IGN Review of Project Sylpheed: Arc of Deception
Going by the game box or advertisements alone, one might think that SquareEnix made Project Sylpheed. That "Only on Xbox 360" might further raise your hopes that Square has tossed its hat into the ring to fully support the console. Sadly this is not the case. Game Arts, the developer best known for its Grandia series, and Seta developed the game while Square took charge of the publishing details in Japan. And now the twisted saga has ended in the US, courtesy of Microsoft as the flood of mediocre summer games continue to fill shelves.''''Game Arts is also responsible for the last Silpheed, a space shooter made for SEGA CD and later PS2. But this is the new generation of consoles, so a "y" was dropped into the name and the gameplay was made fully 3D. The result is a space shooter along the lines of TIE Fighter or Wing Commander, though it doesn't quite live up to those classic inspirations. In fact, it doesn't feel very inspired at all outside of the nicely produced FMV cutscenes that tell the story between missions. You don't often get a story of worth with shooters and one with this much time and effort put into it is even rarer. But this is a game, not a movie, and the gameplay isn't much to write home about.''''Sylpheed sticks to the action end of the spectrum, eschewing any depth that can be found through coordinating attacks with the rest of the fleet or commanding a real space battle. As the squadron leader, you can give rudimentary commands to attack specific targets, provide support, or to spread out, but you'll quickly find that your attacks are far more substantial than anything your squadron can provide. If you want to win, you're going to have to go in hard and deep. ''''Although the nature of 3D space shooters may leave some nauseated, those that aren't prone to slight motion sickness or can get past the initial queasy feeling will find that the handling of the ship in Project Sylpheed is done quite well. There are plenty of control options to customize the details to your liking, allowing you to assign actions to specific buttons. Beginners may find it difficult to maneuver in 3D space, but a quick run through the tutorials will have anybody ready to fly in no time.''''At its heart, Sylpheed is a standard space shooter, though it does toss a few nice touches into the formula. Special moves that drain your shield add an extra layer to the combat. One performs a speed boost, another slows down time to help you get a bead on those fast moving fighters, and another puts up a shield so you can ram enemies. Aggressive players will enjoy taking advantage of these moves to turn the tide of the battle, but they're balanced with necessary caution since they drain your rechargeable shield.''''The most disappointing part of Project Sylpheed is the mission design. The vast majority of the missions fall into the same cookie-cutter formula and, even so, the execution isn't so hot. The mission starts and you're told to shoot down some enemy fighters/war ships while protecting your capital ship. When you do, the mission "updates" and more enemies are presented. Clear them out and you win. Occasionally you get to attack one of several enormous battleships or a rival ace and the game closes out with a boss fight somehow, but most of the time you're just fighting a series of nondescript enemies.''''It's a simple enough model, but a few design choices end up producing more frustration than you should have to deal with in a leisurely pastime. Several sections of missions have time limits, but you aren't informed of them in advance. So while you're fighting waves of enemies, unsure of when they'll stop coming or how expedient you should be, a hidden alarm is ticking. When you get within three minutes of it ending, then you're told to hurry up or you fail. That's just annoying.''''These unexpected time limits wouldn't be so noticeable except for the fact that Project Sylpheed is by no means an easy game on the default difficulty. The first few missions are a breeze, even if you're getting poor marks on the post battle briefing. Things get tricky, though, as the difficulty ramps up more rapidly than your arsenal. In between each mission you can spend points earned in battles to upgrade your weapons, but you can't go back and replay previous missions to earn more. If you didn't score big on your first time through a mission and choose not to retry it when you finish, it can wind up hurting you down the road. We actually found it more enjoyable to go through the game on the easy difficulty setting to unlock a good set of weapons before playing on normal (upgrades carry over on each successive play through). ''''Further adding to the confusion is the poor in-flight direction. Each battle has several side objectives, but there isn't any way to tell what they are while you're fighting until you do them. Some achievements are linked to these; others just give you more points towards unlocking weapons. There also are specific ways to move through each mission that makes things much easier, but you'll have to figure them out for yourself. The auto-target feature that locks on to the next ship for you to attack and directs you on how to get there won't lead you in the path of least resistance. Rather, it will find the next closest object or next in the squadron you were fighting. The whole system just isn't very inviting.''''With no complex background geometry to render, one would expect Project Sylpheed to shine with graphical effects and stellar textures. Not so. In fact, the game suffers from slow-down when too many enemies crowd the screen and your targeting cursor moves in skips and bounces rather than a smooth arc like you'd expect in outer space. From a distance, the trailing streams of what we can only guess to be plasma that follow each fighter and missile can almost look special. Up close in a dogfight though, too much blur confuses your vision and explosions look like somebody sneezed on the screen with a bloody nose. Even if that sounds cool, which it shouldn't, remember that this is your TV. You don't want bloody snot on it.''''The most attractive thing in Project Sylpheed is the barely legal space crew out fighting for Earth's future. Through FMV cutscenes, the story of Katana and Margras plays out. These two ace fighters and friends are forced to fight on opposite sides of a war with only legions of space cruisers with large breasted females at the helm to back them up. If this game has taught me anything, it's that I should sign up for combat as soon as the future space war breaks out. Kidding aside, these cutscenes are arguably the best part of Project Sylpheed. If you're playing the game and things get too frustrating, you can just kill yourself a few times and skip the mission you're on to go watch the next movie. I'm not really sure if that's a good or bad thing.''''The sound, like the cutscenes, is a bright spot for Project Sylpheed. Sound doesn't travel in space, but that hasn't ever stopped videogames before and it certainly doesn't here. The voice acting is solid and the sound effects aren't half bad. The rumble of the engines as you kick them into high gear and the sound of rippling explosions work well to add to the feeling of a battle, especially on a 5.1 sound system. The music won't annoy you too quickly, but it isn't memorable by any means.''''Project Sylpheed is pretty light on content that would keep you coming back for more. At most, you'll play through it a couple of times to unlock all of the weapons and upgrades. These weapons, which come in several handy varieties ranging from nose mounted machine guns to anti-ship torpedoes and their pre-mission selection are pivotal to how you approach the fight and your success. Nabbing every one of the weapons won't take more than a few solid days of gaming. Beyond that, there is little to care about. Even with Microsoft publishing the game in the US, there aren't any leaderboards or other Xbox Live features. Multiplayer dogfights or co-operative battles would have been cool, but leaderboards have become so standard that their absence hits especially hard.
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