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"Sic Itur Ad Astra" or "Thus do we reach the stars" is the phrase discretely displayed in the credits of the Guardian software. While to some that may seem a lofty and fitting expression of homage to man's exploration of space, I suspect, after playing this side-scrolling Defender tribute, that the phrase denotes a pessimistic and chilling vision of the conflict that awaits when we ascend into the outer heavens.
You want enemies? You got 'em.
You are the cloned pilot the Guardian, a ship not unlike the Vipers flown by the human refugees of the 80's sci-fi classic, Battlestar Galactica. The Guardian is wrapped with an energy shield that absorbs the energy pulses and impacts of enemy ships as long as you have energy to spare. Gone is the gamble of hyperspace, but the Guardian is packing much more under the hood than was its predecessor the Defender.
You begin your mission with a limited amount of energy and four default weapons; the chain gun, air-to-air missiles, "dumb" bombs, and the ever present "Energy Shockwave" which can be likened to the smart bombs of old. You can use this screen-clearing pulse anytime you have enough energy to do so. Beware, while the shockwave will clear most enemies in your immediate vicinity, you will be left with little energy left to power your shields. These are formidable weapons to be sure, but as the game progresses, you have the opportunity to collect power-ups containing progressively more lethal weapons as well as additional energy. Lasers, rail guns, particle cannons, cluster bombs and more fall from space as "supply drops" or from the wreckage of destroyed enemy craft. Your arsenal is fearsome, but you may still find yourself searching for a hyperspace button as your opponents pursue and swarm your vessel.
Auto-shields and missles
The foes in this sick little game are many and the roster reminds me of the rouges gallery of adversaries featured in the "Defender III" spoof posted on the Internet as a supposed KLOV* entry at which described the list, "so many enemies in this game, the portion of the attract mode which introduces them runs for nearly 10 minutes." The Guardian author's website, boasts, " at times you'll be facing well over a hundred simultaneous enemies."
The best retired Defenders will find their hands full dealing with pods filled with baiters, mine laying cubes, magnetic mines, saucers of varying speed and size, landers which release commandos on the surface, energy draining structures and ships, heavy bombers, and more. Your colonists have a baby-turtle's chance on the beach as they contend with the enemy commandos, surface-borne laser turrets, and the familiar abductor always searching for a slow colonist to seize and mutate.
You must save them by blasting the abductor allowing the colonist to parachute safely to the surface. Luckily they, and you, sometimes find help in the form of infantry marines loyal to your cause that provide covering fire and some additional ground support.
Attacks can come from above and below
The creator of this game, Tony Zurovec, has not only captured the frenzied action and game play of Defender and Stargate, but along with artist Matt Sheffield, has added object and scenery visuals that truly enhance the destructive experience without sacrificing game play for dizzying polygons and unneeded 3d cinematic. The Guardian patrols over crisp, well rendered backdrops such as a foreboding alien moonscape with tumbling asteroids orbiting the scenery, gently falling snow in a winter killing field, and scenes of fiery eruptions and magma plains the likes of which may have been seen in Dante's worst nightmares.
The sound in Zurovec's creation is frenzied and adds much to the experience. From the satisfying thud of enemies impacting the surface to the crackle of laser fire the sound in this game does not disappoint. At times the explosions begin to merge into a single grumbling roar as you wade through the attacking horde. For the sicko in you, listen carefully for the screams of colonists and others on the surface when they meet an untimely end. True to its prototypes, the game sports familiar sound effects when enemy ships teleport to the battle and subtle audio warnings when colonists are being snatched from the surface.
Allied paratroopers drop in to help
The screen is similar to its classic forerunners with the addition of a mission display that keeps you informed of your task as well as certain developments such as supply drops. You will also find a listing of your weapons along with the quantity of munitions left onboard as well as your energy reserves. Your radar is similarly placed on the top of the screen, but has been lengthened to provide a more comprehensive view of the battlefield.
The game is fitted with remapable controls making it a natural for MAME cabinets, though no DOS port is available, and has the ability to play background mp3s. (Ed: the game only supports 1024x768, so it might not work on some cabs with arcade monitors) High scores can be uploaded and posted to the Superluminal website. Various effects can be toggled to accommodate slower machines though at least a 500 MHz processor and 128Mb RAM is recommended.
I cannot stress enough what a fitting tribute this effort is to classic games such as Defender and Stargate. This is truly apocalyptic experience that leaves you not wanting to complete the game, but stay alive just a little bit longer in the true spirit of the 80's arcade. Thus do we reach the stars, not as explorers, but as hyper-aggressive guardians of humanity against a constant tide of mutants and destroyers of quarters.
- James McGovern