Sinistar: Unleashed Preview

Despite all the graphical gloss, it seems that GameFX is trying to stay true to the complexity - and the accompanying difficulty - of the original. Watch for Sinistar Unleashed later this summer.


Remember Williams' old arcade classic, Sinistar? You might not, since it wasn't exactly the most popular game around. The original Sinistar, released in 1983, was a tough space shooter in the tradition of Atari's Asteroids, whose tremendous difficulty was both the cause of its overall unpopularity and the reason why its small faction of loyal fans loved (and continue to love) it so.

The original arcade game was surprisingly complex for its time. You controlled a lone starship in a densely packed asteroid belt full of space rocks and enemy fighter and worker ships. These alien ships weren't exactly friendly, so you had to defend yourself by shooting down those enemy ships. Taking evasive maneuvers wasn't easy either, thanks to all those big rocks floating about. Fortunately, the asteroids could be shot and blown up too; when they were, they would leave energy crystals that would allow your ship to fire Sinibombs. Sinibombs were the only way to defeat Sinistar, an angry and very vocal planet-sized menace who, when fully constructed by enemy workers, would chase your ship all over the screen, hurling digitized-voice taunts and threats at you all the while. As a result, you would have to carefully budget your attention to a number of different goals: Destroy enemy fighters before they did they same to you; destroy enemy workers before they could create a Sinistar; harvest crystals from asteroids to stock up on Sinibombs; and blast Sinistar with Sinibombs, should he appear.

GameFX and publisher THQ have teamed up to bring back all that heavy-duty arcade action in Sinistar Returns. The new game takes place in a fully 3D outer space environment, accompanied by some impressive visuals, especially the bursts of colored lighting on exploding ships and asteroids. The readme file included in the preview version boasts that Sinistar Unleashed's in-game graphics are "often mistaken for pre-rendered video." This is a hefty claim, but one that seems valid, considering the smooth and highly detailed models of the player's ship, asteroids, and enemies.

The game itself (or its prerelease demo, anyway) is a free-roaming, fully 3D first-person shooter and plays much the way you'd expect it to. As in similar games, like Forsaken and the Descent series, your ship stays perfectly still by default and is moved forward by hitting the throttle. You can also move along the x, y, and z axes, with the freedom to strafe both side to side and up and down, as well as perform side rolls for evasive purposes. Your ship comes equipped with a standard laser blaster and a handful of Sinibombs, though you can equip yourself with other goodies, like speed boosters, cutting lasers, and long-range guided missiles. Enemies are indicated on the battlefield with a dynamic set of coordinates that turn white, then pink, then red as the enemies approach and that also appear on a handy miniature radar display in the bottom left-hand corner of the screen. GameFX has also been good enough to toss in a number of other "updates," including new single-player levels (29 in all - 24 single-player and five bonus stages), six different ships for you to choose from, nine different weapons and eight different power-ups, and the obligatory multiplayer support.

Though Sinistar Unleashed will attempt to make the jump from the arcades of the early '80s to the high-end PCs of the '90s, the basic framework of the game will remain true to the original. You, as the lone fighter pilot, are up against a hideous and appropriately named alien race called the Distilled Evil, and their slaves, the Sporg - another race of aliens long since assimilated and warped to serve their masters' dark purposes. At the beginning of a game, your ship appears in the familiar asteroid belt, sitting directly in front of a shimmering jumpgate. The jumpgate itself is powered by energy crystals, which are transported to the edge of the gate by Sporg workers, who, if you aren't quick enough to eliminate them immediately, will line the edges of the jumpgate with the crystals they've gathered. Once enough crystals are amassed, the jumpgate will activate, and Sinistar will emerge.

That's assuming you last that long. All the while, your ship is being bombarded by enemy Sporg fighters who, as in the original, move faster and are more maneuverable than you are. Though you have the benefit of better armor, a more varied arsenal, and the ability to cancel out their fire with your own shots, you'll be hard-pressed to hold your own against them. In the meantime, you've got to navigate through the tightly packed asteroid belt full of massive rocks that will damage your ship in a collision; plus, you've got to make sure you nuke a few to harvest crystals for Sinibombs. Actual games can go from calm to frantic in a hurry, as your attention becomes divided between the tasks of shooting up more and more enemy fighters and workers and avoiding or destroying asteroids.

Despite all the graphical gloss, it seems that GameFX is trying to stay true to the complexity - and the accompanying difficulty - of the original. Watch for Sinistar Unleashed later this summer.

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