Gamers that equate a game’s length with its value will find that AfterBurner Climax’s fifteen minute run, one that makes stablemate Outrun Online Arcade look positively epic, rather lacking. They’d be missing the point though – this is a port of an arcade machine, one that demands every last scrap of your attention and skill for its entire runtime, and thus is perfectly pitched, paced and constructed to provide maximum gameplay within its tight mechanics. Yes, it’s over quickly, but you’ll have one hell of a time playing it.
The game loads swiftly, logos and warnings making way for big shiny Sega typography and a flashing Start button; jump straight into Arcade and after the briefest of cut-scenes you’ll be fifty feet behind one of three fighter aircraft hurtling towards the game’s end, 13 short stages later. There’s the faint whiff of a story and purpose – one centred around disabling a nuclear weapon – but it doesn’t really matter, you’re here to take down the legions of bad guys and dodge countless rockets aimed squarely at your jet. Game on, then.
Climax is nothing if it’s not brutal. Right from the off the speed is relentless, and although you can vary it a little via the triggers you can’t stop or change direction – you might be in the air but you’re absolutely on rails, your path laid out ahead and your destiny with an underground lab pre-determined. The only variable is your skill, and AfterBurner is all about locking onto targets and letting rip with an unlimited ammunition front-mounted mini-gun and a constantly re-arming supply of deadly heat seaking missiles.
The premise is simple – dodge, move and roll with the stick but at the same time use it to pick out targets, paint them blue and tap ‘square’ to fire off a rocket. Once the target is marked with a red cross, forget about it and move to the next – building up your combo multiplier (and your score) in the process. AfterBurner Climax, then, plays out like the sublime Rez on steroids, quick reflexes and a keen eye essential to make it through on a single credit and an all important high score for the end of game ranking tables.
The simple (and configurable) controls mean that the game is ridiculously simple to pick up and the enemy patterns ensure that with enough practise reasonably quick to master. The eponymous Climax refers to an ever increasing bar on your HUD, once filled (and activated with L1 and R1) slows down time and enlarges the lock-on crosshair making picking out targets much simpler. It’s a quick toggle, though, the game returning to hyperspeed after a few short seconds. A neat new twist to the AfterBurner series.
In addition to the main Arcade mode is Score Attack, where the game grants you unlimited lives, instead relying on your ability to build combos as the main draw – scores are ranked and, we presume, this is where the game’s replayability will come into its own as the competition heats up. More interestingly, perhaps, is the Ex Unlock mode, which is triggered as you play Arcade mode and opens up additional dip-switch like tweaks such as automatic fire, larger lock-on boxes and additional credits should you need them.
Graphically Climax is a real treat – the HD, 60fps visuals are often stunning, despite being based on a four year old coin-op. Textures are crisp and sharp, the lighting magnificent and the range of locales – even though you only visit them for 40 seconds or so – is breathtaking. The smoke effects between levels mask the already tiny load times, the explosions look great and the aircraft as accurate as you’d want them to be as they whizz past your ears. Screenshots don’t do this game justice – it really is quite gorgeous.
The sound isn’t quite as impressive – the voice communications from your team is dry and repetitive, the gun sounds a little dull and although you can switch between new music and tracks pulled from AfterBurner 2 it’s mostly lost to the background as the onomatopoeiac cracks, bangs and whooshies take over. It’s reassuring to hear ‘fire’, ‘fire’ every time you get a lock on, though, and Sega have been thoughtful enough to provide sliders for pretty much everything in the game so you’ll find the right balance eventually.
So, from aircraft hanger to secret base, Climax is one hell of a ride – whilst it lasts. There’s little point debating the game’s length further because it really is pretty academic – you wouldn’t be able to cope with the relentless sensory demand for much longer and the feeling you get after you’re done (despite the poor, anticlimatic conclusion) is that you just want to play it again anyway. Some games were simply meant to be this short, and AfterBurner suffers nothing for standing proud as an old-school arcade game.
- Stunning graphics
- Pure arcade gameplay
- Stacks of things to unlock
- Score attack offers longevity
- No load times once the game has started
- Arcade mode is very short
- The initial thrill makes way for repetition
I’m a big fan of the pure arcade experience, and AfterBurner Climax offers exactly that. It’s concise to the point of being a little too short, but there’s lots to unlock, a nice smattering of Trophies and a couple of extra secret levels too. Whether or not you think the game is worth seven quid or not we obviously can’t predict, but in terms of raw, unadulterated gaming pleasure, Climax is great fun and provides plenty of excitement. I said whilst playing it that I wished all games were like this. And I do.