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RefleX (PC) artwork

RefleX (PC) review

"Giving Something Back."

The third stage of RefleX takes part in the depths of space. You have fought your way off a besieged planet, limped through the well-guarded atmosphere and perhaps towards what you thought would be freedom. Instead, you find a huge fleet covering every inch of the screen.

Sometimes, the ships you come across are far too large to fit even a fraction of their bulk on-screen, so you’re presented with a part of the wing or a weapon’s embankment to wail on. They rarely appear alone, but even if there wasn't a constant swarm of enemy fighters in your face, you’d assume a massive fleet of warships would be threat enough. And you’d be right; craft chilling beneath you, smugly aware that they’re out of your reach, will release volley after volley of pink homing laser while capital ships have access to screen-dousing plasma blasts.

Here, in space, you’re privy to staggered laser blasts, uncountable bullets and heat-seeking missiles that seem to feel they’re not doing their job if they’re leaving you any kind of physical escape route. That you’re offered a generous six hits before you lose a life goes some way to easing these stacked odds, but that alone would make RefleX an aggravating game of cheap, unavoidable deaths you’d need to credit pump though to see completion. And that's what it would be if it wasn't for the shield mechanic. The shield changes everything.

For a limited time, you can wrap your fighter up in near invincibility. You can’t shoot during that time, but you have the bonus effect of dismissing most of the bullets fired at you, and even reflecting a good number back from whence they came. Nothing clears the screen better than waiting for the enemy to fire multiple blasts of homing plasma only to bounce it right back at them and watch it chase your opposition around the screen. Reflecting bullets quickly becomes your primary means for inflicting ridiculous damage; this makes huge walls of projectiles that were once one way trips to the Game Over screen instead become deliciously exploitable.

So long as you keep your shield charged and ready for the right moments, waltzing through the midst of a massive fleet with just your little craft is suddenly not a crazed suicide mission. RefleX’s most threatening moments can all be turned to your advantage. The balance is found in trying to decide when it’s best to evade and attack with your Vulcan cannon and when to wade in with the shield. Use all your juice too early, and you may find yourself facing attacks you have no way of evading. Appear too cautious and you’ll find reliance on your standard weapons particularly slow going. The only reliable way to down the larger foes is to haughtily ping their attacks back at them.

The shield’s energy bar recharges quickly, but letting it power down to empty is a sure-fire way to guarantee a bad time. It’s also the battery for your Vulcan cannon, which goes from a multi-blast spread-shot at full power to a flaccid twin-shot when drained. What helps less is that firing your weapon slows the recharge down to a crawl, so the best option to get back to full strength quick is to spend precious seconds completely vulnerable with no means of attack or defence. Boss fights test your resource management the most; there are usually two in each of the game’s eight stages (making RefleX the longest of the Siter Skain trilogy by some margin) all of which routinely throw everything they have your way. Massive laser beams need to be angled back on themselves; bulbous bullets to be bounced back at belligerent bombardiers; sieges to be turned into counterattacks on the fly, and then haphazardly survived during painfully long stretches of recharge. Sometimes you'll have to endure volleys of rockets and missiles to which your shield has no reply. Dodge them or shoot them out of the sky – or die.

RefleX gives you every chance to survive – used right, and the shield cloaks you from damage as well as offering your best offensive option. Much like ALLTYNEX Second, you start with limited continues and gain more each time you reach a game over screen. Even with these generous boons, I’m not afraid to admit that, out of the trilogy, seeing RefleX through to completion took me the longest. The length had something to do with this, but it was the point rush greed that killed me over and over again. Mow a decent number of enemies down with their own bullets, and you have a limited time multiplier that takes effect if you lower yourself to downing stuff with your own gun.

But perhaps what tripped me up the most was forgetting I was only nearly invincible, and that I was only nearly invincible for a limited amount of time. The shield mechanic is a constant evaluation, trying to fit in a few seconds of rebounding safety sandwiched by enforced vulnerability and hoping you've got your timing right. Then, once you get used to that, the rules all change. Much like KAMUI is all about trying to figure out which layer needs to be pressed hardest, or how ALLTYNEX’s biggest challenge is trying to decide which attack option functions best in your current situation, RefleX is a constant argument with yourself on what you should have done. And how not doing it right has cost you a strike or a life or a wicked score combo. The odds are stacked, but it's ultimately your fault; you have all the tools to win constantly at your disposal.

ALLTYNEX Second (PC) image


EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (January 13, 2015)

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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