While it’s now common place for developers to raid the past for inspiration, few people would have expected Yar’s Revenge to be used as the basis of a re-imagining. More renowned for the excellent box art which the Atari 2600 cartridge came in, it would be a stretch to call the original a classic or fondly remember (unless the player in question was deprived of an alternative and unfortunate enough to be stuck with it). None the less, Atari have taken Yar’s as the basis for their latest title on PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade.
Set across six sprawling levels, 2011’s iteration of Yar’s Revenge is an on-rails shooter in the mould of the seminal Rez or Panzer Dragoon. The story is light to say the least and won’t live long in the memory, the main gist being that Yar has been sent on a mission to seek titular `Revenge` for the treatment of her people. A work of literary genius it most certainly isn’t.
The controls are fairly standard for the genre; the left analogue stick controls Yar, while the Right stick is used to move the targeting reticule around the screen. The players primary weapon is the Pulse Laser, but there’s also the additional Railgun which requires recharging after use. By holding down the button for the Pulse Laser you can paint up to six targets and then let loose with a barrage of missiles, though these are limited and can only be replenished when enemies drop them.
Of course there are power-ups available to increase Yar’s arsenal. The Annihilator allows extra damage to be applied, the Seeker will home in on enemies and clear them, while the Defender takes out enemy bullets. Each power-up is assigned to the pad’s face buttons and can be stacked three at a time, handy for hoarding them until they’re required.
The six areas are teeming with enemies of varying size and strength, with each one downed helping to fill up a multiplier meter which will otherwise trickle slowly away. Keeping that tally heading ever upwards is essential for players looking to post some serious highscores on the leaderboards.
Unfortunately there are some major mixed messages going on within this version of Yar’s Revenge . The look adopted for the game is a pseudo cell-shading that stands out on certain areas, but looks like a blurry mess in others. The confusion extends to the gameplay, as first stage the player encounters is a mess of brown textures and enemies that look like they’re made of cardboard, appearing to have no dimension or heft. The lack of urgency also makes matters worse, with it feeling like a demonstration rather than a fight towards a goal. Even the first boss is decidedly average and the journey to it is also long and laborious. A bit of fine-tuning and judicious use of quality control would have certainly kept the levels snappier and concentrated, instead of meandering and dull.
Around about now it would fair to say many would be writing Yar’s Revenge off as a failed experiment, but from Stage Three onward it changes up a gear and starts to display its true scale and ambition. The peculiar drabness of the greenery makes way for a well-realised industrial location and the attendant swarm of enemies add to a sense of overwhelming odds stacked against Yar in her quest. Even the boss fights from this point on are imbued with a sense of character and guile, and victory against them becomes one that is well earned by the skin of the player’s teeth. Stage Three’s boss in particular is a treat, with a genuinely interesting nod towards the original game.
It boggles the mind that the developers left it this late into the game to introduce their finest work, as many might have switched off before then, missing the treats in store. So it almost feels like two games were developed before being rammed together at the end, leaving it very disjointed. The lack of online co-op also feels like a bit of a misstep, with it being limited to offline only. Once finished there isn’t a great deal of incentive to come back, apart from attempting to improve high scores or to attempt the challenge or hardcore modes. Ultimately this is one title that is lacking in hooks to drag you back once the end credits have rolled.
When it works, Yar’s Revenge is an interesting take on how to revive a long dormant title from yesteryear. When it doesn’t work, it frustrates the player no end. The paucity of modes and the lack of any real reason to go back hamper the longevity, especially in light of the fact that there is some bona-fide classics currently populating the download services that do the same but much, much better. Sadly this means it ends up a competent, but wasted, opportunity.