People are fighting to excavate the star cores. Terran Hardlight Corporation is paying millions for this. You fight the others for control of the star cores, but in the midst of it all, your commerades are being trapped and captured by those other folks whom are willing to risk it all - even engage in all out space warfare.
Back in 1995, a game came out that turned First Person Shooters on their side. In fact, it turned them on all their sides. Descent brought 360o movement to the genre, and it took the world by storm. That same year, just a few months later, Psygnosis threw their hat into the ring with Pyrotechnica. How did it turn out? Read on.
Deep in the cores of ancient stars, civilizations long dead have left behind information capsules. These capsules are valuable, and space stations have been built at various locations so that the capsules can be retrieved. However, inside the stars are alien defenses called Adherents, and they're meant to protect these capsules. The Wingmen who went in the star cores wound up being captured, and it's your job to pilot your way through the mazes of tunnels and rooms as you go deeper into the red star, take out the defenses, and rescue the Wingmen to aid you on your journey.
The graphics in this game are quite minimal, even when you take into account the year it was released. It's not ugly, as the colors are vivid, there's garoud shading on the ships, and there are some nice lighting effects when things explode. It's just... desolate. The levels are comprised of black, with colored squares that line the edges of tunnels and openings, some of which animate like a theater marquee. One could argue that the graphics are done this way in an artistic fashion, and say that the tiny bullets and repeating-circle missiles back that up. But given Psygnosis' propensity for flashy graphics, I'm personally leaning more towards the "it's just empty feeling" side of the argument. Still, despite the lack of visual flair, it does possess a certain style in its minimalistic approach, and the ships have some decent designs.
Aurally, the game is quite good. The tunes created are nice and pleasant to listen to, and while they won't make you tap your foot, they work to create an atmosphere. The sound effects are varied and of good quality. From lasers, to rapid fire gun turrets, to explosions, they sound good. Overall, the sound design is well done, and does the job nicely. There's really not much else to say here.
The gameplay is more or less what you would expect of a game like this. Your goal is to make your way through each level alive, while accomplishing sub-missions along the way (namely, rescuing Wingmen). The controls are a little floaty, but they fit considering you're supposed to be in zero gravity. Your shield doesn't take many hits before it's drained. And when it's gone, you're open to damage that will occur very quickly unless you can speed off to relative safety. Thankfully, there are some repair gates scattered around the levels to help with ship damage, and your shield also regenerates over time. You have a selection of four different guns, four different secondary weapons, and this, coupled with some power up gates, gives you virtually all the weapons you'll need to survive right from the get go. This is a nice change from Descent's more "collect stuff" weaponry setup, as is the fact that all your weapons and countermeasures recharge. Yes, you have counter measures for the missiles the enemies fire at you. It gives the game a slight simulation touch, as does the ability to eject in an escape pod (which you continue fighting in, though with less weaponry). This helps expand the arcade-like nature of game by giving it a little more depth. Finally, as you go from one stage to the next, you encounter layouts that grow more devious in their designs. They never reach the mind-bending insanity of the Descent series, but they can still prove to be tricky, and give you problems.
Speaking of problems, the game isn't without faults. As I mentioned, the graphics are pretty barren. Stylistic choice or no, the levels have a simplistic, sometimes under-developed look to them. Again, this will been seen differently from one person to the next, but the end result is a game that didn't wow people visually back then, and won't wow them now. Another issue is that the enemy weapons pack a mighty punch. I've had my ship's shield drained, and weapon damaged, with just one hit from a single missile fired by an enemy pod. Rapid firing pods can pin you to the wall or corner, and just pick your ship apart. I realize that you're fighting in zero gravity, but how can a little bullet bring you to a halt, and send you backwards after several hit you in a row? A missile, sure, but a little bullet? It comes off as making the game unnecessarily harder in an unnatural way.
So what's the final verdict? Let's not beat around the polygonal bush here. Pyrotechnica is basically a poor man's Descent. However, that doesn't mean it's a bad game. Quite the opposite really, as it's a good game. Get past the graphics, and the rather odd amount of force that even the smallest enemy bullets possess, and you've got a game that's fun to play. Nice music, short yet challenging levels, a healthy weapon selection... it has the qualities that are needed to make you want to keep playing. It's no Descent, but it is a game that's fun and enjoyable.
This game really does require you to read the manual text file. The weapons, countermeasures and saving setup are scattered around on the keyboard, so you'll need learn where they all all.
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