Ask any experienced gamer what genre has been neglected the most over the past three or four years, and you're almost guaranteed to get a unanimous response: shooters. For some unknown reason, most game companies have decided that if it isn't a first-person, in-your-face Doom clone or the latest rip-off of Virtua Fighter or Tekken, it isn't worth producing. Fortunately, this isn't the case in Japan, where games like RayStorm, Taito's incredibly intense new space shooter for the PlayStation, are still being released frequently. Those thirsting for an amazing old school shooting experience can relax - your game has arrived.
RayStorm is the sequel to RayForce, Taito's 1995 arcade game that made it to the Saturn early last year as Galactic Attack (Layer Section in Japan). Unlike RayForce, which was a 100 percent 2-D vertically scrolling shooter, RayStorm consists of completely polygonal characters and backgrounds. This provides a much more lifelike feel to the action. Despite its 3-D environment, however, RayStorm is still, at its heart, a traditional 2-D-style shooter. The PlayStation version of RayStorm also includes an added bonus - in addition to the complete original arcade version of the game, a special "Extra Edition" comes on the CD, offering enhanced visual effects, more enemies, an arranged soundtrack, and more.
As in the original, your ship has two main methods of attack: the main blaster (which, depending the ship you choose, lets out either a stream of constant laser fire or multiple rapid-fire blasts), and lock-on homing lasers that seek out and destroy enemies stationed away from your ship. Since many enemies attack from below your ship's line of sight, the only way to destroy them is to take them out from above with your homing lasers. This type of strategic planning isn't found very often in shooters because developers tend to value visual splendor over actual gameplay.. Fortunately for RayStorm, that's not the case here.
Graphically, RayStorm really delivers. Intense lighting effects and marvelous explosions fill the screen. As with most polygon-heavy games, there's a bit of slowdown when things heat up, but it never gets out of hand. As for the music, the game's two soundtracks are done well. Even so, some tracks lack the urgency and intensity you'd expect from a fast-paced shooter. Taito fans should easily recognize the music though, since it's once again done by the now-famous label (in Japan, anyway), Zuntata.
Overall, there's not much to complain about in RayStorm. But the game does contain a couple of things fans of the original may not like. First of all, even with variable difficulty settings, the game is nowhere near as difficult as its predecessor. Additionally, the main weapon doesn't seem to be as much of a necessity as it was in the original. Moreover, it doesn't change much visually when fully powered-up (a minor complaint, but it's still a little disappointing).
All in all however, RayStorm is easily the best shooter currently available on the PlayStation (we're reserving judgment on Xevious 3D until we see the home version). No shooting-game fan should be without it. We know that several companies are interested in porting the game, so it's safe to say that if you can't afford to import, the US version shouldn't be too far behind.