You are a pilot fighting to ensure The Empire’s victory over The Union and to bring an end to a long war. While you and your comrades are out there on the front lines using high tech and futuristic weaponry, the two sides are trying to negotiate a ceasefire. News of the ceasefire will arrive any day now, but that is just a last resort because both sides want total victory. This is the tale that G.rev‘s latest game, Under Defeat HD, revolves around. The story is paper thin, but some interesting revelations (and some possible over analysis) provides a nice backdrop for this addicting arcade shooter. However, gameplay reigns supreme in the world of arcade shooters, and Under Defeat HD is no different.
Released for arcades back in 2005 and ported to the Dreamcast in 2006, Under Defeat HD is just as unique today as it was seven years ago. Instead of taking place in space or some dystopian future, Under Defeat is an alternate take on WWII. Instead of piloting space ships or elemental dolls, you pilot helicopters. However, the biggest difference is the control scheme. Most shmups allow you to move anywhere on the 2D plane, but you only aim forward. G.rev experimented with this and created an eight-point aiming system. This allows much more freedom when destroying your targets and provides for some clever enemy placements that would not work in such titles like Akai Katana Shin or Deathsmiles.
There is a slight learning curve with this system, but things seemed easier once the controls were changed to a dual stick setup. Besides picking from one of two control settings, you have the option to change the sensitivity of your helicopter to suit your play style. Speaking of which, there are a total of four different helicopters to choose from, however one of them is just a pallet swap. The helicopters have their own strengths, weaknesses, weapons, and hitboxes, so experimentation is recommended to find the right helicopter for you.
The gameplay is, for the most part, pretty smooth. Enemies are easy to pick out from the wonderful looking backgrounds, their bullets and missiles standout nicely, the patterns are easy to learn, and your helicopter controls like a breeze. Depending on your vehicle of choice, there are different land and air based default weapons available for use. Besides the default guns, there are three different options that can be picked up on the battlefield -the vulcan, cannon, and rocket. Each option brings something new to the table that will help you take down swarms of enemies and giant bosses. Due to the fast paced nature and crazy effects, there are some frame rate issues with the game. When things get a little too hectic, which is often, the game will slow to a crawl. Fortunately the game is still enjoyable during these moments.
Dodging incoming fire is greatly satisfying, but so is blowing up the things that shoot at you. The shots themselves do not sound overly impressive, but that is an expected part of the sound design for this type of game. However, the explosions are just…well…explosive. Every downed enemy yields a very satisfying explosion, bombs that you drop just absolutely decimate everything in their way, and the way the bosses go out would make Michael Bay very proud. Adding into the scheme of things is how the incoming fire stands out from the rest of the visual design, which adds a key advantage in dodging.
Make no mistake though, Under Defeat HD is a very challenging game. Things will start out easy enough, but after the first stage punches will not be pulled. The screen will be covered with incoming fire, enemy jets will try to ram into you, and pesky missiles will track your movement for a short while. All of this may seem overwhelming at first, but the key to success is to remain calm. Every time you play Under Defeat HD you will find yourself getting a little further than the last time, memorizing enemy placements and firing patterns. The difficulty is intentional for an arcade game, and this adds to the addiction. None of the failures felt cheap, and there was a sense of wonder just to see what dangers lay ahead , and that is a feeling that I haven’t experienced in a video game in a very long time.
Graphically, Under Defeat HD looks great, whether you are playing New Order or the original arcade port. Obviously New Order has an extra layer of paint, textures stand out more, and particle effects are improved. The stages are varied, taking you from a snow base to the bombed out remains of a city. Each of the five stages have a unique feel to them. While the enemy types will remain the same for the majority of the game, mid-bosses and end bosses certainly switch things up in the visuals department.
Complementing the look of the game is the fantastic sound design. Enemies go down in crashing thunder, and the sounds of bombs reigning down on the ground is certainly powerful. While the sound effects are good, the soundtrack is great. Each track suits the stage that it plays over perfectly, and adds a certain narrative effect. G.rev has given gamers the choice to have the new arranged soundtrack or the classic arcade soundtrack to play in the background. Whatever the choice is, you are going to be sucked into one of the bests soundtracks for a shmup. From the high octane sound of the first stage, to the melancholy piano of the fifth stage, the soundtrack for Under Defeat HD is as great as the soundtrack for Deathsmiles and possibly better than the soon to be released DoDonPachi Saidaioujou soundtrack.
Under Defeat HD comes with a few modes to play around in – New Order, Arcade, and two practice modes. There are offline and online leaderboards to show off your highscores, but co-op is only available for offline play. Besides these initial modes, you can unlock an EX mode for both New Order and Arcade. EX hincludes mirrored versions of the stages and different backgrounds that they take place on. There are also various art galleries that are unlocked upon completion of multiple games.
As an added bonus, a soundtrack and an art book is included with purchase of the Deluxe Edition at no extra cost. The soundtrack includes songs from the New Order mode and the art book is a PDF file. The art book provides an inside look at the designs of the two pilots in the game, which are only seen during the eye catches. While it does not offer any new experiences in terms of gameplay, it is nice to see the work that the folks at G.rev put into designing the game.
Under Defeat HD is a successful throwback to the arcade days of the video game industry. The gameplay is spot on, soundtrack is great, and the game is challenging. Sure you can muscle your way through the game in an hour after you know the ins and outs, but it will take a lot of time before you finally reach that level. With two different versions of the game, some nice unlockables, and addicting shoot ’em action, Under Defeat HD is one of the best arcade shooters to be released in recent memory.
This review was based on a final version of the game provided by Rising Star Games