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Under Defeat HD: Deluxe Edition (Xbox 360) artwork

Under Defeat HD: Deluxe Edition (Xbox 360) review

"Thereís nothing else out there quite like Under Defeat, and while it gained reverence in its obscurity, the world missed out. Donít miss out at an unexpectedly well-crafted second chance to find out for yourself."

Thereís a lot of history behind Under Defeat, and usually, this would solve the age old dilemma on how to start the introduction to a review. But I canít help but feel itís a complete waste of time. If you care about the genre, you already know all about G.Revís swansong scrolling shooter for the Sega Dreamcast. If you donít really care for the genre, well, this isnít the place to try and bolster an appreciation.

At heart, Under Defeat is a game for the scrolling shooter connoisseur. It has all kinds of crazy options only the hardcore fan would appreciate, like being able to rotate the game screen 90į to get a true vertical scrolling experience -- all you need to do is turn your television on its side to accommodate. Not many people have the means to achieve this, which shows just how far the game goes out of its way to cater for the fanatic. G.Rev is that kind of company: made up from ex-Taito employees responsible for the likes of Raystorm, Gradius V and Ikaruga, and the original version of this game could set you back a small fortune to pry away from its rabid fanbase. The HD version changes that, dropping the title on your lap for about the tenth of the price the Dreamcast version might now cost you, and then does its very best to find the middle ground for those of you not ravenous scrollers.

The original version keeps firmly in mind that youíre piloting an attack helicopter, which controls differently from space-aged fighter craft and Caveís collection of loligoth bullet-hellers. Set in an alternative WWII-esque timeline, your chopper can move around freely, but addresses its line of fire very differently. Instead of just holding a button to unleash continuous bullets, it also locks your chopper in place, allowing you to tilt it left and right in order to give you differing streams of attack. Though this seems little more than an appreciated little touch at first, it soon proves vital. Not wanting to mess around learning a new control scheme, I decided to just lock my helicopterís stream of fire straight forward and rely on cat-like reflexes to get me through. This did not end well.

For one, your hit box is large, and while you donít have to worry about pure bullet hell, the screen can fill with tracer fire and anti-air missiles at an alarming rate. For two, a lot of the bigger enemies assume this will be the tactic of many a lazy gamer, and ensure their fronts are heavily protected, forcing you to plough bullets into them from an angle. For three, though strictly speaking vertically scrolling, the game likes to tilt the screen around to stop you prevailing with static lines of attack. For four, doing this makes the Option helper obsolete. Not using your Option is a sure fire way to a blazing, charred death.

Options are, in many ways, like the little satellite helpers employed by more or less every other 2D scroller, only itís also very different. Theyíre not constant companions, (under normal circumstances), but need to be powered up by resting your gunfire until a gauge fills, then unleashed to provide a temporary second funnel of fire-power. Vulcun Options provide prolonged bursts of weak chain-gunning, missiles lead to one-shot bursts of high explosive mayhem, and the canon exits somewhere between the two. Your standard tracers are more than capable of seeing off swarms of attack crafts and rolling tanks, but youíll appreciate the extra help when flying out to the open sea and trying to dance between the constant cannon-fire of numerous navy battleships.

The tilt mode takes a lot of getting used to, and the elitist part of me wishes I could say that I stuck with it and it became second nature. Iím sure it would have if Iíd not bowed down to the new control scheme of using the second analogue stick to act as gunner, which perhaps detracts from the gameís realistic pace and sturdy challenge. But adds a new sheen of fluidity, letting you change targets on the fly while making defensive manoeuvres once impossible under the original lock-and-fire mode. The HD remake also not only offers this, but rescales the entire game into 16:9, giving everyone people without the option to turn their televisions on their side a much better chance to see whatís going on around them. This does mean shuffling around previous enemy placements, but the original arcade scan is included, giving you the chance to decide for yourself which is better.

In adding these things, G.Revís earnest attempts to appeal to the maddeningly middle ground of consumers really does find purchase. I was happy (or is that obligated?) to play around with both control schemes for the purpose of literacy comparison, but the people bullied dropping in to split screen sessions plumped straight for the new option and never looked back. And I quickly joined their ranks, then profited off the fruit of the deluxe edition more and more. Not only does this version contain all the DLC released for the original Japanese re-release of this game, consisting of a harder, mirrored campaign, but spanking new attack choppers that either have Option attacks built into their normal gunfire, or tone down their standard attack in favour of adding deadly homing missiles. Both craft make the game a great deal easier, but are perfect ways to ease new players in.

Or, you know, stick with them forever. I gravitated towards the large red `chopper with homing missiles, and never looked back.

This new system makes the end of my first paragraph more or less obsolete. In how the game reinvents itself, it stops being just for pretentious shooter veterans, swirling their cognac and talking about exquisite attack patterns and ingenious scoring schemes. But, at the same time, it shies away from holding anyoneís hand. You start off with a paltry three credits to complete the five stage game, and can only unlock more by investing gaming hours. Expect to sink eight hours into each game mode to completely unlock free play, with each additional credit costing an hour of play Ė with no excuses. By the time I had maxed out my virtual coins, I was one-crediting my way to the ludicrously bullet-happy end-of-game boss, saving my screen-saving bombs up like a missile-laden Scrooge in a desperate attempt to stay alive long enough to dent it. I failed. Under Defeat has no issue getting a little sadistic with the projectiles as the game goes on.

And I appreciate that. Itís a short game when put side by side with some of its flashier brethren, and it doesnít invest as heavily in the crazy over-the-top cartoon wackiness the genre revival seems to want to edge towards, but it is a brilliant modernising of one of the better shooters youíve probably never played (or couldnít afford). Thereís nothing else out there quite like Under Defeat, and while it gained reverence in its obscurity, the world missed out. Donít miss out at an unexpectedly well-crafted second chance to find out for yourself.


EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (February 02, 2013)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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Masters posted January 27, 2015:

Sick review of a game I downloaded but haven't played much. I'll give it another shot and see if I've been missing out or if you're just seriously prone to heaping hyperbolic praise on holy grail shooters.
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EmP posted January 27, 2015:

The HD remake is ridiculously more accessible adding in new attack ships and a dual stick method of shooting, which eats a huge chunk of Under Defeat's steep learning curve. I gave playing it tilt a real go, but being able to jump right in and dual stick it through makes the game so much easier to just pick up and play. What version of the game did you end up with?
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Masters posted January 28, 2015:

I got the HD remake. Once I finish whatever it is I'm playing now, I'll give it another shot.

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