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Review by: Bob Mandel
Published: October 11, 1999
Sometimes I just hate being right. In April 1998 I wrote a column for The Adrenaline Vault entitled The Demise of the True Arcade Shooter, and in it I bemoaned the impending end to this genre I love. Well, since that time there indeed have been precious few retail releases of this type on the personal computer. Assumed to be too simple and straightforward for the mass public, developers of this kind of offering consistently have not been able to find any interest among publishers. Pushed aside by glitzy FPS, RTS, and RPG fans, aficionados like myself of arcade shooters have found ourselves largely ignored by the major game companies.
GameFX and THQ are attempting to buck this trend through the development and release of Sinistar Unleashed (known as Excession earlier in its development). While maintaining the essential elements of a true arcade shooter — the absence of meaningful strategy and the emphasis on hand-eye coordinated reflexes — this new title moves the whole genre forward and even has the potential to help its resuscitation. Unlike the many space combat simulations on the market, here you do not need to worry about complex maneuvers, locational coordinate grids, or navigational instrumentation. Introducing breathtaking graphics and smooth fast-moving three-dimensional play, the traditional extermination of enemies swooping in from all directions takes on a whole new meaning.
Sinistar Unleashed is a remake of the 1982 arcade classic Sinistar, but this new release avoids the pitfalls of many such nostalgic efforts. Unlike Activision’s disappointing update of Asteroids, which put a few rotating 3D objects on a bland flat surface with a tiny triangular ship in the middle, Sinistar Unleashed has full 3D renderings of most everything on the screen, and is always characterized by a ton of flashy movement at any moment in time. Moreover, unlike Activision’s transformation of the original Battlezone, converting an arcade shooter to an action-strategy hybrid, THQ and GameFX were wise enough to keep their new incarnation perfectly true to its roots.
The original Sinistar was particularly noteworthy as the very first arcade title to utilize stereo sound or digitized speech: Its ominous utterances, such as “I hunger,” “Run coward,” and “Beware, I live,” produced terror in the hearts of addicted players. Sinistar Unleashed continues this special audio quality by paying extraordinary attention to the vocal effects, which are downright nerve-shattering. This emphasis on the voices is quite unusual in the arcade shooter genre, where sound effects often appear to be an unattended-to side dish to the main course of graphic splendor.
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