What was perhaps most startling to earthlings last summer was not the alien menace, but rather the sad realization that it was really an invasion of corporate origin. Resistance is futile, humans: consume or be consumed. As we celebrated our independence, we did so in a state of total surrender, supine before the spectacle of mediocrity. It should come as no surprise, then, that Independence Day, the game, has inherited all of the genetic attributes of its progenitor: It is loud, fast, and remarkably devoid of personality.
Play commences on the second day of the invasion, "the day we fight back." With your wingman, Steve Hiller (former Prince of Bel Air), you will attempt to disable a series of motherships and take out their primary weapons. With the completion of each subsequent mission, players advance to more "sophisticated" cities - there is a noteworthy techno-epiphany in gay Paris, and Tokyo is cast in a lavish wash of neon signage. Periodically, you may escape the scenic tableaux through a "Warpgate," which transports fighters to a bonus match in several clandestine ports. Lush rendering aside, the actual gaming changes almost imperceptibly throughout the day, and that is precisely what gives this game its feeling of imminent mortality - July 4th becomes a sort of Groundhog Day to its captives, who must live each level perfectly lest they be doomed to repeat it. While this provides a rousing incentive to master the game, it seems dubious to credit the producers with a motivational victory here.
The Fox team, in an effort to alleviate boredom, has buried a few surprises in the program to varying effect. Bonus planes and special weapons serving as power-ups are hidden throughout the cityscapes. Because the action is relatively fast, at times almost arbitrary, players may have difficulty employing secondary weapons in a keyboard configuration. The visitors also have a maddening tendency to deploy "Tumblers" (a weapon that causes an onboard systems malfunction) just as you approach crucial pickups. What is perhaps most frustrating, though, is the creators' seemingly sadistic notion of reward. After reclaiming cities as dignified as New York and Tokyo, can gamers really be expected to defend Oahu?
In fairness to the developers at Radical Entertainment it seems important to note the high caliber of visual and sonic information offered up by ID4. Fans of rudimentary flight simulation should enjoy touring the masterfully rendered cities and shuddering beneath the awesome quake of the mothership. At advanced levels the soundtrack improves commensurately, particularly in the foreign territories where electronic music tends to flourish. The weapons systems, though not particularly advanced, feature a generously true AIM-120 missile, which works wonders in a pinch. The machine guns, however, appear to be virtually useless unless gamers are willing to play sacrificially.
Alas, no amount of garnish or spice can ever fully dispel the stench of a meat that is tainted, and so Independence Day comes to evening like a well-wrapped gift holding nothing. Alexander Pope once said, "No more the rising sun shall gild the morn," and so said to discriminating gamers, "know it for what it is and not what it purports to be." Those seeking "our finest hour" would be wise to delve back through the ages, to a more innocent era, where they might light upon an oft-forgotten wonder known to the ancients as "Defender."