Review by Derek Zoolander

"Nicely faithful to the original."

I loved the new version of Centipede, so I went back to CompUSA (oh, spare me your tirades about the chain; it’s still good for finding nice cheap games) and looked for another rehashed version of an arcade classic. Staring me in the eye was…Asteroids! Almost two full decades after the original was released, Activision has finally ported its classic onto the PC (and PlayStation). Asteroids’ main selling point is its gameplay, which remains nicely faithful to that of the original version. As in the original, it’s just you and your ship out there, in the vast expanse of space, gunning down enemies and shooting up asteroids. It’s good to see that Activision resisted the temptation to change the game into a 3D one, as that would’ve ruined the classic feeling. Now, the graphics and sound have obviously received major facelifts, and powerups and all sorts of new enemies have been added, but as for the general feel and gameplay experience – well, here comes the nostalgia.

Gameplay: 6-

Has it come flooding back yet? You’re that little ship that’s spinning around in the center of the screen, and your job is to shoot those asteroids (and other objects and debris) that are hurtling towards you from every direction. As with the original, you can turn left and right (i.e. aim), move through directional thrusts, use your rather limited shield, and also warp to another part of the screen through Hyperspace, although you risk getting ported to an even worse situation than your present one.

In the original your only enemies were the asteroids, which would fragment into successively smaller pieces each time they were hit until they were finally destroyed. Well, there are still asteroids in this incarnation, but Activision have thrown in a few other objects. There are crystal asteroids, which fragment into smaller crystals which each grow into mature asteroids if not hit in time; indestructible asteroids; asteroids which absorb and then reflect your own fire; and more. You’ll also face an increased variety of enemy ships, from the usual round spacecrafts to faster, more dangerous crafts like hexes and carriers. With the asteroids floating around you and the progressively harder enemies gunning for you, you’ll have to know more than just how to shoot. Shields and powerups are vital.

Powerups? Oh yes, the powerups – which are definitely your best friends – include rotating satellites that help shoot down enemies, homing missiles, smart bombs, and even a wicked tractor beam that’ll mow down anything in front of or behind you. Cool stuff. There are more than a dozen weapons and powerups for you to collect, and believe me, they’ll make your life a lot easier and longer.

Another gameplay aspect that’s added in the new version is the backgrounds. No longer are you just twirling in bleak, empty space! Instead, you’re shooting asteroids and spacecraft while superimposed on very nice backgrounds of nebulae, black holes, flaring stars, and even the Earth! You can also interact with some backgrounds: the continually-shifting black hole will threaten to suck you in, and keep you on the move, while in a different stage the flaring star will engulf an unlucky pilot. These little twists are helpful in adding variety into what might be seen as a dull, old-fashioned game.

Graphics: 8+

Ooh, purdy. Forget the old black-and-white asteroids – in this version, we’ve got beaut, detailed backgrounds and well-rendered enemies. Most of the backgrounds are, as I’ve said, quite impressive – the nebulae and the flaring star being personal favorites. The black hole could’ve used a little more embellishment, but hey, that’s not a big problem. Similarly, the asteroids look nicely hazardous (but not too hazardous or realistic – that’s not what we’re aiming for, after all) and the blue and orange crystal asteroids are quite nice to look at. I can’t say that the enemies are extremely detailed, but they look neat and varied and move well. The little pellets that serve as enemy fire aren’t exactly dazzling, but the powerups are quite impressive. You’ll see explosions everywhere, scattering missiles, flickering tractor beams…pretty good, and just enough to impress without overloading the senses.

Sound: 5+

It’s average, nothing more. Nothing is really memorable, but nothing sucks, either. Come to think about it, I can hardly remember anything of the mediocre tunes and sound effects. Suffice to say that you’ll be hearing lots of shrill shooting noises and the usual UFO effects of the craft. There are a few exceptions, and the crystal asteroids add a little bit of variety in their disintegrating and regenerating sounds, but nothing really stands out. The powerups sound alright, but it’s clear that the developers put more effort into the graphics than the sound.

Replay: 4

This is, at heart, just an improved version of the original Asteroids and so the replay value (or lack thereof) lies with the gamer. If the idea of going through five long worlds shooting harder and harder enemies and more and more asteroids sounds like a romp through the park, then by all means get this game; it’ll be more than worth the puny price you pay for it. In fact, if you like the single player quest then you’ll probably love the two-player multiplayer (that is, if you can find a fellow Asteroid-freak) and the inclusion of the original Asteroids game will be the icing on the cake.

However. If what you’ve read so far doesn’t seem too exciting – and that’ll apply for most gamers – then you should think twice about buying Asteroids. A rent will suffice. The gameplay never varies a whole lot during the levels (it just gets harder) and if you don’t like the concept neither multiplayer nor classic Asteroids will ring your bell. Still, the game is fun for at least a day or two, and it might grow on you. Might.

Overall: 6

Well, if I was a die-hard arcade gamer then I’d give it a seven or eight, and if I were a die-hard FPS fan (or a fan of similarly modern genres) then I’d give it a four or so. The close-to-the-original gameplay is what will make or break this game; sure, it’s got nicer graphics and sound and even a few gimmicks like powerups and new asteroids, but in the end, this game is just an “expansion-pack” of sorts for the original. I’d recommend a rent, just to see the novelty of this game. This isn’t a game to be taken very seriously or played very deeply, but who knows…you just might get addicted. Might.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 09/20/01, Updated 06/06/02

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