Franchises getting rebooted after years of lying dormant are a tricky proposition for any developer, with most efforts falling significantly short of the once great originals. Yars’ Revenge is a different proposition though: the title never got a sequel, was rarely re-released and has been largely confined to the history books as “that Atari 2600 game Howard Scott Warshaw made before nearly killing the video game industry with ET: The Extra Terrestrial“. Mysterious Los Angeles upstarts Killspace Entertainment – made up of ex-Pandemic, EALA, Red 5 and Obsidian staff – have been tasked with updating Yars’ for a modern audience and on many levels, they’ve succeeded.
You play Yars, who will hopefully be taking her Revenge on pretty much everyone she meets. Humanoid in form but possessing wings and being decked out in curling, tightly moulded high tech armour, she sets out across six stages of shooting action, taking out wave after wave of enemy, giant boss after giant boss. The story is nonsensical and presented in that rather unlikeable still-frame-images-accompanied-by-text way. Mid-mission dialogue is also handled in this manner, forcing players to either draw their focus from the play field or ignore it completely. You’ll not be missing much if you decide the latter.
Though press releases from Atari up until this point have promised Panzer Dragoon, the new Yars’ Revenge is closer to a dual stick Space Harrier, with position of the player’s avatar being of much greater importance than SEGA’s dragon riding epics. Players control Yars with the left stick and the aiming reticule with the right, weaving in and out of enemy fire while taking out as many foes along the way. RT handles a quick firing cannon, LT has a multiple target missile lock assigned (which immediately made me think of Rez), the right bumper shoots a powerful bomb and the opposite bumper combined with a direction is a quick dodge to escape tricky situations. Face buttons are assigned to special pick-ups, such as a shield or an attack that obliterates everything on screen. Insectoid and robotic bad guys attempt to shoot you down, you deny them the pleasure, build up a score multiplier and proceed to the next enemy pattern over levels that take (a slightly too lengthy) 15 minutes or so to complete. It’s simple stuff and there are far too few enemy types, but it’s a more current gameplay style than the original’s top down offering and is all the better for it.
Like Panzer Dragoon, the work of Jean Giraud is clearly an inspiration in its character design and world aesthetic, nature mixing with metal and electronics. A pity then that the engine rendering the on screen models can’t quite live up to the aspiration, producing low polygon count baddies that animate rigidly. Backgrounds whizz by the player but have no bearing on play in the slightest, to the point that enemies will often turn direction with the player at set moments, a bizarre display of Red Arrows-like formation flying. There are some neat areas to see in Yars’ Revenge, but you could be flying through a pitch black void for as much affect it would have on your shooting strategy. The upside of this basic visual presentation is that the action remains constant and smooth throughout, barely dropping a frame of animation during my time with the title. What really stands out though is the menu design which, even as I write this sentence, sounds oddly specific. The interface of getting into play is elegant and sharp, all honeycombs and icy neon hues, everything you could possibly want to access neatly and cleanly presented. The audio is solid too, Orbital-era chilltronica scores the play, shooting sounds appropriately pew pew.
There’s also a series of challenges for high score chasers and leader board junkies, which replicate the one player mode levels but with a twist; keep the multiplier going or take damage, have no access to health recharging shields and so on. It forces you to change your approach to the game, yet never quite far enough to warrant much time with them, barring a few rock hard achievement unlocks.
This is a competently made B game that tries something different with the Yars’ Revenge property while remaining faithful to the overall concept of what the original was all about, the inclusion of a handful of subtle winks to players of the original denoting a level of respect for the brand you don’t usually find in remakes. It won’t blow you away in any department of its production – except those menus, BLIMEY! – but it’s a good afternoon of old school rail-shooter fun.
MLG Rating: 6/10
Platform: XBLA/PSN/PC Release Date: 12/04/2011
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a digital copy of Yars’ Revenge for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of three days on an Xbox 360. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.