Usually when I buy a video game, I pick up something that I’ve carefully explored in advance. I read reviews, watch videos of the game being played, and perhaps even download a demo of the game to play on my computer or a game console. In this sense, Project Sylpheed was different. I was in my local Best Buy to pick up something else, and happened to see it while walking past the video games. I had recently finished the a game, and didn’t have anything new to play at the time, so I bought it on a whim.
The game describes itself as a “space saga.” I would describe it as a combat flight simulator. You fly a small space fighter, engaging in dogfights against other space fighters and larger capital ships. There is a very simple economic system built into the game by which you earn points based on how well you do on each mission which you can then spend to get access to better weapons and equipment for your fighter. The game also allows you to start over from the beginning after you beat it, but to keep all of the equipment you earned the first time through, and to continue to earn points in order to further expand your gear.
As a combat flight simulator, the game is exactly the sort of highly engaging, mindless entertainment you might expect from the cover art. The game doesn’t require a lot of thinking. You can more or less point your craft at the enemy of your choice and hold down the button until your weapons lock on, then let go of the button to fire a swarm of dozens of guided weapons at them while you turn your attention to something else. The game also does its best to provide an engaging storyline, but this is an area in which it tends to fall short.
The plot of the game is one which I can only describe as being very “Japanese.” The main character and his nemesis are very effeminate, long-haired men. They are accompanied by a host of outrageously proportioned women wearing high heels and short skirts into interstellar combat. The one exception is a massive bear of a square-jawed, ebony-skinned man, complete with tribal-looking facial tattoos and a voice actor who sounds like he would like nothing better than to be mistaken for James Earl Jones. In short, each and every single character is an over the top stereotype, and every one of them is overacted like a cheesy b-movie.
The plot itself tries to be based on a conflict about a government that is referred to as oppressive, and the attempt to make the player think about the moral quandary of fighting for such a government balanced against the desire to protect the people you care about. In spite of all of these efforts, the game somehow manages to present all of the issues in black and white, mostly by making people who might well have a legitimate cause for grievance turn out to be just randomly evil and psychotic, far worse than the merely questionable people to whom you are asked question your loyalty. Unfortunately, I didn’t find myself caring for any of the people I was supposed to be protecting, and the presentation of the plot and the characters in it was so ridiculous that I simply couldn’t take any of it seriously.
I give the game designers a lot of credit for their control scheme. They actually offer three different systems. The most basic is very easy to learn. It’s a good choice for a gamer who hasn’t played many flight simulators before, or for someone who is interested in just picking up the controller and jumping into the game with a very forgiving learning curve. For gamers who take their flight controls more seriously, the “professional” control system allows you very fine-grained control over your fighter, with individual and entirely independent control of pitch, roll, and yaw. The third setting is a hybrid of the two, striking a reasonable balance between a highly complex, very fine-grained control system and a very loose, forgiving system. I didn’t always agree with the choices the game designers made about which button did which thing, but after selecting one of the three main control systems, you can then fully customize what every button on the controller does, so I was able to reverse the few choices I didn’t agree with.
On the whole, I found the game highly entertaining, even if it was impossible to take seriously. Given that the game retails for about thirty percent less than most games for the X-Box 360, I feel like I got my money’s worth out of it. If you’re interested in a fast-paced, arcade-style dogfighting game, this is one I can recommend.
-posted by Mark