Atari has been responsible for some of the better old-school franchises still making the rounds today (thanks to releases like Atari Flashback), but there’s something about Tempest that resonates with me. Perhaps it’s the way that it’s all about old-school shooting thrills, as you move around the edge of an enclosed space, blasting away at enemies that gush from the center.
The original arcade game continues to be one of my all-time favorites, and the stylish sequels that followed, from Tempest 2000 on the Atari Jaguar to the “unofficial” sequel TxK on PS Vita, have continued to delight me.
Now Atari is returning with a vengeance to the world of Tempest, once again teaming up with series creator Jeff Minter to create a new experience in the form of Tempest 4000. The company recently invited me up to go hands-on with the game, and while it doesn’t present too much that’s really considered new content, it’s definitely something that will impress old-school kids like myself.
The game has a lot in common with Tempest 2000 spiritually. The set-up is about the same, with visuals that explode across the screen as you shoot away at enemies, along with a camera that follows your character around the grid, so you can aim with a bit more precision.
That character, in this case, is a weird looking lightning-like claw that moves across the grid.. You’ll need to be careful, though, as some enemies can grab onto it and drag it back towards the center, shooting and destroying it if the shots aren’t deflected with your own.
But it’s not the same old “shoot everything” approach that worked with the original arcade game (although the one-time-use superzapper is back, in case things get a little too hectic – and yes, it recharges after each stage). You can actually pick up power-ups that are left behind by the enemies which provide a bit of an advantage. Some of them are point-based (“Pleasure!”), while others can lend you a hand.
The particle laser, for example, increases your firing rate; the AI droid shoots at enemies automatically in one section while you can keep guard on another; and then there’s the awesome “jump” ability, which lets you leap off the track in case an enemy is trying to grab you, or you just need to get some height in a dire situation. All of these are remarkable features carried over from the fan favorite Tempest 2000.
Since the game is being made with new hardware in mind, Minter and company have gone all out with the visuals in Tempest 4000. Effects explode across the screen like a fireworks display as enemies turn into sparks, and little flashes of light glow around the track. There are also some enemies – in this case, stars – that actually create a weird drug-like effect when you blast them, making the screen warp and wave. It’s not distracting, though. As a matter of fact, it added a bit of flare to the overall presentation that we appreciated very much.
Tempest 4000 has a few modes, including a “Pure” mode where you get the traditional three lives, as well as a hardcore mode, where you have one life and no continues, shooting for the highest score possible before you die. All of these modes are also backed by leaderboards, so you can challenge your friends and other players around the world.
There is one thing worth noting, though. In the middle of each stage, you get to fly through space on the heels of what appears to be a comet, and the closer you get to its trail, the more bonus points you’ll be able to score before getting to the next stage. We’ve seen this in previous Tempest games, but for some reason, Minter and company made this part require the use of motion control, having to lean your hands in a certain way to follow the trail.
I wasn’t a big fan of this particular feature, mainly because it was so hard to steer where you were going. We're hoping the final version will include an option to turn this off and just control where you go manually. At least, that’s how it worked in previous Tempest games.
That’s a minor complaint, though. Tempest 4000 is already looking as dazzling as its counterpart, and while it does follow the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” sort of logic, it’s still a delight to play, with plenty of goofy quotes and flashy presentation to go around. It’s just the kind of old-school bliss that’ll come in handy for breaks between other AAA titles.
Tempest 4000 will release later this year for Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC.