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Download 2 (Turbografx-CD) artwork

Download 2 (Turbografx-CD) review

""Cyberpunk isnít just a genre -- itís a mindset. Itís a mindset that knows itís beneath the thumb of corporate greed, but tries to dig itself out anyway. Itís a mindset that sneers at the shallow mainstreamers who swallow the recycled maxims of pseudo-intellectualism.""


Back in 1991, the internet as we know it did not exist. Bulletin boards, hackers, and downloading were fringe concepts -- and as often happens with fringe concepts, prophetic sci-fi novels and films were outnumbered by outlandish interpretations catered towards a mainstream that didn't know any better.

Nowhere in the world was cyberpunk more popular than in Japan, the land where Blade Runner actually turned a profit (before the heathen Americaners eventually cottoned on). Parts of Tokyo actually looked like a sci-fi setpiece . . . so when NEC set out to make the ultimate cyberpunk shooter for their new CD-based hardware, they would have to go all-out to make an impression on the nation's techno-savvy youth. So they made a sequel to one of their more ambitious properties: Download.

There was no Download 3, so you can probably guess how this turned out, but pretend you haven't thought about that yet.

When the game is first booted up, it shows us a box with a brain in it. This will be important later. DOWNLOAD 2 then scrolls across the screen in giant letters, reminding cyberpunkin' gamers that this shooter was a BIG DEAL. In 1991, it was.

The opening cinematic reintroduces us to the cyberdiver Syd, a phreak who rides his motoroader through city streets and jacks into AI systems to search for criminals. A reintroduction really shouldn't have been necessary; the original Syd was drawn by Masaomi Kanzaki (Xenon), and exuded unforgettable toughness in a GUTS kind of way. The new Syd was drawn by Shuho Itahashi, artist of the obscure Cyber 7, which would have been fine had Syd not been so manly in the first game.

That's right -- NEC ditched pseudo-GUTS for a silly-hat-wearing douche. The original Syd exuded menace without even trying; the sequel's Syd has to establish lone wolf surliness with a goofy apartment scene. His ladyfriend Deva doesn't look as striking, either, having been transformed from sassy pig-tailed wench into dull brunette prude. Deva never involves herself in Download 2's action, and the plot no longer revolves around her getting kidnapped all the time, so her inclusion and redesign was particularly unnecessary.

Perhaps Deva's only purpose was to explain why the hero even bothers to go on an adventure. In the original Download, Syd was out for revenge against the evil corporate empire what done him wrong. In Download 2, Syd is . . . well, he seems more interested in television than crimefighting until Deva shows up. Unable to withstand the allure of potential post-adventure booty, Download 2's surly hero straps on his gear, hops into his cyber sled CYVING and bows down to dull Deva's every whim. He's whipped. Shamefully whipped.

Part of Syd's job means decimating cybernetic golden insects that terrorize Tokyo at sunset. His journey alternates between such "real-life" stages and trippy cyber stages where ancient murals come to life and try to kill him by throwing spears. Syd even fights the Venus de Milo (images withheld to protect innocent eyes). During that battle, NEC cleverly shows what happened to her arms. Part of Syd's job also means fighting Hitler; just wait until you see his Download 2 incarnation! Sadly, such crazy bosses -- including the desert's stone golem -- are the game's best part, and mostly just because they look cool.

Due to my reason-crippling anti-HuCard bias, I actually played Download 2 before touching the first game. Compared to other CD shooters, this felt tame. Although the graphics aren't bad, Rayxanber 2 has a more compelling future cityscape. Although the rock music isn't bad, Lords of Thunder's tunes are far more energetic and inventive. The action itself can't touch Gate of Thunder.

Then I played the first Download. Instead of a meandering journey through random setpieces, I experienced a fast-scrolling shooter with stylish cutscenes, catchy music, quick enemies, scads of parallax (especially in the freakishly cool final level), and a true sense of danger. Compared to the original, this CD sequel feels slow and laid-back. The scenery lacks fancy parallax, Syd's arsenal feels less powerful, and the addition of "speed-up" icons was a bizarre inclusion that became irritating whenever I accidentally picked up one too many. So many elements -- from characters to control -- were changed that I question why they even called the end result a Download.

Cutscenes are used as an excuse to show "cyberpunk" stuff like wireframe effects and people turning into binary data. After a series of cyberjack scenes, the game culminates in a ridiculous montage that reveals Syd to be a snatcher. I've never read the Download novel, but I imagine a lot was lost in the videogame incarnation. More likely, this game isn't actually representative of any particular story and just borrows the characters. NEC apparently thought that was enough to be "cyberpunk". They were of course wrong. Considered in a vacuum where other videogames don't exist, Download 2 isn't bad . . . but that's just a contrived statement to avoid calling Download 2 what it really is: a sham.



zigfried's avatar
Staff review by Zigfried (September 02, 2010)

Zigfried likes writing about whales and angry seamen, and often does so at the local pub.

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CoarseDragon posted September 03, 2010:

Completely reminded me of the Johnny Mnemonic movie. Nice introduction and follow through. I had my first internet account in 1989 and it is still active today so yes at that time the internet was a baby. Nice pointing that out really good setup for cyberpunk the references.

I liked those links in the review, nice touch.

You teased us with Hilter's brain but never really said anything else. I would like to have known more.

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