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Hellfire (Genesis) artwork

Hellfire (Genesis) review

"Being fronted with the one-man-against-the-universe plot isn’t something unfamiliar when playing any of the multitude of shooters on the Genesis. Hellfire - one of the many arcade shooter ports here on the Genesis – isn’t any exception, quite the same in fact. Set adrift from your mothership armed with only your regular weapon and the devastating, but limited, Hellfire laser, you are expected to save the universe from its impending doom. "

Being fronted with the one-man-against-the-universe plot isn’t something unfamiliar when playing any of the multitude of shooters on the Genesis. Hellfire - one of the many arcade shooter ports here on the Genesis – isn’t any exception, quite the same in fact. Set adrift from your mothership armed with only your regular weapon and the devastating, but limited, Hellfire laser, you are expected to save the universe from its impending doom.

Your mission starts as you are thrown predictably into a star inscribed void, inhabited by the more predictable of enemies. Merely giving you a chance to power up you weapon and a taste of what is to come, the first level doesn’t ask too much of you in any way. You are invited to explore the use of your weapon, with static guns placed away from harm of your standard forward fire. Your first lesson needs to be learned well however, as things turn sour from here in.

The second level provides you with your first taste of how the game means to go on.
Set against a backdrop of ancient pyramids, your journey takes you through a hoard of floating sarcophagus’ before thrusting you into a hieroglyphic adorned temple. It is this temple from which the game takes its nasty turn, suddenly intensifying the hostility with greater amounts of enemies, all spitting projectile death in your direction. You soon become so engulfed in avoiding these bullets, your own weapons become secondary to your interests, firing in any given direction as you zig-zag around the screen. Each subsequent level does have its less relentless periods, with the third being the calmest, although the game does know how to turn up the pressure at any given moment.

As your journey takes you closer to your ultimate target you’ll encounter many more diverse areas, all sprawling with an increased hostility. Darkest of all, is the dense, twisted jungle you must fly through, harbouring scores of machines in likeness to their creepy-crawly counterparts. Should you survive long enough, you will witness the long awaited break in the growth, revealing a beautiful lake set beneath a hazy purple sky. Contrary to the setting however, the game soon has you battling the demons that leap from the deep, hoping to make you their pray. The once idyllic setting soon makes way for the ever familiar undergrowth however, taking you onto the frantic conclusion. Scores of craft race in from all sides calling for a rapid reaction or an untimely demise, before four huge slack-jawed heads bully you around the screen, spitting flames at a tremendous speed.

Having thrown several situations at you commanding a variety of shooting skills, Hellfire saves the ultimate level for the heavy weaponry. Cast aside are the one-shot participants, possibly exhausted from your solo onslaught. Taking their place are the last-gasp defenders of the enemies fleet; gargantuan crafts boasting unprecedented firepower, unbreakable armour, and a will to crush you like nothing else seen before. If you haven’t come to this final battleground boasting fully charged weaponry of your own, your death will be a swift one.

Sadly, as the long journey comes to an end, your ultimate foe turns out to be the most disappointing in all of the game. Looking like a knight sat in a ship - complete with lance and shield - it looks so laughable, so ambiguous, it just encourages you to waste it as quick as possible. What it lacks in credibility, it makes up for in firepower however, spitting bullets in all directions, firing missiles from its rear and prodding the space in front of it with its lance. A direct frontal attack is quashed by its shield leaving you searching for other ideas. Like me, you’ll soon find its weakness, defeating it in no time at all.

Your bland looking ship compensates the traditional variety of weapon pick-ups for one that rotates around your ship at your command. As well as firing forwards, you can fire behind at the touch of a button, vertically and diagonally too. As the latter covers four directions however, the strength is lessened a little to give the enemy that little bit more of a chance. Each level is designed to make you use your ability the maximum, with static gun turrets hiding behind walls, requiring you to switch your weapons around. Predictably, the enemies approach from the front, yet occasionally, attack patterns will change to surprise you. While not being so harsh as to rush into your unprotected hind like some sort of kamakazi pilot, enemies often sneak in from the corners, simply requiring you to adopt a different firing line and a switch of weapon position. You could almost call it the thinking mans shoot-em-up, deviating away from the simple ‘collect the power-ups and hold the trigger’ variety, Hellfire requires you to move, select then shoot – something that becomes tougher and tougher as the projectiles increase in quantity and the scenery closes in.

One of the best examples of the style of play required can be seen in the first level boss. Coming in the form of a futuristic looking aircraft carrier, the bulk of it body bears cannons on all sides, beckoning you into flying around to eliminate each one. Once this danger has been put aside, the boss itself can only be destroyed by taking out its nucleus – a small red ball which spins on a track at the center of its body. Four small channels provide the chink in its armour and must be fired down to hit the weak point. Yet as you pummel the nucleus, it moves around its track meaning you must change your position – and firing direction – to continue your attack.

Being a shooter, you can usually predict pretty much what you are going to see from start to finish. How many of the games take you from the initial ‘space’ level, through various technologies, caverns and waters, before ending up in the ‘bad guys’ mother ship/base? Ok, so it’s a limited genre, but a little inspiration and variation goes a long way here. Take Thunderforce 4 or Lightening Force as it known stateside and you will see how graphics can give a shooter the edge over its rivals. Beautiful hardly begins to describe the first four levels, taking you through a hazy desert, ruins, a cloud filled sky and best of all, an armada of ships shooting it out in a fiercely dark sky. Hellfire does continue the tradition of a first level amid the stars, although from there on the assortment does breath a little more fresh air than most. The second level I have already mentioned, looking like an Egyptian landscape, reminds of the air-raid level from Thunderforce, with large floating objects to negotiate…

The genre isn’t one lacking on titles though and competition is as fierce as the enemies’ fleet. With such choice, your decision needs to be a good one, and although Hellfire does deliver a solid enough experience, there is better around. There is no major flaw holding it back, yet the small niggles that are apparent can play on your nerves a little. As with most shooters, you collect power-ups that speed your craft up. You have to welcome a craft that moves quickly, but this instance brings about an overly twitchy craft where you lose lives all too easy. The narrow passages of the enemies base only makes this problem more apparent as you fatally slam your ship into the wall for the fourth of fifth time.

The inevitability of losing a life creates the second problem you will encounter. Although the game begins at a gentle pace, the action soon deepens with no recession, leaving you very dependant on the increased strength of your weapon. From as early as the second level, your regular shot will struggle to off any adversary in a comfortable manner, often leaving you dodging sprays of projectiles in the hope of landing a few of your own. The need to keep alive has never been as apparent as in Hellfire.

So, while hardly setting the Genesis alight, there is enough there to please even the most hardened of shooter fans. The few small glitches there is can be easily overlooked, leaving you one of the hardest games on the system. Even easy mode provides the level of difficulty that would make most games flinch. There is actually an infamous mode in the game called ‘Yeah right’ where the intensity is extreme – all you have in you favour is ninety nine lives! If you have finished your treasured copy of Thunderforce 4 endless times and are looking for something that’ll last you that bit longer, Hellfire might just be the title you are looking for – it’s just not as pretty.

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Community review by djy8c (March 31, 2004)

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