Review by GearHed
An arcade classic at your own desk!
It's not often that a great arcade game is made for the personal computer. It's even less often that it works. This is just about one of those times where it does.
In case you've never seen it, Virtual On: Cybertroopers was a smash-hit arcade game released way back when, I think around 1996. It's still very popular in certain circles, and spawned a sequel (which, sadly, I've never seen) when Sega upgraded its graphics tech. But that's another story entirely; this review is of the PC version. I'll be critiquing it on both its own merits, and how it compares to the arcade version. So, here's the breakdown:
Story: Even though story is a BIG part of what makes or breaks a game for me, I'm not gonna give a score for this one. In a nutshell, it hasn't got one. I mean, there's a premise and everything, but it's very basic and (to me) obscure, and it really has no bearing on the game.
Gameplay: 8.5/10 High marks for gameplay. I'm going to rate control separately, for reasons which you will soon see. The game's setup is simple: Take two giant mecha, have 'em duke it out arena-style until one falls in a heap and doesn't get up. Repeat as necessary. The thing is, it's a helluva lot of fun. You have a basic set of movement abilities, and each trooper has a unique set of 3 basic weapons, plus some special moves. Believe me when I say that EACH trooper is unique, and requires some very different playing styles. No two duels are alike. Combat is very fast-paced, but it's not your usual twitch-style game; you have to think and react and come up with strategies and tactics, all while a hail of missiles is streaking towards you. Good reflexes are a must, but the ability to think and react quickly is vital. The game supports split-screen 2-player, and online head-to-head. I haven't played online or on a LAN, but I'm told it works perfectly almost every time. My only complaint is that the single-player mode seems to follow the exact same order of enemies every time. I haven't found if there's a way to randomize it. It hasn't yet become a detraction for me, though.
Graphics: 8.5/10 What can I say? They're beautiful! This crusty old program is pre-3d acceleration. It uses purely software-based rendering. Polygon counts are kind of low, and there's no particle effects or atmospherics (it is pretty old, after all,) but guess what? It looks great anyway! Colors are bright, angles are crisp, lighting is smooth, scenery is resplendent with detail. Jet plumes streak behind your mecha as it leaps into the air, sparks fly when someone takes a powerful swipe at you with their energy sword, and empty cartriges litter the field as cybertroopers pump rounds into each other. It's great, and it duplicates the arcade version almost perfectly. Real pretty eye candy, even for the most jaded of modern gamers, if only because of the novelty of looking so good with only the most basic of hardware requirements.
Sound: 7/10 I'm gonna go a bit low on this one. The sound elements of the game are just about identical to the arcade. The music is lots of fun, and help add to the frantic pace of combat. Weapon sounds are your basic selection of zaps, whooshes, blams, and bonks. I'm not saying it's bad, and I'm not being unecessarily harsh. It's just nothing to write home about. Oh, and that voice is annoying. He yells something when you get hit really hard, but blimey if I can figure out what it is. They really could have done it differently.
Design: 10/10 The Troopers are wonderful. 8 separate mechanical beasts, and every one is a unique masterpiece. Sure, some may say that they're just cookie-cutter mecha, and maybe they are. I'm no expert. They're insanely Japanese, bearing no resemblance to Battletech or Heavy Gear, or any western-style mecha, but they're also not much like Gundam or (thank God) the Five Star Stories. Whatever; within the confines of the game, they're very imaginitive, and each has its own personality to boot! Levels are simple, but well-rendered, and the troopers are nicely modelled and animated too!
Control: 0/10 Okay, it's not that bad, but I'm illustrating a point: Things don't always translate nicely. The arcade version had a dual-joystick setup for movement and weapons, like T-Mek and Assault. Given the nature of the machines you control, it allowed for more interesting maneuvers. The fact that Sega didn't write some kind of mouse control means that it's hard to control the thing as smoothly and effortlessly as you want. Fortunately, you can configure the keys to get the best results, but it takes a LOT of practice to become proficient, which means that it'll be a while before you can kick some of the more difficult butts in the game. You can use a joystick or gamepad, but I'd advise that you only use a gamepad that has left-and-right index finger buttons to use for sidestepping. Otherwise, use a two-handed keyboard setup and just get used to it.
Compatibility: 9.9/10 This game runs seamlessly on modern hardware and operating systems, with the possible exception of XP, which I haven't tested. The only reason for the one-tenth point reduction is that if you run it from the start menu, it gives you this brief speech on needing MMX to run, and then not running. The solution to that is to throw out the thing it installed in your start menu, and replace it with a shortcut you made yourself. MMX was crap, and the game doesn't need it despite the warnings.
Overall: 8/10 To wrap it up, Virtual On: Cyber Troopers is an excellent game for when you just want to run around and beat up on stuff. True, you only get to do so on one victim at a time, but they put up more than enough of a fight to make it a challenge. Great visual presentation, almost-perfect translation from the arcade (the control needed reworking; it's the only major drawback) and admirable execution of alternate head-to-head play. Since it is an arcade game, it lacks game saves, skirmish options, and some other things that we take for granted. No big deal though. Just think of it as a $800 game machine that you bought for $14 in someone's bargain bin. It is findable, and it's definitely worth the few bucks it'll likely cost.
Rating: 4.0 - Great
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