Just what we need, another shooting game set in space.
No, really, we need another one as long as it’s “Project Sylpheed.” Even though the genre hasn’t really changed much since 1990’s “Wing Commander,” “Sylpheed” shines the old format to a high-tech gleam.
Fighting in space has a special place in nerd lore. “Star Trek” set the standard for space-exploration fantasy, which meant lots of traveling between new planets and most of the action happening on the ground, man versus alien.
“Star Wars” upped the ante by moving naval warfare into the cosmos. Lumbering star cruisers firing massive laser-cannon batteries and star fighters wheeling around in free-form dogfights added layers of visual drama.
Within video games, these narratives split into planet-side role-playing or first-person shooter games and vast, free-form space battles.
“Sylpheed” tosses out a ton of animated cut-scenes to stitch together a story. But the game sensibly centers on the fun of tearing around in zero gravity and cutting loose on the bad guys with an arsenal of futuristic energy weapons and self-guided missiles.
Taking advantage of the Xbox 360’s ample graphics power, the inky blankness of the outer-space void twinkles with millions of stars, glows under the reflected light of nearby planets and effervesces with the electronic contrails of spacecraft, weapon explosions and on-screen displays.
With dozens of weapons to configure your craft and an endless supply of things to shoot at, “Sylpheed” plays like some sort of intergalactic wild-game park where you pick your gun, and the guides point you toward things to kill. It might not be fair, but it is fun.
What’s so special about “Sylpheed” is even though plenty of outer-space shooter games have come before, none has looked so gloriously beautiful. A genetic blending of the arcade classic “Tempest,” the mind-bending visual complexity of “Rez” and the hyperactive overload of online arcade shooter “Geometry Wars,” “Sylpheed” shoots for extremes. All of these games share the common realization that bright colors -- in large-enough quantities and set against a black background -- look cool. Oddly, this is also the premise of a Lite-Brite toy.
Developer Square Enix has risen to the heights of the game industry by creating rich and complex worlds and packing them with eye candy. “Sylpheed”’s story won’t go down among Square’s best, and the animated cut-scenes fall far from the best the company can produce. All things considered, though, the game wants to put players into the free-fall joy of tumbling over and over in a space capsule. And it works. Space nuts can complain about the lack of reality in almost every dimension of the game’s physical simulations. For everyone else who cut their teeth on “Star Fox,” the good old fly-around-and-shoot formula shoots for the stars and scores.