The premise of the 1980s arcade hit Asteroids was fairly simple: take one small spaceship, throw a zillion gigantic asteroids at it, and voila -- instant classic! Now, more than a decade later, Activision has upped the stakes with Asteroids in full 3D, a full-scale makeover of the still-enjoyable original.
You must guide your tiny ship through six unique zones, each with numerous sub-levels, while battling for survival against such dangers as a black hole with a deadly gravitational pull and a hostile sun that shoots red-hot flames in your direction. The enemies are tougher this time around, too. Instead of simple, run-of-the-mill giant rocks, you're up against huge crystals that replicate and increase in number whenever you shoot them; meteors that burst into flame; worm-like monsters straight out of The Empire Strikes Back; and countless others.
Fortunately, your weapons are better this time, too. Select one of three asteroid-clearing ships, then equip it with laser nets, shock waves, gun satellites, Armageddon bombs and many more. Half the fun of the remake is collecting and using these new weapons. The ship controls are similar to those in the original and the classic fire-shield-thrust style of play preserved, which makes it easy to jump right in and start blasting away.
The graphics are an interesting combination of 2D backgrounds and 3D objects, which creates a strange but generally successful gaming atmosphere. The nicely done cut scenes before each new zone contribute to the overall storyline. The story itself, however, leaves something to be desired. It's essentially a vehicle to propel your asteroid ship from one zone to the next, with little effort to make it particularly compelling.
No matter, though. Asteroids isn't about storyline, it's about the fun and addicting action of flying around space and blowing things up. In that regard, the game succeeds nicely. It's basically the original game with better graphics and more weapons. It's not the next generation of gaming by any means, but it is fun to play. And while it may be a little too easy to beat once you've mastered each level, it's certainly an enjoyable diversion for fans of the original.
Activision has really got a lot of guts. It's one thing to re-release gamer's favorite arcade hits for the PC, but to take those game and change them is... well, dangerous. It's a very sketchy thing indeed to try and manipulate some of the greatest games of all time. Fortunately, Activision is really good at it. With Battlezone, the company gave us a reason for trying to skim across mountainous terrain killing tanks while at the same time bring the venerable classics graphics and gameplay up to date. Now, with their latest release Asteroids, the developers at Activision are trying to do it again with acceptable if not breathtaking results.
Like the game itself, Asteroids storyline is fairly simple. You are a fighter pilot who's responsible for clearing dangerous rubble out of congested space traffic areas so that freighters can get through. Each sector you move through is different and has its own special threats like crystal asteroids that can regenerate and super dense asteroids that cannot be destroyed. To help you achieve your goals, your superiors have agreed to drop in experimental gear from time to time that will upgrade your ship both offensively and defensively. Unfortunately, the sectors you're travelling through are also patrolled by hostile alien ships that will do their best to make your peaceful mission a short one.
Gameplay is equally as simple. Just like the original Asteroids, this new title is a top down shooter with very few controls. In addition to being able to turn left and right, you can thrust (which gives the ship a forward vector in the direction you're currently pointing), hyperspace (a dangerous move that moves you to a random point on the wrap-around screen) and flip (a defensive move that enables you to quick orient your ship in the opposite direction). When you've gotten used to these basic movement commands, you can take on the fire button (which sends a single bullet out ahead of you), the shield key (puts up a protective force field around your ship that will keep you safe from incoming asteroids for a short period of time), and use your secondary weapon button (which will activate whatever power-ups you've collected.
As you start the game, you'll get to choose between three different types of fighter (the box says four, but I guess I never uncovered the mysterious fourth fighter). The first craft, the Dagger, is an all-round solid fighter that boasts fast rotation, powerful thrust, and mid-range shield and firepower. The Rapier is best suited for players that like to move around a lot since it has super-fast thrust and very high rotation ability backed up by only medium firepower and the lowest shielding in the game. Finally there's the Longsword, a ship with mid to low thrust and rotation scores that makes up for its lack of celerity with high firepower and a nearly impenetrable shield. It won't take you long to figure out which ship best suits your play style, and after you've settled in, you're unlikely to ever switch again.
One of the biggest differences between the new Asteroids and the old is the addition of power-ups to the game. There's an awful lot here, which range from somewhat invisible upgrades to your thrust or firepower to active tools like the Plasma Drill (which fires a super powerful bolt from the front of your craft), the Plasma Sword (which fires an even bigger blast from the rear of your ship), and homing missiles that will track down a target and explode on contact. Half the fun of the game is collect these little beauties and figuring out what they're capable of.
Obviously graphics and sound technology have come a long way since the release of the original game, and Activision has done a pretty good job of upgrading the game without affecting its basic play. All of the objects in the game are well detailed and the lighting effects are superb. Sadly though, it doesn't seem like 3D technology was utilized as well as it could have been. After looking at all of the visual effects, I never saw anything that made me want to write home. Still, it's just Asteroids after all, maybe I'm looking for too much here. The sound, on the other hand, was brilliant. The sound effects are booming and loud, but are at their core the same sounds from the arcade original. The blend of old and new is magnificent and more than once Jason and Tal told me to turn the volume down (they also said other things, but I'm not going to print them here).
So that leaves us with multiplayer, in my opinion, the most disappointing aspect of the new game. First off, there's no net, serial cable or modem options at all. If you want to play against a friend, you'll have to sit down at the same computer to do it. Multiplayer doesn't offer any head to head options, it's just basically you and another ship on the screen at the same time trying to get the most points. All in all, it took me about an hour to decide that it was more fun to play this game alone than with a friend. There's just no excuse for that.
In the end, Asteroids is a good update of one of the greatest games ever made. Even so, it's still pretty damn simple. If you're in to straight arcade shooters, you'll probably get a lot of enjoyment out of Asteroids, if however, you're looking for the added depth that Activision gave to Battlezone, you're most likely to come away disappointed.
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