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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

Review

Under Defeat HD (PS3) Under Defeat HD (Playstation 3)

Players who missed out on the import-only Dreamcast shooter Under Defeat when it came out several years ago now have a second opportunity to play the game with its re-issue for PS3. In addition to the complete original game, the new edition features several impressive upgrades such as HD graphics, new control modes and additional helicopters to use. Thereís also a new online ranking system that allows players to post and compare high-scores. Its solid gameplay mechanics, impressive level designs and challenging boss encounters remain at its core. Under Defeat HD doesnít alter the classic formula and this makes the game worth playing once again.

Developed by shooter specialists G-Rev and released near the twilight of the classic Dreamcast consoleís lifespan, Under Defeat spurred a cult following thanks to its limited production run and import-only release. This made it difficult and expensive to locate for players, but it was worth the effort. Under Defeat is a traditional top-down vertically scrolling 2D shooter in the genre pioneered by classic shooters such as Raiden and 1943. Instead of standard generic space ships, players pilot one of several different helicopters which is a key element in Under Defeatís appeal. The unique spin on the genre comes in the gameís control mechanic s. Under Defeatís unique navigation system allows players to tilt the helicopter up to 45 degree angles in either left or right and assign the firing direction to that angle. You can lock this in and move around the screen independently, which is a very cool idea. This approach allows you to focus their firepower following that direction, and maintain it as you move around the screen in different directions. Its fairly intuitive and effectively mimics the feel of a real helicopter in terms of moving and firing independently. You can use this strategically to move around clusters of bullets from a safe distance. Under Defeat HDís copters move smoothly using either the standard or analog pad and the firing can be controlled by the standard face buttons or the back shift keys.

This analog, independent configuration is the key that differentiates Under Defeat HD from the controls seen in most other classic 2D shooters in this genre. For players accustomed to the more straightforward controls in other shooters, thereís a slight learning curve. However, itís worth it to master its controls. Once you become proficient with moving and firing, this approach allows you to fire at enemies from different angles, letting you avoid their shots while maneuvering into a position that allows you to stay safely outside of their attacking bullet lines. Playing with a standard controller is fine, but the gameís arcade roots really come through when you plug in an arcade controller and get to play the game as it was intended. Either way, the game feels really firm throughout and its consistently excellent pacing makes it an excellent shooter, one of the better ones weíve played from a control standpoint. Initially, the enemies seem to attack your helicopter from all directions, but this can be overcome with a bit of skill and concentration. As you battle through intense levels of massive enemies, youíll see patterns begin to emerge. This is especially apparent when you can focus on individual opponents and learn their methods. Learning their attack formations and bullet paths allows you to avoid them on repeated play, giving you a better chance at survival. As you fly through the levels, youíll also find numerous power-ups including a small fighter who can attack independent of your movement and other upgrades to your firepower. Most enemies can be dispatched with a single shot, but there are some tougher ones that require a sustained attack. These can be approached in either of two ways. You can pump bullets into them and wait until they fail or you can unleash one of your super bombs that clears the screen of any enemies. However, you have to be careful since thereís a slight delay from when you press the button to when it explodes, and you also need to wait awhile between these as well. Under Defeatís multi-stage levels can be quite long and drawn out so you need to use these weapons carefully. The best strategy is to use them when you encounter difficult foes. The level of challenge you face ranges from fairly simple on the lower difficulty settings to very hard on the higher levels which are incredibly fast and require split-second reflexes and precise memorization, leaving the player little room for error. The first few stages are fairly straightforward and should be a cinch for most players to get through. Later on, things become more difficult with elaborate patterns and massive attacks, which makes Under Defeat HD more engrossing without becoming excessively frustrating.  

One of the trickier aspects of converting older games to current platforms is the difference in screen size. Compensating for the change in aspect ratio from the older square to current HD sizes has led the developers to make an interesting choice this time around. The game includes two solutions. Players can choose to play the game in its original aspect ratio, with the screen letterboxed and placed in the middle of the screen. Several adjustments can be made that allow you to scale the size of the image. You can also choose to play the game sideways in tate mode, but this isnít ideal since you spend a lot of time craning your neck around. These are less than ideal solutions to the conversion problem but thereís another mode available that rectifies these issues. This is called New Order mode and has seen the game completely redone to fit into the new aspect ratio. The action fills the screen perfectly and the upgraded textures and visuals look impressive in this mode. Its differences are subtle but noticeable and make the game feel a bit more smooth and modern. Its fairly easy to keep track of all the action onscreen and the developers have scaled things around so that the player doesnít miss a thing. Despite its age, the game looks smooth and moves quickly with little slowdown. It also sounds great with a standard soundtrack that helps to propel the action. Overall, the production values are better than expected and the developers deserve credit for putting in more effort than just porting the original code to the PS3.

Another interesting aspect of the game isnít actually about how it plays, but how itsí being distributed. As a niche title, it wonít appeal to a broad section of gamers. However, itís coming out in two forms, Players can choose to download the game from the Playstation Store, which includes the basic game or can choose the physical disc version, which includes a bonus soundtrack CD and digital artbook. The trick here is that the disc is limited, which makes it not only highly-cool from a packaging standpoint, but also collectible as well. For those whoíve looked around recently, the Dreamcast version is very expensive, so this will likely follow suit as well. That aside, the most important consideration for any gamer is how the game plays. Between its solid play mechanics, upgraded visuals in its excellent new order mode, Under Defeat offers an appealing shooter in the classic mode. Itís levels of difficulty and challenge gradually ratchet upwards as you scale through different levels, making its replay value quite high. Itís straightforward approach means you can jump right in and get right into the action without an extended pretense. The gameís play mechanics are solid and appealing. An excellent HD mode polishes up the graphics without being overly intrusive while the soundtrack is excellent. Under Defeat HD is a challenging and engaging title that remains appealing. Given the dearth of similar releases recently in this genre, Under Defeat HD makes an excellent addition to your gaming library. Itís a must-purchase if you enjoy these types of challenging shooters.

- Michael Palisano

Grade: B

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