and if rumours are to be believed, the next instalment of a certain wildly successful RPG series is going to have it; and no, it’s not Alpha Protocol. Could we be seeing a revival?
Atari seem to think so, as they’ve just released Star Raiders. Star Raiders was originally released in 1979, a time of great political conflict and excellent haircuts. Incinerator Studios have taken that game, spruced up the graphics and launched it at a new audience. Is it any good, then?
Star Raiders’ undeniable quality is apparent from the off. Colourful pictures that look like they were drawn by a child pop up, while a man bleats on in dramatic tones about his crewmates in a style vaguely reminiscent of Power Rangers (although sadly there are no Bulk and Skull style nonconformists in the Star Raider ranks) . The goal was probably to set up some sort of dramatic intrigue, but the dreadful art style and hammy acting all but kill the suspense. All you’re told is that you’re fighting an enemy race called the Zylons, which is the best bit of lawyer baiting since OJ Simpson’s If I Did It. It doesn’t even tell you why you’re fighting the Zylons, it just tells you to shoot them down like the space dogs they are. At the time I thought to myself it’d be an interesting Shadow Of The Colossus-style twist if it turned out you were the bad guy, but then I realised in my hubris that I wouldn’t have cared, and proceeded to shoot the dirty alien bastards anyway.
Speaking of which, the gameplay is perfunctory at best. It’s not galaxy-shaking, you just fly around a nicely rendered skybox shooting enemy ships. Some of the Zylon ships are quite big too, and require that you target specific bits to take them out. And that’s it. There’s the odd mission where you have to find something but generally it’s obsessively trigger happy, so if you’re after a varied experience you bought the wrong game. Mission objectives often just involve clearing enemies from an area and moving on, though if you wish you can stay in an area and shoot at asteroids that give you money so you can upgrade your craft (which, in a fabulously stupid bit of design, can only be done by exiting to the main menu).
Star Raiders‘ gimmick is that your ship can morph between 3 states. There’s a slow, turret state, a medium paced scout state, and an assault state that sees you whizzing around like a badly designed X-Wing. This was doubtless added to give the game a tactical veneer, but I’m too hamfisted to make any real use of it. Besides, you really don’t need it anyway, as Star Raiders is ridiculously easy. You’ve got unlimited lives and no penalty for dying, so you can keep plugging away at the levels with no fear of failure, thus killing any suspense that the game could have had.
Star Raiders promises intense dogfights, but the fights are about as dramatic as watching a poodle sniffing curiously at a Yorkshire terrier’s bum. There are no allied ships fighting along with you, and you’re often only asked to shoot down up to 20 things per stage, so it feels extremely empty. It’s often just you flying slowly towards 2 or 3 enemies at a time, whittling away at their health with your ineffectual pew-pewing laser. The soundtrack doesn’t help. Rather than liven up the game with some dramatic John Williams-style pomp, they’ve commissioned a load of weak, repetitive techno that even the most pilled-up hedonist would doze off to.
There’s no denying it. Star Raiders is bad. It’s repetitive, embarrassing, rushed and tedious. Yet I’m quite fond of it. It’s an interminable slog, but I don’t know, maybe years of playing stuff equally as tedious has broken me. I thought the Mako missions were the best part of Mass Effect so my judgement is decidedly skewed. There’s no way in hell I could objectively recommend it, but Star Raiders lightly scratched an itch. It’s quite nice to see a game so out of touch with modern gaming conventions like good presentation, stunning visuals and actual gameplay.
I sincerely doubt Star Raiders will make any sort of impact on the market. It’s far too archaic and slow paced to appeal to the ADD-afflicted, PCP-chugging youth of today. Therefore, if there’s a sequel they should drastically overhaul it. There should be a mission where you’re forced to shoot at an innocent convoy of ships in a Russian spaceport to highlight the horrors of war or something. Also they should give the main character a hipster haircut and he should smoke and swear a lot. Also everyone is a bloody vampire.