Voice Module








In Memory
Sean Pettibone


Project Sylpheed
(Square-Enix for Xbox 360)

By Michael Palisano

Project Sylpheed is a rare breed these days: a traditional console space shooter from Square-Enix for the Xbox 360. You pilot a starship around the universe and look to defend the members of your team and side from a relentless assault by alien forces. Its first-person perspective approach and free-roaming gameplay is a far cry from the original's on-rails shooting, but the intuitive controls and fairly easy to understand HUD make this surprisingly accessible. While it won't win any awards for originality, Project Sylpheed is a solid space combat game.

Loosely based on the classic Sega CD shooting title, Square-Enix' Project Sylpheed: Arc of Deception takes the basic premise of that series, adds some interesting characters to the mix with a free-roaming space combat engine to create an engaging and sometimes challenging intergalactic adventure. It also adds dazzling next-generation visuals and elaborate cinemas to make for an impressive space shooter. As the game begins, players have to sit through a series of elaborate and somewhat over-dramatic cut-scenes play out. These are nicely designed and usually happen between missions. These sequences help to introduce you to the main characters and storyline of the game. Project Sylpheed takes place 500 years in the future where the Earth-based Terra Forces rule over the galaxy has come under attack by a group of insurgent alien forces. In the game, you take on the role of Katana, a young pilot with the Terrans who finds himself thrust into battle when his training mission collides with the beginning of a civil war. Its' not quite as simple as it seems on the surface, since this civil war will also test his many friendships. This is especially true with another young pilot named Margras, who is after revenge when his home planet is destroyed by the Terran forces. Project Sylpheed's back story and plot are interesting in a way, but most players will probably want to jump right into the action. The good news is that Sylpeed's structure is fairly linear in its storyline and you don't really need to know all the details unless you want to. Otherwise, you can skip to the cinemas and thrust yourself into the missions and concentrate on the action.

However, before each mission, you may want to read the situation reports, since you're given a quick overview and a helpful briefing describing your objectives, the types of enemy forces you'll encounter and other useful information. Once you get into the cockpit, you'll find a fairly straightforward, if somewhat obtuse HUD at your disposal. You'll see a map of the battle section on the lower portion of your screen, along with your current energy levels for your shields, weapons, machine and more. The screen also lights up to indicate where your opponents are and shows you which direction you need to go in with a handy arrow. Once you locate an enemy, you'll see their distance from your ship and you can then choose which weapons you want to destroy them with. As you commence your mission, you'll also have to be on the lookout for your other squad members, who will communicate with you verbally throughout. These voice-overs do a good job of further immersing you into the battles, and help to make Project Sylpheed feel more cinematic and dramatic. The number of enemy ships you need to destroy is indicated on screen as well, along with other objectives. Most missions are basically hunt and destroy, though others require you to you defensive tactics to protect ships or prevent the enemy forces from getting too close to a sensitive sector. The missions are fairly easy to understand for the most part, with clearly laid out objectives and structures that allow you to concentrate on the task at hand. Each level is fairly long as well, with most lasting up to 15 minutes or so, though they do have checkpoints around half-way through which makes it easier to progress through the game.

Controlling your ship takes some getting used to but, most players should be able to get the hang of it in a relatively short time. You move using the right analog stick and can perform rolls and turns easily by pressing in whatever direction you want to go in. Acceleration and deceleration are mapped to the triggers and you can use a speed boost by holding down the trigger button for a short time. Weapons are simple to use, and you can select from either a plasma machine gun or rockets when you encounter an enemy. You can auto-target an enemy by holding down the left shift button and waiting for them to get into range, but a word of caution. A single missile attack won't automatically destroy an enemy ship and you might need multiple shots. You can see the enemy's energy level indicated on the HUD and will also see other ships as well. One of the more interesting things that you can do in Project Sylpheed is the ability to command the other ships in your forces. You can choose to make them attack an enemy, defend your position or help you out when you come under fire depending on the situation. This makes for a more interesting and realistic approach to combat. You'll need all the help you can get because each enemy has another indicator that shows what allegiance they belong to, so you need to avoid shooting those on your own side. Obviously, these foes are fairly intelligent, and will attack you without hesitation, causing damage to your ship. If you take too much damage, your ship will slowly lose it's powers and weapons systems will go out. You can also cause your energy to deplete by colliding with large ships such as barges, so you have to be on the alert. While most of the game won't really take too much effort to defeat, some of Project Sylpheed's boss encounters can be extremely difficult, so you'll need to have patience to beat them.

From a visual standpoint, the game looks really sharp in HD and takes full advantage of the Xbox 360's processing abilities. The ships themselves are sharply detailed and look fantastic in terms of design, evoking the look of the original game while moving things forward. The game moves along at a smooth frame rate throughout with little slowdown. This is an impressive achievement when you consider that there are dozens of ships on screen at once. Project Sylpheed's special effects are dazzling, with massive explosions, trailing fire and glowing shots lighting up the screen in a relentless series of fireworks. Add in the computerized HUD on top of all the battles and things are probably going to be a little bit confusing at first, but there's a handy tutorial to help you figure out what's going on during all of this. Most of the game occurs on the battlefield, and there are extensive voice-overs for each of the characters that helps to bring you into the action. As we described earlier, there are some fairly extensive cut-scenes during the game as well, and while these are well-produced, the plot is a bit pedantic and predictable. Most players should be able to skip these sequences and not miss too much. However, that doesn't mean that they are bad, just that they tend to interrupt the action. Square-Enix' reputation for sterling production values should remain untouched by this release. It's visuals are above-average and help to immerse the player into Project Sylpheed's war torn universe effectively.

While the basic gameplay in Project Sylpheed doesn't really mark any significant divergence from what many other space-combat shooters have offered, it's still a solidly produced and satisfying title. It's mission structure is fairly easy to understand and most objectives aren't difficult, which makes progression fairly easy. The missions are long enough to feel substantial but don't cross the line where it becomes oppressive. You can jump right in after the basic tutorial since the basic controls and mechanics are fairly easy to use once you get used to them. From an aesthetic standpoint, the game's production values are highly-polished and sharp. Unfortunately, Project Sylpheed isn't perfect. One of the biggest missed opportunities is the lack of multiplayer or online support, which would have been a perfect addition to this style of game. Another fault we encountered was that the gameplay is fairly linear and only supports single player modes, which is a drawback. These hurt the game's replay value and make this feel a little bit less than it could have been, making Project Sylpheed shorter than it could have been. However, these problems probably shouldn't dissuade you from this title since it offers some solid shooting action and an entertaining backstory that should keep you happily blasting away for hours.


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