When the Earth's under attack you can rely on a Danish bloke in a bi-plane to save the day. Imagine a world where time and technology have stood still for decades. There are no wars, there is no disease, and people of all races have lived together in peace and harmony for as long as anybody can remember. An unattainable Utopia it would seem, but this is the futuristic setting for Banshee, the new shoot 'em-up from Core Design.
The Earth is a wonderful place to live (as long as you can get along without computers, microwave meals and colour TV), and everything is absolutely hunky dory. That is of course until the playground bully decides to shove his oar in. The Gripper Stebson character in this particular case goes by the name of Blardax Maldrear, and rejoices in the title of Emperor of the evil Styx Empire. Taking a particular liking to our planet - whose inhabitants he sees as a bit of a pushover - Blardax decides to make it his own and begins a merciless invasion.
Things look decidedly murky, to say the least, for our humble Earth and its inhabitants, but there is hope of salvation. Enter ace pilot and part-time inventor Sven Svardensvart - the game has been programmed by two Danish lads and Svardensvart probably means something extremely rude/funny in Danish, but if it does it will have to be a private joke shared between a few million people in Scandinavia. Sven has managed to escape the clutches of the Empire and has fled to a quiet hideaway in a remote corner of the world. Here Sven starts to construct an incredible flying machine, the propellor-driven Banshee of the title, and prepares to wage his one-man assault on the forces of evil.
Heavily influenced by the classic arcade shoot 'em-up 1942, Banshee roars into life with an ocean full of enemy ships and planes. Shooting anything and everything that moves is the best way to go about things, but bridges and lighthouses need to be avoided if your plane is to remain safely in the air. The gore level is extremely high, and once you reach land, the foot soldiers on the ground can be brutally dismembered by a well aimed rake of bullets. Tanks, trains and all manner of other enemy hardware will do everything in their power to halt your progress too, so it is essential that you pick up the bonuses and power-ups which are available on the way.
Some of the power-ups are fixed, but a few can be altered to your taste by firing a single bullet in their direction. The spinning icons will then rotate, providing you with an entirely different power-up or bonus. This can prove extremely useful when you are desperately in need of some shield replenishment and there seems to be none on offer, and it also serves to add an extra dimension to the gameplay.
The later of the four levels feature more varied enemies, bosses and locations, and the final scenario is set in space where the Banshee has metamorphosed into a futuristic all-lasers-blazing riving machine. This is an especially gratifying twist to the tale, as it fits in neatly with the storyline, and also makes a refreshing change from the three levels which have gone before.
Never plane sailing
A two-player option makes the game a little less daunting for pilots who can scrape together a friend or family member, as two planes on the screen make everything so much easier. If this doesn't have much appeal, you can always toughen things up a little by choosing to play the game in Hard Mode, thereby increasing the number of enemies on the screen at any one time. However, the levels in Banshee are so huge that you may find yourself shying well away from this option to begin with.
Presentation has obviously played a major part in the development of Banshee. From the greens, greys and browns of the first level, which help to give the impression of a society which has tried to make complex machinery from the most basic of materials (wood, steel etc.), right through to the space ships and walker droids of the final battle in space, you are left in no doubt that the utmost thought and detail has been put into this project.
Two sub-levels have also been built in to break up the gameplay a bit. One of them has a sort of asteroids theme, and the more bloodthirsty readers may wish to know that some of the more gruesome scenes which the programmers wanted to include in the game are likely to appear as part of hidden bonus levels. Just don't tell ELSPA.
Whether shoot 'em-ups are your particular bag or not, it will be difficult for you not to be impressed by Banshee.
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