STAFF REVIEW of Tempest 4000 (Xbox One)

Thursday, August 16, 2018.
by Adam Dileva

Tempest 4000 Box art I was lucky to be born early enough to see, and experience, the birth of gaming. While the likes of Pong and such were slightly before I was born, Tempest actually released the year I was born, so I remember experiencing it at a young age at some point. If you’re unfamiliar with Tempest, it’s a very old school ‘tube shooter’ that utilizes the classic vortex style of graphics. Watch some classic 80’s movies and you’ll most likely recognize those classic Atari visuals.

Normally I wouldn’t dive too deeply into a game’s history for a review, but there’s a reason that related directly to this newest release, Tempest 4000, so bear with me. Originally designed by Dave Theurer, Tempest was very unique and impressive for its time, gaining quite a following over the years. A decade later, game developer Jeff Minter released a sequel, Tempest 2000, for the Atari Jaguar. Do some research and you’ll see how that console turned out, yet Tempest 2000 was still one of the best games released on it.

Roughly another decade later, in 2015, Minter released a game titled TxK for the Vita, with plans to release on PC and other platforms. The problem was that TxK was essentially a ripoff of Tempest, and not even slightly, it was Tempest, even with the iconic claw ship that the player controls. Sure, you could get into a discussion about how he designed Tempest 2000 a decade prior, but in the end Atari wasn’t happy and stopped any further sales of his TxK title, which people seemed to enjoy.

Here we are three years later, and Tempest 4000 is now available from none other than Minter and Atari working together. This was kind of surprising, given the things he had to say about Atari at the time of the lawsuit, but here we are. This isn’t meant to be an in depth history lesson on Atari or Tempest, but having done some research after playing Tempest 4000, I’m convinced this is simply a ‘remaster’ of his TxK, with Atari’s blessing.

That may or may not be the case, but if you take the time to watch some videos of each game you’ll notice very few differences. That being said, those who really enjoyed TxK, or classic Tempest games, now have a new title to play. For the rest that aren’t as nostalgic or who may appreciate the ‘classics’, it’s not going to make much sense for what you’re looking at, what you’re supposed to do, and how much they priced it at.

You control the Claw, a ship that, well, looks like a claw. You’re on one end of a geometric plane shooting at the enemies on the far end before they can reach your side. Your main goal is surviving wave after wave of enemies and earning the highest score you can, but if you’re unfamiliar with Tempest, you’re going to be utterly confused from the opening moments. You need to destroy every enemy before moving onto the next stage, but that won’t be so easy with dozens of enemies to kill at once and sloppy controls.

You need to keep in mind the technology available back in the early 80’s when Tempest was designed, and here we are, nearly four decades later, and Tempest 4000 still plays essentially the same, albeit with much more visual flair yet the same vortex-like graphics at its core. The play field you navigate from side to side is called a web, and your claw ship can move back and forth across it, shooting down specific lanes towards enemies when lined up. Each level has a different web shape, which can dramatically change the flow of the gameplay, especially when you have intersecting points and have to remember which way left or right will move your ship.

You’ll begin by choosing between the three different modes, which aren’t really explained very well in terms of the differences between them. Classic, Pure and Survival will all play the same save for the amount of lives given and the ability to continue from your last reached level or not. Survival mode nets you 10 lives to see how far you can reach before losing them all, whereas Pure mode gives you three lives and the inability to continue.

When power-ups appear, you’ll need to catch them with your ship if you want the bonuses. These are seemingly randomized, upgrading you with the ability to jump, faster bullets, laser beams and more, though they only last for that specific level. Every level you’re also given one bomb, allowing you to clear the screen of enemies and gain a 2x multiplier on the ones destroyed. This is also a free pass when an enemy has grabbed onto you and is about to kill you by dragging you to the back of the web.

As you clear a level and move onto the next, you’re given a small minigame that lasts a few seconds. Here, you need to traverse your ball of light through some rings to earn a ton of extra bonus points. This is all well and good, but there’s no real indication of where you are in this black void of space. I thought I was in the middle of the rings, but apparently I wasn’t, resulting in missing out on a ton of points. There’s nothing to aid with your relation to the rings and why you aren’t scoring. Granted, it only last a few seconds, so it’s not too big a deal, but it doesn’t feel very well thought out or intuitive.

The biggest issue I have with Tempest 4000 isn’t its abstract premise or retro graphics, but the controls. To say that controlling your claw feels ‘slipperly’ would be an understatement. You don’t have any precise movement unless you move incredibly slow, which won’t work for this game given how quickly you need maneuver from side to side of the webs to destroy approaching enemies. It feels as though you’re moving on ice, so stopping at the exact lane you want is nearly impossible in the thick of battle. Many times I’ve lost lives due to sliding past how far I actually intended to move because of this.

Tempest 4000 still looks like the classic Tempest that I grew up with, but with an upgrade to the colors and background visuals. Given that nearly everything is presented in that classic wireframe style of art, it’s not pretty to look at in the traditional sense, but those that are my age or older should enjoy the nostalgia of growing up with titles like this in the arcade. Shapes and colors will constantly splash across the screen in bright neon, and it will take some time to figure out what you’re exactly looking at, but it is beautiful in its own way, even if it looks like randomness at times.

The highlight for me was the retro soundtrack. While the game sounds are very basic and repetitive, the techno inspired soundtrack was bumping on each level, oddly fitting for the graphics and gameplay, and I really appreciated that I could listen to each individual song buried in the credits menu.

Even though Tempest 4000 boasts a title that implies it’s in the future and is a sequel, very little has changed since Tempest 2000 for the most part. This is more of a refinement than an overhaul, and given that it seems like a ‘remaster’ of TxK from a few years ago, you may have already experienced Tempest 4000 in some form or another. I can appreciate the retro style of gameplay and graphics and don’t really hold the retro-ness against it, as it simply is what it is, but at the end of the day, I wasn’t having as much fun with it as I used to 30 years ago.

Diehard Tempest fans will no doubt really enjoy it for its abstractness, colorful and psychedelic visuals, and beat inducing soundtrack, but if you’re not part of my generation and grew up with titles like this, I don’t feel there’s going to be much appeal or appreciation for games like Tempest 4000.

The final issue I have, and something that is the biggest hurdle Tempest 4000 has to overcome, is its ridiculously overpriced cost of entry. I was absolutely in shock that Atari is charging $29.99 CAD for this. At half the price it would still be a hard sell, but at nearly half the price of a full retail game? There’s very little chance that I can recommend it simply because of its price. If it was regularly $10 or so, that would be a different story, but for a game that only permeates fun in short bursts, unless you’re the specific target audience and diehard fan, it’s difficult to recommend otherwise until there’s a serious sale or price drop.

Overall: 6.0 / 10
Gameplay: 5.0 / 10
Visuals: 6.5 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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