Project Sylpheed

Reach for the Stars.

Version tested Xbox 360

Facedown on the carpet, arms locked straight down the body, torso a furious exclamation point knocked horizontal. Blood vessels throb as we wail in hot indignation and disbelief: Eurogamer's not had a videogame tantrum like this in many, many years. The cat pauses in the doorway. She cocks her head, eyes the scuffed controller lying near her paws, then moves on, disinterested. Stupid, ignorant, non-space fighter pilot cat.

It was the fourth attempt at the second stage of the sixth level you see, which, in itself bodes well for Project Sylpheed. Games that punch you hard in the face with a Game Over screen three times in a row yet can still convince you to hit the start button just one more time are few and far between these days.

Lead character Katana's ship, the Rhino 3 and his three idiot, short-sighted supporting squadron comrades had been hiding out in the buckle of an asteroid belt because, let's face it, there's literally no-where better and/or else to hide in science fiction space stories. Just beyond their position, the fat, useless, capitalised mothership ACROPOLIS, the one you're inevitably asked to protect in every single level of this sixteen stage narrative black hole of a space shoot-em up, was hanging aimlessly in infinity when the enemy squadron streaked past.

Engines thrusters winked to life and we all tore out from our hiding place, dog-fighting thumbs raw. Friendly ships trail blue smoke lines behind, enemy ships trail red and the vapour trails cross aggressively as if scrawled by some kind of bickering air display team.

1

Achievements are almost universally hard won requiring you to excel at levels rather than simply finish them.

Holding the L-bumper activates the homing missile system, bleeping every time it adds a new in range target to the queue. Twenty-two bleeps later (the maximum number of target locks for this middle-of-the-range weapon) and its memory is full. Unclick the bumper and the missile cradles blowpipe their load out into the starry blackness. The missiles inert their way 20 metres ahead of your cock-pit view while their trackers calculate the angles. They hold their breath for a few seconds then KAPOW off in different directions. A cat's cradle of smoke lines, red, white and blue crisscross all around.

It would probably be beautiful if it weren't for the timer, now red, counting down with three minutes to go in the top right corner of the screen. The OB counter (which lists how many objective targets are still left to take out before the stage is complete) is reading one. The left analogue stick heaves the view around to face the final target which the sleek HUD indicates as being 1500 metres away. A double click of the right trigger and the boosters bark to life, rumbling the 360 pad with ghoulish violence as stars skid into tidy diagonal streaks. Thirty seconds and 600 meters to go.

3

Jean Michel Jarre's space burial was really rather spectacular.

It's a gunship, lumbering and heavy. A double click of the L-trigger cuts the engines and the Rhino 3 silently ducks 50 metres down before abruptly pulling up to face the underbelly of this final target. Midi violins rise and fall to match the drama. 15 seconds and fingers are contorted across the pad in an effort to maximise the damage dealt in the time remaining. Holding the R-bumper fires off the heavy machine gun, a continual drone of shield-chipping space bullets which tear into their hull. The L-Bumper, thanks to a weapon switch initiated with the X-button, now controls rockets suitable for taking down larger ships. We're aiming at the spinning pod on their underside, the shield generator. Exploding this will haul victory a minute closer in a single second.

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