Sinistar: Unleashed is a retooling of the original Arcade classic, Sinistar, with its memorable intonation of "Beware! I live!" After a sleep of 17 years, Sinistar is back in a snappy, full fledged, enhanced lighting, 3D-accellerated suit. (Nice threads Mr. S!) The game plays much like the original with some new twists thrown in for zest.
The most readily obvious difference is the classic Sinistar only really had one Sinistar. Unleashed has dozens. Once that gate powers up, you can't ever really be certain what exactly is going to come through it. Unleashed does present you with the option of attacking the gate itself. The longer you can keep the Sinistar from emerging from the gate, the weaker he will be when he finally arrives. It's a simple form of resource management and a powerful incentive to stay by the gate. You can also play the game from either first- or third-person 3D in the tradition of Wing Commander.
Unleashed is a graphical powerhouse, no question. The "Requires 3D Acceleration" label on the box is no joke -- they mean it. The game is wall-to-wall color and exceptional lighting. The textures all look great and the explosion and weapon effects leave little or nothing to be desired. There isn't much variation available with the "asteroid belt and a warp gate" level design theme in Unleashed but THQ sure gives it the old college try. The deeper you progress into the game, the more the look tends to change and very little is out of place or jarringly inconsistent. Although sound is good overall, it doesn't have much in the way of stand-out-qualities. For an arcade shooter, it keeps the pace well and rarely grows tiresome.
Control is fairly tight with a standard space simulation configuration (again, Wing Commander comes to mind) with weapons and power ups tied to hot keys. It's a fairly intuitive system and easily learned, although the clutch does take a little getting used to. Yes, I said clutch -- a space ship with a clutch. Once you get around the idea, it's actually quite clever. Essentially, it serves the same purpose as the clutch in a car without the gears. Basically, it suspends the engine until you release. This makes a variety of new maneuvering tactics available as well making it far easier to pull fairly tight turns. THQ deserves kudos for going the extra yards and implementing a convincing system of inertia in space. Given the essentially Arcade nature of the game, I didn't expect this nice touch.
When all is said and done, I have very few complaints with this game, but one does bear mentioning. Though THQ manages to convert and retool the basic game play fairly well, the big man himself doesn't survive the transition all that well. Generally speaking, in the classic Sinistar, "BEWARE, I LIVE!" marked the beginning of a frantic period of tooth and nail fighting, or abrupt brutal death. In Unleashed, the Sinistars have an unquestionable sense of presence and power but they simply don't instill the same sense of sheer panic.
On at least one occasion, I ran out of crystals completely and was able to get away long enough to mine a full payload. When I turned around to look, the enemy was wandering around in the other corner of the map waiting for me. Unfortunately, the game's voice acting, the hallmark of the original, is weak to non-existent. The vast majority of the game's Sinistars are mute or so hopelessly muffled and indistinct they don't even come close. Thankfully, THQ didn't miss the ball completely. The very last Sinistar in the game (a tease at the end of each level) is a nearly brilliant modern retooling. It sounds like the original Sinistar!
I feel THQ did an admirable job of what they set out to do. Unleashed is an addictive, endearing upgrade of an old classic and I've made a place for it in my collection. While it's true that gameplay is a tad shallow by today's standards and given the basic arcade nature of the game itself, I don't know how that particular pitfall could have been avoided.
Graphics: Sinistar never looked so good.
Sound: Not cumbersome but not really worth much.
Enjoyment: A solid shooter and a fun tribute to an old classic.
Replay Value: Not too bad and this time around you don't need to keep pumping in quarters!
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