Tempest 4000 review – eat electric death | Gaming News

Tempest 4000 (PS4) – classic gameplay is forever

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Jeff Minter may well be the longest-serving video games developer in history. He started making VIC-20 games back in the early 80s and while not as prolific as he used to be he’s been producing video games on a regular basis ever since. And while the likes of Eugene Jarvis and Richard Garriott do still work in the industry their days of actual programming are long behind them. Minter is a legend either way and yet we’re not sure this latest release is going to do as much for his reputation as we’d hoped.

There’s a very complicated history behind Tempest 4000, which begins in 1994 with Atari Jaguar launch title Tempest 2000 – one of the only decent games on the entire system and to this day one of the best arcade games ever made. It was an official update of the original Tempest, from 1981, but Minter has never seemed to care whether his games are licensed updates or just obvious homages (many of his other classics are riffs on other golden age coin-ops like Robotron: 2084, Defender, and Centipede).

Tempest 3000 was an official follow-up, which nobody played because it was only released on the ultra-obscure Nuon DVD player (Minter has a knack for supporting flop formats). Space Giraffe and TxK though were not official, even though the later in particular was Tempest 4000 in all but name. And this is TxK in all but name, because Atari got fed up with what was going on and gave him the option of publishing subsequent versions via them or not at all.

The original Tempest was one of the very first games to use 3D vector graphics. It was a strange game both then and now, and apart from Minter’s stream of remakes and homages, one that is rarely referenced or copied elsewhere.

Describing how Tempest works doesn’t do it any favours either, and makes it sound a lot more complicated than when you’re sitting there with your finger glued to the fire button. But basically, you control what is usually referred to as a spaceship (it doesn’t really look like one though, so we’ve always been unsure whether the name Claw is meant to be literal or not) which moves around the rim of a wireframe tube divided into vertical lanes.

Or at least the first one is a tube, later levels involve ever more complex geometric shapes even though your controls remain the same and you can still only move left and right around the rim. Crawling up from the other end of the tube are various abstract-looking enemies, who if you’re lucky will just try to shoot or smash into you. Others are awkwardly zig-zagging tricksters or flowers whose stems grow towards you and threaten to block off your movement.

All of this was true of the original Tempest and all the games through to now. And even if you pretend this isn’t just a rebranded TxK it’s still extremely similar to Tempest 2000 and Space Giraffe, in that it retains the basic gameplay and enemies of the original Tempest but updates the core gameplay with Minter’s signature psychedelic visuals and a soupçon of modern twists.

Tempest 4000 (PS4) – the prettiest Tempest ever

The power-ups are the most obvious addition, allowing you to jump above the rim of the tube or granting you a genuinely helpful computer-controlled ally. There’s also a smart bomb which is replenished after each stage but which doubles your score when used, so there’s a great incentive to make sure you use it before the level is over – but also the terrible worry that you’ll waste it on trying to get a high score when you really just need it to survive.

There’s also some typically bizarre bonus levels, but as weird as they look they’re mechanically very simple and really just palette cleansers, to calm your nerves between battles. And they’re necessary too, because when you’re in the zone with Tempest 4000 it takes over your senses and dulls your conscious mind in a way only the very best arcade games can.

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And yet there’s something mildly disappointing about Tempest 4000. It would have been a lot better if this had just been called TxK because there’s really nothing at all new in this version, beyond a survival mode, 4K resolution, and a different soundtrack (but sadly not a VR option, despite the success of Minter’s Polybius). None of that is necessarily a problem but the fact that the game is a shocking £24.99, compared to just £5.49 for TxK, certainly is.

The price is no doubt Atari’s doing but it makes recommending the game a lot harder than it used to be. And yet when the bad guys are falling like skittles, as you skid past one and quickly jump back to explode him and his cohorts, any qualifications about the game being too retro, too familiar, or too expensive fall away. But it is frustrating that the game’s most important talking point has become how much it costs and not how it plays.

Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, and PC
Price: £24.99
Publisher: Atari
Developer: Llamasoft
Release Date: 17th July 2018
Age Rating: 3

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