If you owned a Commodore 64, the chances have found memories of Armalyte from Cyberdyne Systems. One of the best shoot em ups for the machine, it’s now been updated and released for the PC by a group of amateur coders with the full backing of the original creators.
The plot to Armalyte needn’t delay us long – it’s pretty standard for the genre. Under attack… blah, blah… lone spaceship (albeit with a drone for company) … blah blah… alien hordes, etc. etc. In other words: if it moves, shoot it. If it doesn’t move, shoot it anyway, just on the off-chance.
Anyway, who cares about plot when the game plays and looks like this? Graphics are superb, retaining the look and feel of the originals, but giving them a 21st century lick of paint. The colouring and shading on your ship is stunning, whilst the detail and variety of the aliens is excellent. They manage to be both retro and modern at the same time. Backgrounds are minimalist by today’s standards, but form an integral part of the game, forcing you to plan ahead to try and plot a safe path through the many barriers that litter your path. The backgrounds also change from level to level, giving a real sense of progression.
Sound has been similarly updated. Numerous thumping tunes accompany various aspects and the ominous in-game tune really ratchets up the tension. The explosions have really been beefed up and you can almost feel the massive vibrations as ships disintegrate around you. Thanks to its sound Armalyte is a really immersive experience and it’s of those games you just have to play with the sound turned up to 11.
Those familiar with the original game will instantly feel at home. The alien attack patterns have been painstakingly recreated, but newcomers will have great fun learning and memorising the attack patterns. This is a good old-fashioned shooter where attack patterns remain the same each time you play, which means the gameplay rewards perseverance. As you get better, you can move your ship into position to anticipate the next wave, giving you a real sense of achievement when you wipe them out before they have had chance to fire a single bullet.
Armalyte is tough, but generally fair. When you die, it’s because you didn’t react quickly enough or failed to anticipate a hazard. It does throw an insane amount of hazards at you, but the manoeuvrability of your ship means it’s always possible to escape. Just occasionally the keyboard controls can feel a little skitter (you can also play it with a joystick), but for the most part they are well implemented, giving you a strong degree of control.
All this shooty loveliness doesn’t come cheap – with the DVD costing £19.99 (available from the excellent Binary Zone Interactive website). However, for that, you do get a very professionally produced product, complete with full box artwork. Also included on the DVD are some podcasts, a couple of videos and the Mix-E-Load utility (allowing you to remix the in-game tunes), Best of all, you get the original C64 version of Armalyte which you can play via an emulator. OK, so you can download this for free elsewhere, but this way you get a fully legal copy (I assume!)
Armalyte (PC) might have been written by amateurs, but it is anything but an amateur product. Oozing professionalism and effortlessly capturing the fun and spirit of the original, it’s a great game given a new lease of life. In an ideal world, all remakes would be like this.