The original arcade hit Sinistarms a marvel of its age. Like legions of games before it -Invaders, Phoenix, Gorf - waves of malicious aliens intent on galactic domination swept from the top of the screen in level after level, and at the end of each the ultimate end-of-level bad-ass would appear. The difference with Sinistarms that this bloated mass of gaudy pixels actually taunted you and egged you on.
Sinistar, if nothing else, be remembered as the first game to make you feel as though you were fighting a sentient being. Of course you weren't - it was a cheap technological trick.
Today, the game looks silly, which is why GameFX have resurrected Sinistai's derisive speech and intense action in the form of Sinistar: Unleashed. Rather than just tart up the graphics or change everything apart from the name, GameFX have done both. Although it looks thoroughly Nineties, the gameplay remains the same.
Atypical level requires you to collect I crystals by destroying asteroids. Fighters and battlecruisers buzz around you, trying to put a stop to your harassment of the worker ships, themselves harvesting crystals to bring forth the Sinistars themselves. Once the Sinistar is unleashed ('scuse the pun), the aim is to destroy it by pummelling it with Sinibombs. Once you've done that, it's on to the next, more lethal level, at the end of which a different and more challenging foe awaits. To address the problem of repetition, each Sinistar requires a new set of tactics. Some must be hit in just the right place, some will try to get close, some have shields and lethal ranged weapons. Some even move differently. All of them look spectacular, with flaying tentacles, pulsating egg-sacs and shimmering shields.
Split into six zones with four levels each, each zone is distinct, with regular asteroids, rocks of ice and lava floating about, each gravitating around the central gate from which the Sinistar will eventually emerge.
While the rich, organic style lends the game a hypnotic atmosphere, the action is tense throughout. Laser fire lights up the dark skies, illuminating the floating rocks and flitting underbellies of strafing ships. But in the thick of the action there is no time to appreciate such things. So much goes on that it would take weeks of play to appreciate the impressive physics or the enemy Al. Technically, it's a wonder the developers could cram so much on to such a small screen. Sinistar: Unleashed may not be as bright and brash as, say, Incoming, but it's certainly more frantic and just as attractive. Unfortunately, it's not without problems. These, though, are matters of design, rather than bugs or faults, so they really come down to personal taste.
I found the movement of the ship too complicated. Instead of a throttle control and a clutch button allowing you to continue moving in one direction while turning to fire in another, it would have been much simpler to just have a thrust button. The scanner was also pushed too near the bottom of the screen, requiring unnecessary eyeball movement to find enemy ships.
Because of the desire to keep to the spirit of the original game, there's no storyline or depth to speak of. Also, three-quarters of the missions have exactly the same aim, so the game can quickly become repetitive. The developers have obviously gone some way to eliminating the problem with the pacing of new enemies and weapons, but perhaps different strengths of gravity, planets to hide behind and shield-sapping nebulae might have helped still further.
With the Sinistars still taunting you as they did back in 1983, and the gameplay essentially unchanged, those who enjoyed the ageing classic will find Sinistar: Unleashed a worthy successor. In fact, for them, this updated version is essential. The rest - those brought up on more modern space games like Wing Commander and Freespace-may prefer to hold off. A cliche it may be, but here the old adage rings true: try before you buy. The demo was on last month's coverdisk, and you'd be well advised to try it before spending your money. Mind you, at Pound-30, Sinistar: Unleashed is more than sensibly priced.
Download Sinistar: Unleashed
PC compatible, P-100
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features:Single game mode
Sinistar: Unleashed Screenshots and Media
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