Sometimes things can be so simple, especially in Cygnus Studios’ arcade-inspired vertically-scrolling shoot-’em-up Raptor: Call of the Shadows, brought to a modern audience by DotEmu.
Shoot the story
As with the Double Dragon Trilogy, one shouldn’t play this for the story. Except for a few cutscenes (mainly the intro, outro and landing sequences), there’s not really a plot or characters to relate it. It’s just about total annihilation, as questionable as the main idea of destroying competitors’ buildings during a time of economic struggles is.
If it moves, blow it up; if it doesn’t, blow it up anyway
Blowing things up does not only mean destroying flying enemy vessels, stationary guns or what else wants the player’s ship down on the ground. Bridges, boats, houses, etc. explode as well. This isn’t just a graphical gimmick (although it looks quite nice), as it helps accumulating money. Earning enough cash unlocks specific weapons like lasers, missiles, auto-target cannons and other upgrades like shields or bombs. With each mission or wave becoming more difficult, it’s essential to havoc as much destruction as possible.
Destroying it all for the money
It’s here that the game shows some problems though, because it’s rather difficult to get enough money to buy reasonable weapons in the first few levels. And with a wide variety of upgrades to select from, it’s often not clear what to invest in. This especially becomes a concern when one can’t replay levels to get more money. So it’s up to experimentation what works best, and this is easier said than done, not knowing what the next stages will throw at the player. Still, changing gear and switching between weapons in certain situations adds a strategic and fun component to the unrelenting action.
Power-ups are available during missions, but they are rather sparse, with only one or two bombs which can clear the screen from almost any enemy and building, alternative weapons or much needed energy packs becoming visible when destroying containers. As energy is not replenished after completing a wave, the player carries damage over to the next one if he doesn’t spend cash to repair the ship. It’s certainly a nice risk and reward mechanic, but a few more items would have been nice, because the enemy waves are overwhelming and soon bullets fly from anywhere, even in the lowest of the three difficulties.
Destruction of enemy waves
The attack patterns of enemies are varied, and sometimes the screen can become cluttered with incoming ships which want to crash into the player’s and bullets from stationary turrets. Some fire in a straight or verticular line, while others follow the player’s movement. There’s simply a lot to shoot and evade at the same time. It can also lead to some bullethell shooter scenarios, which is especially true with the bosses.
Unfortunately, these aren’t very creative and only distinguish themselves by the amount and type of projectiles they rain on the player. Constantly moving is the only way of survival, although it’s not so easy to achieve with the ship being a bit slow at times. In addition to these boss encounters, the difficulty of the levels themselves is very high. It’s only possible to survive by managing the right equipment and using fast reflexes. Another downside to the linear shooting is that there are rarely any surprises in the levels, i.e. except for mid-level bosses and more enemies being introduced, the environments aren’t really that impressive or original.
Lookin’ and soundin’ good when everything explodes
The graphics of the game still hold up well today. Even with a lower resolution, explosions and environments look quite good. Nothing compared to recent shmups, but still acceptable, considering the title is already 20 years old. It’s only too bad that with both the 2010 and 2015 editions, there haven’t been any improvements. The framerate is consistent, sure, but even by using a graphics filter, there isn’t much difference between this and the MS DOS or Windows version.
The same can be said about the musical score and sound effects. While the former could have made use of the CD quality release, it’s still quite catchy and fits the frantic shooting perfectly. Explosions and weapon sounds are also good, although again the sound quality isn’t the best, as it often sounds a bit muffled and shows its age. It’s also a bit disappointing that a save/load game bug hasn’t been fixed, or maybe it’s a backup plan feature that each time one saves, this means automatically creating a new savegame, which makes it hard to distinguish the individual saves only by the amount of credits.
Retaliation of retro nostalgia
Raptor: Call of the Shadows is a relic of a time when shooting stuff was fun without the player thinking much about a story. It looks and sounds a bit dated, but the conversion is still quite good, as it captures the frenetic gameplay perfectly. It won’t win any awards in level design or innovation, but while it lasts for 3-5 hours, the game offers many (often frustrating) hours of mindless blasting with a bit of thinking when it comes to the upgrade system.
Concerning the differences between the 2010 and 2015 editions, there’s only the addition of Steam achievements, so no further improvements over the first release were made. So if you’re more into DRM-free stuff, then grab the 2010 edition, otherwise the 2015 edition will satisfy your needs for Steam glory.
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