“ Manufacturer: Psytronik Software / Genre: Action & Adventure „
If you owned a Commodore 64, the chances are you also owned Armalyte. Released in 1988 by Cyberdyne Systems, it was (and still is) generally regarded as one of the best shoot-em-ups available for the machine. Now, in an act of insanity, a group of amateur coders have decided to re-write the game for PC owners, so that a whole new generation can enjoy its shooty loveliness.
There is a plot attached to Armalyte, but we don't really need to concern ourselves with that too much. It's a traditional 8-bit shoot-em-up, which means the plot boils down to this: your planet is under attack... blah, blah... Only you, flying in a lone spaceship (albeit with a drone for company) can save it... blah blah... alone, you must take on the might of the evil empire to save your people. In other words: if it moves, shoot it.
Anyway, who cares about plot when the game plays and looks like this? The graphics are superb. They retain the look and feel of the original, whilst being appropriately updated. The colouring and shading on your ship is stunning, whilst the detail and variety of the aliens is truly breath-taking. Sure, to 21st century eyes, they are not as impressive as some of the massive enemies you see in modern games, but they do capture that pleasing retro feel, without ever being rubbish. The backgrounds are also minimalist by today's standards, but they are nevertheless detailed enough and form an integral part of the game, forcing you to plan ahead to try and plot a safe path through the many barriers and obstructions that litter your way. The backgrounds also change from level to level, which give a real sense of progression as you get further into the game.
Animation is fluid and although there are an awful lot of sprites on screen at times, the game rarely suffers from any sort of lag or slow down, playing at the same insanely frenetic pace as its forebear.
Sound has been similarly updated, and is probably the area where there is the biggest noticeable difference. Numerous thumping tunes litter the game, ranging in style from some heavy rock-influenced tunes (the hi-score table) to more repetitive, but deeply ominous tunes which really ratchet up the tension. The explosions have really been beefed up, too and you can almost feel the massive vibrations as ships disintegrate around you. The sound on Armalyte is really immersive and I've advise you to play with the volume turned right up for a real aural treat (although doing this does prompt cries of "You are noisy" from poor, put-upon Mrs SWSt.)
Game play is also deeply faithful to the original release. The alien attack patterns have been carefully recreated, so anyone familiar with the C64 game will soon feel at home, whilst newcomers will have great fun learning and memorising the attack patterns. Attack patterns are always the same from game to game, so this means that as you get better, you can move your ship into position to anticipate the next attack wave and annihilate those pesky aliens before they can get you. The "remember the patterns" game play may irk some, since it's a more linear style than modern gamers are used to. However, it does mean that with each game you play you get just that little bit further... which of course, that just means that you are tempted back for one more go each time.
There's also a great weapons power-up system available: shoot a power-up a number of times to change it into a different upgrade (increased firepower, reverse lasers etc.). This adds a real element of strategy to the game as not only do you have to shoot the aliens, you also need to judge how many times to shoot the power-ups to get the weapon that will help you most in the upcoming stages.
The game is very tough, but generally fair. When you die, it's usually because you didn't react quickly enough or failed to anticipate a hazard. It does throw an insane amount of aliens and bullets at you on some levels, but it's never impossible to get yourself out of a corner. I do think the difficulty level is slightly higher than in the original, but that could just be that my reflexes have got slower in the 22 years since its first release. In any case, lovers of shoot-em-ups will appreciate the genuine challenge the game brings. This is one title you won't have completed 20 minutes after loading it for the first time!
Controls are very good. There is a choice of keyboard or joystick (I've only played on keyboard) and if the pre-set keys don't work for you, you can redefine them. I've found the default keys are ideal and sensibly positioned, giving you real control over your movements. Just occasionally, they can feel a little skittery, but for the most part they are well implemented and make your ship very easy to manoeuvre out of trouble quickly, adding to the sense of excitement.
Throw in a fantastic co-operative two player mode (player two controls the drone), Achievements and loads of other stuff and it's clear that this game has had huge amounts of attention lavished on it. If you choose to buy the game on CD-ROM (rather than as a digital download), you get even more, including some podcasts, a couple of videos, and the Mix-E-Load utility (allowing you to remix the in-game tunes). You even get the original C64 version of the game. This can be run on a standard C64 emulator so you can compare how well Armalyte 2010 compares to its popular predecessor.
As a result of its great graphics and sound, Armalyte 2010 requires a surprisingly beefy PC: a 4.2 GHz chip is the minimum spec. Although I own two fairly modern laptops, only one is powerful enough to play it. This is a shame, as it will deny access to owners of older machines.
Armalyte costs £16.99 for a full CD-ROM release version or £4.99 for a digital download. I went for the physical product and was highly impressed by its professional quality. Coming in a DVD style box with the kind of full box artwork and instruction booklet you would expect from a full price release, I felt it worth the extra cash. It might sound quite pricey for an "amateur" game but Armalyte is of such high quality that it's a snip. The only sense in which this is "amateur" is that it's written by a group of guys who also have normal, full time jobs, which makes the end product all the more impressive.
I don't know what on earth possesses people to re-write classic games for new systems. The amount of dedication and work needed for the often tiny financial reward makes it a crazy thing to do. But I'm glad such people exist to bring a wave of nostalgia to older gamers whilst bringing old classic old games to the attention of new audiences.
Armalyte 2010 might have been written by amateurs, but it's a deeply professional product that deserves a place in any gamer's collection.
© Copyright SWSt 2010
Information about the developers behind Armalyte can be found on the Ovine by Design website: http://www.ovine.net/
The game itself can be ordered (or downloaded from) the equally excellent Binary Zone Interactive website (which I've also reviewed recently)