IGN Review of Yar's Revenge
Being the tender age of 28 that I am, I missed out on the hubbub for Yars' Revenge back when it was released for the Atari 2600 in 1981 due to suffering from a debilitating case of not quite yet being born. It was one of the best-selling games for that console, though I was only able to dabble with it through emulators and the occasional fan-created homage. Considering the infancy of the gaming industry at the time, Yars' Revenge was a fun little shooter that featured such ground-breaking technology such as diagonal movement, which might sound silly today but was pretty big stuff 30 years ago.
Nostalgia plays a big role in the videogame industry, which is why I really shouldn't be surprised that developer Killspace Entertainment decided to remake the game for today's audience. Yars' Revenge didn't really have epic-length fiction to begin with, so Yar's Revenge (with the moved apostrophe) doesn't have much to work with either. The story, such that it is, involves a human-like insect girl named Yar, captured and enslaved as a hitman (hitbug?) for an evil race of aliens called the Qotile. After a couple missions, she breaks free of her enslavement, then starts her rampage against her captors.
The story is mostly told through a comic book-style series of illustrations with subtitles between missions. There is no voice acting and the subtitles disappear entirely too fast, so unless your eyes are quick, you might not catch the nonsensical conversations between Yar and the ancillary characters. Yar also converses with others during the stages, which is absolutely ridiculous, because you have no time to read the text while constantly being pelted with gunfire from all angles. This is one of the rare cases where bad voice acting would be better than no voice acting. No one should be picking this game up for the storyline anyway, but the lack of effort is pretty glaring.
You'll lead Yar through six stages as she encounters a never-ending wave of bad guys, and you'll instantly realize that Yar's Revenge has pretty much nothing to do with Yars' Revenge other than the name. Yar herself is controlled with the WASD keys, while aiming and shooting is tied to the mouse. Special devices, such as your shield, are tied to the first four number keys. On the whole, the controls are solid.
Unfortunately, the PC version of Yar's Revenge is rather obviously a port of the Xbox Live Arcade version. The title screen invites you to "Press Start," and once you're in the stage, special devices are labeled with A, B, X, and Y color-coded icons. Although it's simple to figure out which of your number keys is attached to which special device, like the storyline, the lack of effort is noticeable and irritating. It's not a game-breaker, but the lack of presentation does hurt a bit.
Not helping matters are the movement mechanics. This is an on-rails shooter, so while you can make Yar fly up and down, left and right, and diagonally to dodge incoming fire, you are constantly being shoved along a specific path. Randomly, Yar will change direction, even doing a 180 to start shooting things that are technically behind her. While this is supposed to instill a sense of chaos and underline the odds she faces, it does so for the wrong reasons. The constantly changing background will wreck havoc with your depth perception, making it artificially more difficult to know where the shots are coming from and when to time your movements. It's a nagging problem through all six stages, though you eventually learn to compensate for it.
Still, one thing you cannot compensate for is the fact that the rules governing everyone's laser fire in inconsistent. Sometimes, when part of the environment passes between you and your enemy, your shots will be blocked but theirs will get through. Other times, everyone's shots are blocked. Still other times, everyone's shots get through, but you still won't be able to see what you're shooting. These moments usually don't last for more than a couple seconds each time, but they can happen a dozen times per stage, and they're frustrating every time.
The environmental problems are an unnecessary challenge, because Yar's Revenge is pretty tough as it is. Even the normal difficulty is no joke, and is definitely not for rookies in the shooter genre. If you've never seen the final boss of older shooters such as Gradius, there is no way you're going to survive the harder difficulties here. This is great news for gamers who bemoan the ease of today's games, so if you've been looking for a challenge, look no further.
If things get too tough, you can bring in a second player for some cooperative extermination. However, co-op is locally limited, another mind-blowing misstep in the game's design. Little optional challenges are present, and leaderboards will let you compare your scores with your friends. You can beat Yar's Revenge in under a couple hours, and there isn't much reason to come back afterward.
Graphically, Yar's Revenge is a mixed bag. The comic book-style artwork works well enough, but is awfully simplistic. The environments range from gritty to almost beautiful, and Yar herself is well-detailed, but you're going to be too busy not getting killed to really enjoy the sights. The way Yar's Revenge plays, it should be a less-is-more situation: too much graphical display just makes for distraction, rather than adding anything to the product. You can view the original comic for the 1981 game, which is a nice touch, but adds nothing to this version's story.
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