Review by Overdrive
"Apparently the 20th century didn't end this way. So much for video games being able to predict the future."
Sometimes, it’s amazing how one little section of a video game can completely alter one’s perspective of it. It can be amazing how a game that could be considered nothing more than decent can suddenly take on a whole new life because one sparkling effort by the programmers was pulled off so unbelievably well that the entire experience is enriched.
Such moments can be few and far between, though. Most games seem to fall into their own little niche. Maybe it is wonderful, maybe it is horrible — but there is a certain degree of consistency that stretches through the game from beginning to end.
For the most part, Capcom’s 19(insert year here) shooting series has fit neatly into that category. With four of the five games in that series being tied into World War II, players have been treated to a solid, if repetitive, top-down shooting experience. While great play-control has made the 19-something shooters a fine experience by any standard — tons of levels populated by the same assortment of boats and planes gives each game somewhat of a “been there, done that” stigma.
So, after the first four levels of 19xx (the fourth game in the series, sandwiched between 1941 and 1944), it wasn’t a surprise that there had been no indication this pattern was going to change. Sure, there was a nice bit in the third stage where the level started to scroll backwards, but it was still looking like this game would be nothing more than a solid, if unexceptional, entry into a genre that is overloaded with such games. If anything, the experience was getting tiresome — after all, I had seen and done this all before way too many times.
And then it happened. A moment that completely altered my opinion of the game by turning it from a paint-by-numbers outing into something special...
The opening of the fifth level saw my plane flying high over a city at night, with nothing visible but the twinkling of lights far below. However, after blasting a few planes, things picked up in a big way. Your plane starts descending toward the city, setting in motion a stunning graphical sequence that culminates with you flying over train tracks preparing to create all sorts of havoc at ground level.
While the entire change in scenery only took a few seconds, it seemed to create a completely new game. Nothing after the moment came close to matching the sheer sense of amazement that descending through the sky to just above the ground created in me — but from that moment on, the game started to truly live up to its potential.
You see, unlike the other games in Capcom’s series, 19xx didn’t use World War II as a backdrop. Instead (at the time of creation), it was set in the not-so-distant future — a prospect which gave this game tons of potential. Instead of fighting the same assortment of gunships, jets and bombers that were present in earlier games, there was the potential to go up against all sorts of wonderful innovations of technological instruments of war.
But for a long time, that didn’t happen. The first stage was a short air level ending with a battle with an extremely large and extremely weak plane. The second stage — a water stage, culminates with a confrontation with a battleship. So far, the verdict is that there is next to nothing out of the ordinary in this game. While the bosses are more impressive in the next couple of stages — a gigantic mechanical monstrosity in Level 3 and a sub that’s fully armed on both its surface and underbelly in Level 4, this game still hasn’t exactly set the world on fire with futuristic sci-fi confrontations to this point.
But after the descent into the main portion of Level 5, everything changes for the better. After getting past the gigantic laser-shooting train at the end of this level, you will be subjected to an extraordinarily long final level with an onslaught of innovative bosses that would be fitting additions to nearly any shooter. Whether it be an enormous four-legged tank, a plane with tentacle-like wings or a stealth bomber that just doesn’t grasp the concept that a plane whose wings have been blown off really shouldn’t still be airborne — this game really delivers the goods down the stretch.
Speaking of said stealth bomber, unlike the other games in this series, this game offers up an actual adversary to your ship (as opposed to simply pitting you against “the forces of evil”). At the beginning of the game, that bomber calmly destroys an enormous plane that happens to be storing your vessel. Then, throughout the course of gameplay, the stealth makes a couple of guest appearances before escaping — setting the stage for the final confrontation with the durable and resourceful foe at the climax of the game.
The game does succeed in many more aspects than simply putting a few futuristic bosses into the mix, though. Graphically, 19xx is very beautifully drawn. The backgrounds are nicely done and at the same level as the series’ finale (1944) while a number of the bosses are huge and very detailed.
The game’s length is more tolerable than that of others in the series, also. With six levels ranging from the tiny first to the enormous last, this game is far more suited to casual play than the 16 levels of 1944 or the 24 or so levels of 1943. With so few levels, it would have been nice if the programmers had made better use of the first few, but it was nice to not be totally burnt out on the game by the time I’d completed it.
Unlike other games in the series, you actually get a choice of planes at the beginning of 19xx. While the three choices all look fairly similar on the screen, they do perform differently. While one might be slow and powerful, another is weak, but extremely quick. The third plane is more of a “middle-ground” effort that is of average speed and power. I found it to be a very nice touch to have the ability to choose which plane would be best suited to my personal preferences in blasting the enemy troops.
Blasting is one thing you’ll be doing a lot of in this game. Enemies and bullets tend to flood the screen in quick-moving and lethal waves, forcing players to definitely have great reflexes and an accurate trigger finger to advance through the levels without repeatedly getting shot down. While this game isn’t the cheapest shooter I’ve played, there definitely will be a few moments where you’ll likely scratch your head and wonder, “How the heck could I have avoided all that?” Fortunately, the play control is excellent, meaning that if it’s physically possible to dodge something, you won’t be able to legitimately blame your failure to do so on crummy control.
Depending on the sort of shooter you’re a fan of, the manic, button-pounding, hand-twitching action this game requires could be looked at as a negative. However, there is no doubt that the game’s mode of keeping score is dubious by any standard. For some inexplicable reason, continuing after losing an assortment of lives DOES NOT reset your score. This means that all it takes to put your name at the top of the list is enough quarters to bully your way through the game. It is really bizarre to see an arcade game reward persistence over skill in this blatant of a way.
While the game’s music isn’t really a negative, it’s not a positive, either. Maybe it’s not fair to compare a game to its sequel, but after experiencing the wonderful rock soundtrack of 1944, the music in 19xx didn’t have much of an impact on me. It was okay, but the only track that really stood out was the one that played during the game’s ending.
Overall, 19xx doesn’t really have any glaring flaws, though. It’s just that for a good part of the game, nothing really stands out in a positive way, either. While the final couple of levels are excellent with moments that are nothing short of spectacular, the question that needs to be answered is whether that makes up for four levels that could have been copied and pasted from any of a number of other military shooters.
In my opinion, the fifth and sixth levels did a wonderful job of redeeming the game, but weren’t quite enough to truly make it a work of excellence. This is easily an above-average game and one that deserves to be placed up there with 1944 as the best in Capcom’s series, but it falls a bit short of being up there with the top shooters in the genre’s history.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 01/30/04
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