by Robert A. Jung
Atari Corp., for the Atari Jaguar
Can an abstract game make it in today's ultra-realistic video game market? Atari seems to think so with its release of Tempest 2000, an expanded version of the 1981 color vector arcade classic. As in the original, the player maneuvers a claw-shaped blaster on the rim of an electronic web. Flippers, Pulsars, and other geometric beings rise from the bottom, to be shot before they destroy the blaster. When all of the enemies are eliminated, the player moves to a new web, where new foes and greater challenges await.
Tempest 2000 provides four modes of play. "Traditional Tempest" offers a very close rendition of the original title. "Tempest Plus" expands on this, with new levels and a greater difficulty, while allowing aid from a second player or a computer-controlled drone. "Tempest 2000" features new enemies, new weapons, 100 levels, and various bonus stages. Finally, "Tempest Duel" pits two players in competition with the enemies and each other. Extra blasters are rewarded at regular intervals, and a key system keeps track of player progress in "Tempest 2000" mode.
This game is intense! Tempest 2000 strikes a perfect balance between speed and thought, driving players to the limit of human reaction. At the game's peak, there's so much happening that it's almost impossible to keep abreast of it all, and only the best will. Once past the beginning levels, this game soon immerses players deep in the action. Though the goal is to simply destroy all enemies, mindless blasting is not a suitable long-term strategy, and what's really needed is the ability to think fast in the midst of chaos.
Of the four modes, "Traditional Tempest" is a relatively tame game, though fine in its own right. "Tempest Plus" works best as a training mode for beginners or a cooperative two player game, while "Tempest Duel" is a passable competitive game. The jewel of the cartridge, however, is "Tempest 2000": As a good sequel should, the expanded enemies and features add new dimensions of strategy without losing the spirit of the original game. Demon Heads, A.I. Droids, Mirrors, the Jump, and more -- each adds more wrinkles, more opportunities, and more dangers.
The original Tempest used a rotating dial controller. In Tempest 2000, while the joypad is not a perfect replacement, after some practice it's a workable substitute. There's no way to directly adjust the game difficulty, though the various modes offer something to players of all skills, and the game grows harder at a gradual pace. The only real flaw -- if it can be called that -- is that the game's abstract nature may not make it immediately enticing to players. Those who can overcome their biases will find a title that's very hard to put away.
As expected, "Traditional Tempest" uses the simple wire-frame graphics of the arcade, but the other modes offer more enhancements. Messages burst across the screen, pixels dance and swirl through explosions, and "Tempest 2000" mode adds filled polygons, seamless color gradients, and hypnotic effects in the bonus stages. The adjustable view defaults from behind the blaster, with the perspective changing as it moves, though some webs look small in the fixed-view mode. No words can do the visuals justice; the overall effect is a kinetic spectacle that's akin to a fireworks show on steroids.
What really steals the show are the sounds and music. Explosions, weapons fire, and other effects are distinctive and pleasing, while voices are crystal clear and loaded with emotion (including a rather slinky "Superzapper recharge"). But that's all secondary to the music, an original Techno-rave stereo soundtrack with an attitude and tempo that matches the game perfectly. It enhances the experience and is almost enough justification alone to buy the cartridge.
Tempest 2000 is by Jeff Minter of Llamasoft, and carries all the hallmarks of his previous works: fast, blistering action coupled with eye-shocking graphics and wild sounds. The title is not for the meek, but a snarling beast that runs on blood, sweat, and adrenaline. For those looking for a hot, never-ending challenge, turn down the lights, crank up the volume, and jam with Tempest 2000!