Reviewed: May 3, 2001
Released: May 1, 2001
Back in the late 1980's Sierra Online released the original Silpheed. The game was developed over in Japan by Game Arts and featured black & white EGA graphics and some of the most incredible MIDI music ever featured in a computer game if you were fortunate to have a Roland MT32 synthesizer.
Gameplay consisted of fast-paced shooting action in the style of Galaxian or Galaga with enemies entering the screen in various formations then lining up for you to attack as they dropped down to fire at you. An assortment of weapons and various power-ups aided you in your quest to clear level after level of alien swarms.
Now jump ahead more than ten years when the SEGA-CD made its debut. Silpheed once again blasted its way into gamers' homes; this time in detailed 3D polygon graphics with beautiful 2D rendered backgrounds and some of the most intense action to ever grace a console. Of the few games released for the SEGA-CD, Silpheed was arguably one of the best.
With the death of arcades and the advent of 3D graphics and new genres of games, shooters all but vanished from the gaming scene with a few notable exceptions. In 1985 we saw the release of an incredible shooter for the original PlayStation called Philosoma and a few years later another great shooter called Einhander made its way over from Japan. While these games were quite good there just didn't seem to be a demand for mindless shooters anymore.
So it was with great surprise and anticipation when I learned of the upcoming release of Silpheed: The Lost Planet way back when the PS2 was first announced. With all of the emphasis on the power of the 3D capabilities of the PS2 I couldn't imagine anyone taking the time to develop a platform shooter for such a powerhouse system.
After many delays Silpheed: The Lost Planet has finally arrived and it is certainly worth the wait. Sure it's just another mindless shooter, and sure, for the most part it looks and plays like the 2D scrollers from ten years ago, but the power of the PS2 has enough tricks up its sleeve to make this game really shine.
No matter how many polygons and special effects you throw into the mix, Silpheed plays just like every other platform shooter you have ever played. You control a tiny ship at the bottom of the screen and have the ability to move up and down and to either side as swarms of alien craft and huge bosses enter the screen from all sides to test your firepower.
Your ship is outfitted with two pylons, which you can equip with a number of powerful weapons, and then fire these either independently or combined. Throughout the missions you will have the opportunity to dock with a refueling ship and repair your shields and change weapons. Completing a mission will unlock additional weapons that can be used in subsequent levels. This is where the strategy comes into play.
Each section of each mission has unique aliens and formations that respond better to some weapons than others. If you have aliens swarming in from the sides then the V-spread Vulcan cannon is a good choice. If your enemies are coming from the top of the screen then the forward firing cannon or optical laser is a good choice. Of course you never know who is coming or from what direction until you have played and lost, so successfully completing this game means lots of repetition and memorization.
You only have one life, which consists of a ship with 5 or 10 shield units (you get to pick). The refueling ship will replenish 4 shield units each time you dock with it, but even this will seem inadequate in the later levels where the screen comes alive with alien ships, bosses, and laser fire. When your shield is gone you have the unlimited option to restart the level from the beginning (no checkpoints in this game) and your score is reset to zero. Your difficulty choices consist of Normal and Hard and the obvious absence of an Easy mode is almost a subliminal warning of the challenge ahead of you.
I hate to keep saying, "this is the best looking game on the PlayStation 2 to date", but it is; at least in this genre. The opening movie and the between mission cut scenes are breathtaking, and you are almost hypnotically compelled to watch them even on your tenth pass through the game.
The scrolling backgrounds during the combat missions are loaded with as much detail as the PS2 can render while keeping the frames at a silky smooth rate. The amount of graphic detail in the backgrounds is stunning and include thick billowing clouds that mask your ship as you pass through them, huge sprawling cityscapes with skyscrapers that crash and burn as you navigate the city streets and giant space stations with multiple levels of floating grid work.
For those of you who have seen Titan A.E. there is even a level where you descend into a lava chamber that is reminiscent of the nebula from the movie with cloud spires and jets of deadly fire that spout from all directions as the nebula rotates and twists madly as you fly through. The lava field bubbles and pulsates in a realistic fashion and there is little to no texture tearing or visible seams. The graphics literally come to life and jump off the screen throughout the entire game.
For the most part the game is "on rails". The orientation of the screen will change as the levels progress, and all you have to do is avoid the enemy fire and shoot them before they shoot you. There is plenty of nice swooping camera work between stages that often approach a true 3D feel although gameplay always reverts back to a 2D mode when combat is about to begin.
The smaller fighters are often too small to appreciate the amazing amount of detail put into them, but there are plenty of larger enemies that appear all too frequently and several large bosses that appear each level accompanied by the appropriate klaxon and flashing red warning messages. The sheer variety and originality in the alien design is remarkable and you will often find yourself looking forward to what lies ahead even though it will probably kill you.
Much of the story is told through pre-flight briefings. These can be quite long but are delivered by professional voice talent that is easy to listen to and understand. There are some unique spellings of certain words in the subtitles, but this is probably just a side effect of the translation process. There is a little bit of com-chatter during the actual combat but for the most part you are treated to the high-energy soundtrack. Overall, the voice is surprisingly good for an arcade game.
Those of you who played the original Silpheed back in the 80's and remember the beautiful soundtrack will be pleased to know that this 3rd generation features music of equal high quality. The score during the cut scenes delivers the appropriate emotional response and the thumping tracks during combat energizes the person at the controls and feeds the button-smashing frenzy required to obliterate the swarms of never-ending aliens.
Silpheed: The Lost Planet is a short game that lasts a long time mainly due to the fact that you will have to replay many of the levels over and over again because the final bosses are very tough. Memorizing the patterns and experimenting with various weapon combos will keep you playing until you figure everything out, but then the game can easily be finished in well under two hours. If you are an expert at arcade shooters then you may definitely want to rent this title before buying.
Then there is that "Hard" difficulty setting that will taunt you from the options menu. Add to this the fact that this game is an arcade game with a high score list begging for your initials and you have the makings of a game with virtually no end in sight. This can easily become one of your favorite games to toss in for a quite fix of arcade action.
Many people will probably be skeptical about a 2D platform shooter on a next-gen 3D powerhouse such as the PlayStation 2. While the PS2 is clearly capable of delivering much more than Silpheed demands of it, Lost Planet isn't about pushing the limits of technology. It's about pure arcade fun with updated graphics and gameplay worthy of a next-gen system and in that respect this game delivers exactly that.
Game Arts has delivered a polished shooter that will dazzle you with its blazing graphics and intense action while offering you challenging gameplay that will keep you busy for countless hours. If you are ready to take a break from your traditional 3D games and enjoy a little retro-shooter action then Silpheed: The Lost Planet is a definite must-have addition for your PS2 game library.