For the first time on record (almost), it's actually sunny in the Olde Worlde of England, almost entirely across the country. It's not often we get exposed to that big ball of glowing yellow stuff in the sky, so, understandably, many people are a bit confused as to how to initially respond. While many of the country's fattest residents simply take their clothes off, either in fear or protest, the rest of the population seem to choose to go out for a nice picnic. And then, they strike.
Bees. Wasps. Creepy crawlies. Have a picnic, and they're there in your jam sandwiches. Leave a window open, and they'll infest your living room quicker than you can race for the Bug-B-Gone. Anyone suffering from insecotphobia must hate the summer months - and similarly, they may not be fond of Yar's Revenge.
Yar's Revenge is an updated version of Atari's best selling Atari 2600 game, given a lick of pain, and turned into a twin-stick shooter of a slightly different kind. Rather than playing top down, you're flying into the screen, with the left stick moving your "ship" around, and your right stick aiming where you're firing. The easiest way to describe it is as space invaders from a different angle, as enemies fly at you, and it's up to you to take them all down, before they smush you beneath their collective foot. What's that got to do with insects, you may ask? Well, quite a lot, seeing as you're playing as one.
Yar's Revenge sees you playing as the last Yar, one of a once proud race of, er, insect things, which have since been enslaved by the evil Quotile empire (boo!). After getting into a bit of a mess, and being shot down in one of the early missions, our hero gets rescued by a strange, Yoda type creature known as Bar Yargler, who explains the truth behind her past, and gives her the power to find her own future.
We'll admit we went into Yar's Revenge with an air of trepidation. Shooters like Yar's Revenge have a tendency to be incredibly popular amongst a small core of people, and incredibly inaccessible to anybody outside that group. We started worrying when we first loaded the game, and noticed there were no leaderboards for the Easy mode. Similarly, only five of the twelve achievements can be unlocked on Easy, meaning if you simply can't do the game on the normal, or hard difficulty levels, you'll be getting less out of the game than you really should. The bad taste in our mouth worsened when we looked at the achievements - the patently ridiculous "Finish a level without taking damage", and "Finish the game without dying" achievements worrying us further still.
But, as a wise man once said, you can't judge a book by its cover. While there's no doubting that Yar's Revenge is a challenging game, it's not as ridiculously hard as we were worrying, even on normal - and, more importantly, its doable.
Needless to say, things have come on a lot from the Atari 2600 hundred days, when the graphics consisted of two spaceships of the same colour, a big red shield surrounding the enemy, and a giant stripy rainbow thing down the middle that buzzed and flashed so much we're surprised it didn't induce fits. Now, you'll swoop through tight tunnels, burst into vast caverns, and fly through huge robotic constructions, as you duck, dive and dodge the enemy bugs, and the things they fire at you.
The controls take a bit of getting used to begin with, and are unnecessarily complex. Keeping your eye on, and moving your person with the one hand, while aiming your weapons with the other feels a bit foreign. In most games like this, you both move and aim using the same stick, which means you can spend longer concentrating on dodging the enemies, and less on working out where you are. While the new method gives you more freedom, as you can position yourself in a safe spot on the screen, and fire anywhere you want without risking moving, it's a tricky compromise, and ends up making things awkward.
As you fly through the levels, you'll be rewarded with a multiplier bonus for stringing kills together within a few seconds of each other, and, from time to time, power-ups will appear, too. These power-ups range from the useful to the lifesaving, and allow you to either boost your weapons, automatically destroy any projectiles coming towards you, destroy any enemies on the screen, or, the single most useful of them all - recharge your health. Unfortunately, the latter power-up is found in incredibly limited numbers, so finding it, and knowing when to use it, is as important as anything else.
There are three types of weapon at your disposal too. Your regular gun, which you fire by holding the right trigger, keeps firing for as long as you hold the trigger, and can easily tear through the weaker enemies, but the stronger ones require something a little more powerful. Thankfully, you've got a rail gun you can use by pressing the right bumper, which tears through practically anything, but has a large recharge time, or missiles on the left trigger, which lock on to, and chase down up to six enemies. When you get to a boss fight, you'll certainly be glad of the latter two.
But while in single player, the action's not too tricky to follow, and the control scheme just about manageable, in co-op, the game falls apart.
It's disappointing, as co-op usually makes everything a heck of a lot better, but here, it simply doesn't work. With two characters on screen, and two reticles to follow, it's far too easy to lose track of which character you are, and end up following the other one around the screen - something which wouldn't be a problem if the controls were simpler. By far the biggest problem, however, is the fact that both characters share a health bar, meaning you've now got two characters taking damage, and, as stands to reason, live for about half as long. It's a stupid waste, especially as an easier co-op mode could have made the game that much more accessible.
In all, an awkward control scheme lets down what's otherwise a pretty good, if brief game. With only six levels on offer, it's all over almost as quickly as it began, and for the asking price of 800 points, or around £6.80, we'd expect better. With nicer controls, and a few tweaks to the game to make it seem less discriminatory towards anyone other than the "hardcore", this could have been something special. As it stands, it's still a good game, but it's too short to be highly recommended - if it ever drops to 400 points, however, feel free to add another point to the score.
Still, it's better than the Atari 2600 version, anyway.
Format Reviewed: Xbox 360