RayCrisis: Series Termination (PlayStation) review
"''Series Termination'', the subtitle screams at us, as if there were something riding on this. Even the title itself, ''RayCrisis'' speaks of the urgency and enormousness of the situation. As it stands, some Dr. Mindbender type has gone bonkers, his experiment in Artificial Intelligence following suit. The result is the hackneyed tale of supercomputer against earth. Supercomputer will, of course, prove to be victorious, if not for the player/hero."
Series Termination, Encroachment, and why none of it matters
What's this you're giving me? This is fluff; superfluous junk. Pretty, elegant junk, but junk all the same. I want a good shooter to play, but I've been horribly and wrongly deprived of late. Where are the R-Type Deltas? The Thunder Force Vs? Instead I am bombarded with mediocrity, which leaves an especially bitter taste in one's mouth when the thing that is wishy-washy at its core is dressed up to this degree; dressed up in church clothes, polished and shiny, sporting flashy names for nonfunctional concepts and bland levels. Undress RayCrisis and you are left with banality. Without the 'oohs' and 'ahhs' that the visual splendour of the sweetly-shaded polygonal ships and settings will likely evoke, there is a naked, shameful, stunted disc that can induce sleep if you're in just the right mood.
RayCrisis, the pretender, isn’t nearly as good as Galactic Attack (a.k.a. Rayforce and Layer Section, the first game in the franchise), nor is it even on par with the inferior second game, Raystorm (a.k.a. Layer Section II). In fact, this final game of the mostly ho-hum vertical shooter series—beyond its looks and ambition—convinces me that Taito wanted to lay the series to rest with complete and utter indifference. It would almost be better if something out of the ordinary had been attempted, and had failed so spectacularly as to be offensive; better, as we, the shooter public would be forced to sit up and take notice. Instead, after experiencing a measure of the limp gameplay mechanics, we can very safely sigh and prepare for a day when we will be asked about the game. We will be well equipped, then, to say, ''Ah, RayCrisis... I think I played it. I don't remember it being much good.'' This response will be well-practiced (in proportion to time spent with the game), even in all its ironic lethargy.
''Series Termination'', the subtitle screams at us, as if there were something riding on this. Even the title itself, ''RayCrisis'' speaks of the urgency and enormousness of the situation. As it stands, some Dr. Mindbender type has gone bonkers, his experiment in Artificial Intelligence following suit. The result is the hackneyed tale of supercomputer against earth. Supercomputer will, of course, prove to be victorious, if not for the player/hero. But truly, if there is really a ‘crisis’ at hand, it is more likely to do with the vapid Zuntata-created tunes than the unengaging story or gameplay.
Already Raystorm took the original game down a few notches with the unnecessary and generally unimpressive use of polygons, by increasing the amount of cheap (read: unavoidable) deaths, and further, by all but admitted this flaw with the addition of their ‘yes we know you can’t dodge these bullets, that’s what this is for’ smart bomb. Worse yet, was the inexplicable inclusion of an annoying auto-centering function, which forced your ship to bank from either side back to the middle, against your wishes. Well then! Despite generally negative feedback, the polygons are back (admittedly much improved), the cheapness is back (thankfully reduced) and the 'drift handicap' too, has crashed the RayCrisis end-of-series celebration, regrettably with full force.
And RayCrisis makes a few unprecedented slips as well: the imprudent omission of the 2-player simultaneous mode, and the ambitious introduction of encroachment. While the former is sheer idiocy, the latter concept is only admirable in the way it tries to bring innovation to a genre in need—and because it sounds cool.
But on a fundamental level, encroachment makes little sense, eventually failing RayCrisis, and thus, failing the gamer. Let’s walk through it. As in the previous two games, select your ship; this time there is a choice of three ‘Wave Rider’ spacecraft that house smart bombs, fire primary guns, as well as the series’ bread and butter: the lock-on laser. The WR-01 fires a small spread gun and can pull off eight simultaneous lock-ons. The WR-02 shoots dual stream lasers and manages sixteen lock-ons, while the last fires homing missiles and facilitates twenty-four simultaneous lock-ons. Generally speaking, the more lock-ons that can be performed at one time, the better the results for the average player, so that the highly capable WR-03 is the weapon of choice.
From here, select three levels from a possible six, and begin play. A short introductory stage will give way to the first of the three stages you’ve just chosen. These areas have pretentious names like ''Emotion'', ''Consciousness'' and ''Sentience''. When those three levels absolutely drift on by, you will find yourself facing two end bosses (Dis-human and Infinity) that are so hard that you’ll not only need to use up all the continues you’ve stocked (via a very generous options screen), but you’ll likely spend more time on the two of them than you did on the three levels (combined!) that brought you to this point.
So why does it feel so short? Well, outside of the obvious problem of there only being a trio of stages before bumping up against the near invincible pair of credit killers, encroachment is at work. You might notice the number at the top right of the screen? Good. In short, if you kill pretty much every enemy that enters the screen, this number will drop to about the 20% mark, and the levels will seem longer. This is what we’re aiming for. However, if you’re a cack-handed shooter enthusiast, you’ll likely miss tons of enemies as they stage attacks on you and retreat, and your encroachment score will be much higher, perhaps at around 60%—not good. This will make the level shorter, and some mini-bosses may not even bother meeting up with you, deeming you not worth their while. The message this sends to the gamer is, to play the game as it’s meant to be played, you need to be an ace pilot. Which is fine, but the inverse is not. If you’re crap, you’ll breeze through the game on your first play and earn the same ending anyway, an eventuality that is much more likely.
Fortunately, in addition to the short and greatly flawed original mode, there is a special mode that strings together all six levels (from which you normally select the three) and doesn’t offer continues. As such, the special mode is the only thing worth your time here. Playing it at length really helps to reveal how well designed the bosses are. They are large, agile, and unique, bearing thick skins and multiple attacks. As in Raystorm, they are the best part of the mission, and clashing with them can be quite exciting once one learns a few of the fundamental 'Ray-game' dodging patterns. But even so, the remarkably unfair bits may get the better of you since the continues have been made unavailable, making this game within a game a disposable one.
Don’t believe the hype about RayCrisis being easy—it’s far from it. It showcases more sequences where getting hit is unavoidable, than in Raystorm and G-Darius put together. The cheapness and the lullaby tunes make for a boring experience (yes, dying over and over is boring), while encroachment and the three-level structure make it a short one. You should only buy this if you’re a huge fan of the series and have to own every title to come down the pike. You might pursue a rental or a steal (not actual theft, mind you), and try your hand at the special mode if you’re really a shooter enthusiast. Everyone else should leave well enough alone; indeed, I am a shooter enthusiast, and I feel strange about owning a game whose personality seems to mumble... ''I didn't really want to be born.'' its voice lost on the winds of obscurity.
Staff review by Marc Golding (January 14, 2004)
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