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TGS 06: Project Sylpheed Hands-On

We tear through the cosmos in Square Enix's Xbox 360 space shooter that's based on an old shoot-'em-up franchise.


TOKYO--Project Sylpheed is Square Enix's second offering for the Xbox 360, and unlike Final Fantasy XI Online, it's an original effort crafted specifically for the platform. Though the game is a space shoot-'em-up, which isn't exactly a genre that leaps to mind when you think Square Enix, the company has tried its hand at the genre before, most notably with the excellent Einhander for the original PlayStation back in the late '90s. We tried out a playable work-in-progress demo of Project Sylpheed on the Tokyo Game Show floor to see just what this "cinematic shooter" is all about on the 360.

The demo we tried featured three playable levels that appear to be the first three levels you'll play in the game. The first was a tutorial level and an introduction to the action in the game. The latter two levels were more advanced missions that featured a greater level of challenge. The tutorial kicked off with a CG sequence that set up the game's premise. We reckon it will come as a shock to no one when we say Project Sylpheed revolves around mankind defending itself from hostile alien forces. The tutorial level finds you playing as a metrosexual space pilot who's tapped to fight when a hostile space fleet appears and starts shooting down anything that moves--including the battle cruiser you're on. The latter two levels find you full in the swing of engaging the enemy, you'll be sent into combat in the atmosphere above a planet and into a pitched battle through a massive cloud bank on the planet itself.

In keeping with what you'd probably expect from a shoot-'em-up, Project Sylpheed doesn't feel as though it's going to reinvent the wheel. With that said, it's definitely got some twists to it. The game features a straightforward arcade-style feel that should be a comfortable fit for most people who've played a game like this before. The game structure is mission based and requires you to complete certain objectives. Your tasks may be amended during a mission as new issues come up during a fight that require immediate attention. From what we played, it appears that this info will be conveyed to you via radio, courtesy of talking heads that show up in the upper right-hand corner of the screen.

You'll be piloting a craft that offers the standard space-fighter features. You'll be able to move around in full 3D, do barrel rolls, slow down, speed up, take a certain amount of damage thanks to an energy shield around your craft, and fire two sets of weapons. The weapons we had access to in the game were a basic blaster mounted on the nose of our ship and the far more effective missiles you could use in tandem with a target lock. Using your weapons requires some thought, as both can overheat if you're not careful, leaving you vulnerable to attack. Thankfully, your shield serves as a great buffer to enemy fire. However, once your shield is whittled down by enemy fire, your craft will start taking life-threatening damage. However, much like Halo, your shield will recharge if you avoid taking any hits for a bit. Another bit of good news is that you won't be alone in your battling. You'll be joined by wingmen who'll help out. You'll have a limited degree of control over your wingmen and can change their formation around you and task them with specific duties, such as supporting you, or more general actions, such as firing on anything that moves. The enemies we faced ranged from smaller cannon-fodder ships to massive battleships of Star Destroyer proportions.

The visuals in the TGS demo are good and busy. We didn't see anything to blow us away from a technical standpoint other than the sheer volume of mayhem going on during battle. Your ship is front and center in the action and features the expected array of Xbox 360 bells and whistles. You'll see a high level of detail, crisp textures, and a good amount of light and shadow playing across the hull during combat. Weapons fire, engine exhaust, and explosions also get the vanity treatment. Color stands out in the game thanks to a rich palette. On the subtle side, the open space you're flying through has a nice look to it, although it did feel a little flat in some spots. The planet-side battle showed off a better sense of depth and looked sharp. The only blemish to the action was the frame rate, which varied in consistency during the more hectic action sequences. The CG movies that tell the game's story by setting up the missions are OK but not quite up to the jaw-dropping Square Enix standards we've come to expect.

We were also able to get a good sense of the game's audio thanks to the use of some wicked-cool Dolby headphones Square Enix had on hand at the demo kiosk. The music seemed all right but didn't really stand out. The voice acting was, as you'd expect, good and melodramatic and extended from the CG movies to gameplay. The assorted chatter during combat is a nice touch and helps add to the madness of the space combat. Weapons fire and other space noises were good but didn't really grab us.

Based on what we played, Project Sylpheed is looking like a cool albeit basic arcade-style offering from Square Enix for the 360. The action seems strong and the missions appear to have a fair amount of variety. We're curious to see how much of a factor the story is for the overall experience, though the game has yet to be confirmed for release outside of Japan. Project Sylpheed is currently slated to ship shortly in Japan, so look for more import impressions from the final game in the coming weeks.

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