Time marches on, technology continually improves, but one thing remains constant: Radiant Silvergun is really difficult. This Xbox Live Arcade shoot-'em-up proudly carries the mantle of its genre peers, staunching your enthusiasm with its relentless swarm of enemies gunning for your fragile ship. Death is fast and furious for the unprepared. One minute, you're smiling with confidence as you gleefully vanquish a persistent boss; the next, you're cursing your inattention as you slam full steam into an inflexible wall. Radiant Silvergun offers a clever tweak to the shoot-die-repeat formula, which turns out to be its biggest strength and most glaring weakness. A persistent upgrade system lets you carry your powered-up weapons through each story mode run so that you're slightly stronger than you were the previous time. All but the most skilled players will need to use this feature as a crutch, grinding for hours until they're strong enough to make serious headway. However, it is immensely rewarding to watch your ship grow more powerful with every effort. Radiant Silvergun deftly balances punishment with reward, so though frustration comes early and often, the moments of glory make your commitment worth it.
For the uninitiated, Radiant Silvergun is absolutely daunting the first time you start things up. The right side of the screen displays all of the weapons you currently have access to, as well as the buttons that they're mapped to. Your eyes stare at the screen, trying to comprehend how you're going to manage seven separate guns at once. Do you unlock them as you go? Maybe grab power-ups from destroyed enemies? Nope! The weapons you begin Radiant Silvergun with are the ones you keep for the entire game. There are three base weapons that continually upgrade as you use them. Homing missiles, explosive diagonal blasts, and a deadly frontal ray offer good diversity in your killing powers. The four secondary weapons have more specific uses. Lock-on missiles, a sweeping laser, and rear assault fit right in with what you'd expect, but the final weapon is quite different from the norm. A short-range sword can be used to defeat enemies, as well as gobble up certain attacks, and figuring out how to use this bad boy is the key to mastering the game.
There are many shoot-'em-ups where enemies flood the screen with so many bullets that the games have become known as "bullet hell." Radiant Silvergun is not one of those games. Challenge comes from managing your guns so you can efficiently dispose of the vast assortment of enemies you encounter. The radar strike, for instance, is the only weapon that can pass through barriers, so using it to clear out foes in front of you is a great way to win a battle before your life is even threatened. At other times, your best bet is to fly toward the top of the screen and use your rear cannon, so you're safely out of harm's way while your enemies fire their worthless guns toward the bottom. But you have to play levels many times before you understand these methods. Furthermore, your guns are so weak in the early going that it takes an awfully long time to take down simple enemies. Because of these two elements, you have to spend hours upgrading your weapons and learning patterns before you're adept enough to triumph.
There's no use sugar coating the experience of playing Radiant Silvergun during its first few hours. Unless you're an expert in this genre, you will die repeatedly, and you will be forced to replay the first level over and over again. It's exhausting. If you aren't prepared for this onslaught, it's easy to lose faith and move on to a less demanding game. And because Radiant Silvergun is so challenging, there's no reason to feel bad for admitting you're just not good enough. But if you have the dedication to see things through, Radiant Silvergun is richly rewarding. Every minute you spend playing makes you that much stronger, and it's empowering to cleave through enemies that stoically stood in your path when you were weaker. Every hour you spend fighting waves of enemies adds another life onto your total, so even those who aren't proficient in shoot-'em-ups should be able to amass a large enough collection to succeed.
Radiant Silvergun is never cheap. When you die, it's because you messed up. You misjudged an enemy's attack pattern or flew too close to a barrier. This knowledge gives you the strength to push on because if you stay attentive, you won't make careless mistakes that cost you dearly. Precise controls ensure you're completely in command of your craft. Whether you're weaving in and out of bullets, circling bosses to find their weak points, or wielding your sword like a dragon slayer, everything feels just as it should. Age has been extremely kind to Radiant Silvergun because the core mechanics are so well implemented. The visuals have been updated slightly from the Saturn original, and though it's clear this is a game that was first released more than a decade ago, it still looks sharp. It's easy to discern the background from the foreground, as well as identify enemies, and that instant communication is the most vital aspect of a shoot-em-up's visual design.
The persistent Story mode is the most interesting way to play Radiant Silvergun, but if steep difficulty is too much to handle, you can dive into Arcade mode for a breather. Here, you can tweak how many lives you have, and that cushion gives you a chance to experiment without the fear that constantly hounds you in Story mode. If you're still stuck, Practice mode gives you a chance to test out the best strategy in a specific portion before you make a legitimate run for it. Here, you can tweak the speed settings, which gives you a chance to understand everything unfolding before you crank things up full blast. There's also a cooperative mode (online or offline) if you crave help from a more adept player or want to take a novice under your wing. Finally, you can tweak the difficulty, even in Story mode, so beginners have a chance to succeed. Turning things down to easy lowers the hit points of your enemies, so you can spend less time focusing on leveling up and more time having fun.
Radiant Silvergun has stood the test of time. The core mechanics are so well implemented that you can never blame the game for your mistakes, which goes a long way toward lessening the frustration. But it's impossible to completely eliminate the feeling of helplessness in a game this difficult. You will need to sink in many hours before you're strong enough to expertly gun down enemies, and it's hard to deny the tedium of repeatedly playing the first levels until things finally click. Those easily intimidated need not apply, but anyone craving a serious challenge should look no further, and the novel persistent upgrade system offers a healthy change from other shoot-'em-ups. When you throw in modern amenities, such as leaderboards and downloadable replays, this turns into an addictive challenge for anyone who loves chasing high scores. Radiant Silvergun is unkind to beginners but offers a satisfying experience to those who are willing to invest themselves in it.