BANG: Gunship Elite Preview

Strange title aside, BANG! Gunship Elite is a port of the popular space sim that's making waves in the PC world. Fans of Wing Commander and FreeSpace step right up - your ship has landed.

Consider Ubi Soft's rationale for the release of its upcoming DC space sim, BANG! Gunship Elite: First, the success of the Colony Wars series on the PlayStation and, more recently, StarLancer on the DC assure a receptive audience. Secondly, and more importantly, BANG! is already out and about on the PC, which makes the title's arrival on the Dreamcast simply a matter of porting a ready-made game from one format to another. BANG! is a fair candidate for such treatment too, being the recipient of fairly positive reviews since it hit the PC. The real question is, then, how exactly will Red Storm Entertainment's DC port of BANG! be an improvement over the original and how much of an improvement is really necessary?

An uninspired plot certainly won't douse your fighting spirit, though it may not rouse any bloodlust either. You're part of the alliance of Three Races, at war with the insidious Sektars. Despite defeating them in several previous conflicts, these alien baddies just don't know when to quit. As BANG! opens, these baddies have entered Alliance space with a little help from their powerful friends, the Morgoths, and now intend to wholly annihilate you, your family, friends, and your entire civilization for good. Enter Xaha, an amazingly talented, but woefully inexperienced, pilot for the Alliance. As Xaha, you're tasked with defeating the two-headed threat of the Morgoths and Sektars, and with restoring peace to the known universe. The story is as old as Star Wars and about as fresh as William Shatner's acoustic stylings, but it should get you in the mood for an old-school blast-'em-up affair you know by heart.

BANG!'s story isn't the only thing that will induce bouts of déjà vu. Its gameplay can just as easily be lumped into the unfortunate category of "been there, done that." This was originally the work of French developer Rayland, and the apparent focus of the design team was for fast, visually gratifying gameplay, with pretty much everything else coming as a secondary concern. Internet play isn't making the translation from PC to DC, so you're left with 19 single-player missions. Here, you'll take on dozens of enemy fighters and assorted armadas as an interstellar death-dealer with the latest technological weaponry. With the assistance of a very accurate lock-on system, you'll be blowing enemy baddies into the cold vacuum of space in no time. The lock-on system is quick and efficient, and it makes taking out your opposition a relative breeze. In fact, in the heat of battle you'll likely be more concerned with managing your shields and ammunition than with the bogies on your six.

As easy as it may be for you to wreak havoc on your enemy, you can expect some interesting twists to the gameplay in BANG! Battles are epic in scope - so much so that you'll often be forced to head straight for your primary targets while ignoring tertiary craft just to avoid getting distracted in consuming dogfights and emptying your precious ammunition stores. This leads to exciting space encounters, with enemy fire whizzing by left and right as entire armadas bear down on your lone craft. In these frantic battles, you'll have to keep your shields up by destroying enemy fighters that release energy capsules. While this balancing act creates an interesting gameplay conceit, the constant hunts for your shield's "space juice" may result in many unavoidable (and tedious) turning duels that are an unpleasant staple of the genre.

Like most space sims, BANG!'s visuals should neither bore nor disappoint. Effects like lens flares may be appealing, but some impressive explosions and vibrant weapon blasts are what make an otherwise ordinary day in the galaxy feel totally substantial and gratifying. All are wholly present in BANG!'s dazzling graphics. Backdrops may be composed of simple 2D bitmaps, but polygonal asteroids and some subtle highlights go a long way toward making the celestial bodies take on a striking appearance. Since this is a PC port, you can expect the ultrahigh resolution to come down a few notches for the DC, though the frame rate should remain between the 30fps and 60fps range. Then there are the spacecraft themselves: Rayland created models that varied in shape and size, if not in complexity. For frame rate concerns, models were designed simply to have as many as possible on the screen with no slowdown in the action.

You can only watch a great action flick so many times before the script sounds rote and its format becomes stale. While this was a serious hurdle for BANG! to overcome on a PC market saturated with FreeSpace, X-Wing, and Wing Commander series, among others, this space opera is on a slightly different stage in the console market. BANG!'s only competitor on the DC's space sim market will come from StarLancer. Red Storm anticipates it'll be shipping this fast and frenzied shooter before the end of the year, so you can look forward to BANG! Gunship Elite as your possible DC stocking stuffer, one week before Christmas.

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