Written by: Rik

Date posted: February 19, 2014

Taking on the first boss.

Taking on the first boss.

Perhaps because games as high-profile and technically proficient as Wolfenstein 3D, Doom and even Descent saw a shareware release, by the mid-90s it was almost seen as a mark of quality. You also got a lot of free game, too, which may have slightly undermined the business model, given the proportion of players that tend to get stuck or bored in the early stages. Still, expectations for new releases from certain stables were adjusted upwards for a while, which may explain why when Tyrian was released, in the same year as fab-whizzo flashy 3D shooter Terminal Velocity, I took one look and dismissed it as something we’d all seen before.

Times change of course, rendering Terminal Velocity‘s snazzy visuals all furry and ragged, the 2D charms of this game relatively well-preserved, and my memory of what constitutes “something we’d all seen before” a fuzzy and limited list comprising Moon Cresta, Xenon and Raptor: Call of the Shadows. As you might have guessed, this isn’t normally my kind of thing, but occasionally the mood for mindless blasting takes hold, and this one won a marginal, and unscientific, vote over Raptor.

Bang! Smash! Kerblam-o! *makes noise like 80s toy machine gun*

Bang! Smash! Kerblam-o! *makes noise like 80s toy machine gun*

So, Tyrian, then, is your classic top-down vertical shooter, in which you control a ship flying up the screen, blasting any enemies that come your way, facing increasingly insurmountable odds, while bolstering your hopes via an unlikely series of add-ons and upgrades until the whole screen is awash with flashing lasers, bombs and explosions. It comes in two main flavours – the first of which, story mode, is arguably how it was intended to be played. Obviously, you get a story (more on which later) but the main feature is that you can customise various aspects of your ship from the get-go – the front and rear guns, left and right “sidekicks” (more guns), plus the shields and generator (which govern defence and power management).

Refreshingly, the emphasis is on finding a combination that suits you, or the mission at hand – upgrades can largely be changed or removed at the end of a mission, successful or not, and you can configure and reconfigure according to your tastes. On the levels themselves, any points earned can be reinvested upon completion, and other pickups are pretty much limited to emergency armour supplements, if needed, and data cubes, which serve to further the largely incomprehensible plot, the precise details of which I wasn’t particularly inclined to follow, but it involves your character, who is called Trent, waging a one-man war against an evil corporation called MicroSol.

I think I'll worry about the enemy approaching from the front, thanks.

I think I’ll worry about the enemy approaching from the front, thanks.

There were originally three episodes in Tyrian, although a subsequent patch added a fourth, and the semi-sequel, Tyrian 2000, later included a fifth. (For the record, I played the four-episode version). Each level is pretty short, and repeat attempts aren’t too much of a pain. It has to be said, though, that some of the immediacy and thrill of a never-ending high score fest is lost here (although my only real point of comparison is the Atari ST Spy Hunter clone, Major Motion). To some extent this is redressed by a number of bonus levels, which aren’t integral to progress but do allow an opportunity to gain extra points, and there is always the arcade mode (Tyrian‘s previously-mentioned second, er, flavour), which restores the more traditional lives-and-powerups format to proceedings. Either way, I was grateful for the short levels, which allow a slow-witted moron like myself to progress.

Speaking of which, on the easiest difficulty setting, it can be a little bit a case of move left, move right, keep your finger on fire, although there are still some challenging moments, particularly when dealing with end-of-level bosses, and on some of the later levels things can get pretty hairy. As a genre novice, I’m perhaps not best-placed to judge, although I dare say that the hardest setting is likely to be plenty tough enough, and if not then there are some super hard settings to unlock once you’ve completed the game.

Catching up on plot developments via a data cube. Oh yeah? You can poke it, you beardy tosser.

Catching up on plot developments via a data cube. Oh yeah? You can poke it, you beardy tosser.

This has been a pretty short review – I always tend to feel there’s not a lot to say about a game of this sort, which perhaps belies my limited experience; apologies if I didn’t go into enough detail about weapon combinations and/or enemy wave patterns (or whatever). Perhaps one day I’ll give Raptor a go and see how it matches up. Anyway, I certainly had plenty of fun here, although there came a point at which I’d definitely had my fill, and I imagine that in the days when this hadn’t been released as freeware, the initial shareware episode would have sufficed. But Tyrian seems like an accomplished effort, with some notably awesome and catchy music, and so I’d certainly recommend it to anyone who likes this kind of thing, or even anyone who doesn’t but who might be vaguely tempted by a 2D shooter once in a while.