Afterburner Climax continues the tradition of bringing “HD” versions of classic Sega franchises to XBLA & PSN. The difference with this title is that whilst Outrun Online Arcade and Rez HD were based on original console game code, Afterburner Climax is actually based on the arcade game of the same name that was released to Japan in 2006.
Whilst Afterburner Climax for Xbox Live Arcade and PSN sadly doesn’t come with a hydraulic chair, to the developers credit Flightstick support is fully implemented and remains the most authentic way to enjoy the game.
In this latest iteration of Afterburner, the major addition to the core gameplay is, as the game’s title alludes, the new “Climax Mode”. Akin to the bullet time dynamic utilized in several FPS games, players are similarly able to tap the shoulder button in order to activate slow-mo, increase the size of the aiming reticule, and grab the highest number of lock-on’s possible. The skill of the player in using this Climax Mode is key to improving their score and it doesn’t hurt that releasing missile death in a 60 string combo is also tremendous fun.
In catering to the home console audience, AM2 have also added the ability to tweak and tune the Arcade Mode experience with unlockable EX Options. The challenge and look of the game can be tweaked, but ultimately these unlocks are most likely to appeal to gamers looking for the quickest route to the games achievements / trophies.
Whilst the Arcade Mode provides players with a very accessible way to enjoy the game, it’s the online leader board enabled Score Attack mode that will no doubt be the playground for the majority of competitive gamers. This mode takes away any EX Options or cheats and provides a level playing field to compete on, with gamer skill and mastery of the Climax Mode being your ticket to Top Gun status. Or the reason you end up at the bottom of the list in a gibbering mess, calling out for Goose to help you.
Whilst being a mostly linear affair over a set number of stages, the game does offer some welcome room for tactical choices before and during a game. Players are free to choose which bird to fly, with three classic fighters to muse over. The “Top Gun” F14D Super Tomcat from the Original returns, and is now accompanied by the F-15E Strike Eagle and F/A-18E Super Hornet.
In a nod to the design pedigree behind the game, players are given the choice to branch left or right at the end of each mission. Added depth is also provided by the inclusion of hidden bonus levels, accessible only to the best pilots who successfully tackle mid level challenges, like taking down a target stealth plane using guns only. In total there are over 20 stages to enjoy and, in a classic Sega fashion, multiple endings are also on offer.
Taking account the competitive nature of the game, it is a pity that only the Score Attack mode is given online leaderboard support. Gamers wishing to show off their ability to one credit the game will be particularly disappointed about that. Another missed opportunity was the decision not to include the classic Afterburner II as a gameplay mode, though the inclusion of the option to use the excellent original music is a nice touch.
In a world where games seem to increasingly spend their budgets on cut scenes, story boarding and voice acting, it’s a refreshing change to be blessed with an old school shooter with an addictive Score Attack mode, covered in the most magnificent of HD coated wrappings. There’s tremendous value for money here, and it is genuinely delightful to see that the core gameplay dynamic is as much fun today as it was twenty three years ago.