Irem has amassed a respectable portfolio over the years, which comes as only natural when youíve been developing and publishing s long as they have. Their flagship, though recently dormant, series, R-Type has been an interesting set of games to watch over the years, but itís their submarine shooters that have made an extra large presence on my radar. In the Hunt was good fun and I have an unusual liking for the NES Sqoon, so of course I was more than happy to put Iremís latest, Sub Rebellion, to the test. After allís said and done, this is your typical Irem game: nothing really groundbreaking, but very solid and thoroughly enjoyable.
Itís a simple story. Set far into the future where most of the world has been submerged under water, two factions rise in a struggle of power for the control of the world: The Empire and the Alliance. Naturally, you fight for the Alliance since everyone always roots for the underdog. (And who wants to play as the bully with superior numbers?)
The sorties consist of dealing with the Empire menace, which has the upper-hand in the war, and searching for artifacts that will provide technology to develop new weapons and equipment and also piece together what kind of world existed before the sea levels rose.
Using your sonar radar (the X button), a layer of vectrex lines cover all noticeable textures, rocks, enemies, and hidden artifacts in the ground and ocean rifts, letting you see way off into the distance. Using either an underwater machine gun, a torpedo launcher fastened onto the Chronos (your submarine), or a special weapon that you selected at the beginning of the mission, eliminate everything that the Chronos can set its sights on since youíll be graded based on the percentage of enemies killed, artifacts found, and how much health you have at the end of the mission. The better the grade, the more money youíll receive to buy those weapons and equipment.
The missions are varied (find the energy source, guide the friendly submarines along, follow the spy to the secret enemy base) but the means are always the same: fill the ocean with the remains of the Empireís crafts. Not that thereís anything really wrong with that per se, since the game is inherently and fundamentally fun, but a little bit more true variation couldnít have hurt. And fortunately, though the game isnít very deep (kill, find artifacts, buy new equipment, repeat) and with the missions more or less mirroring each other, it hardly ever gets repetitive thanks to a meticulous pace that, surprisingly, doesnít abrade the gameplay but actually makes it more pleasurable. The waterlogged dogfights require more thought and planning than the usual 3D shooter. Since the Chronos is very slow to turn, the torpedoes and mines are more difficult to avoid, so some strategy is highly emphasized.
With over twenty missions to clear, completing the game can become a gargantuan task. Rebellionís largest fault is its flagrant lack of any mid-level save system or checkpoints, making mission failures more irritating than they should be. This can especially get your blood boiling in later missions that can get very lengthy, often taking upwards of 45 minutes, or ones with bosses (there arenít that many so theyíre difficult for the most part). Iíve been noticing this quite a bit in recent games but in Sub Rebellion's case, I canít figure out if itís a glaring oversight or a cheap attempt at artificially increasing the gameís length with a ďsake of difficulty and challengeĒ write-off. In either case, I figured since weíre in the company of veterans like Irem, they wouldíve had the savvy and sense to avoid it.
The ocean floor and sunken skyscrapers donít look particularly glamorous in Rebellion, but the gameís tight focus and excellent enemy placement often means you wonít get too much time for sightseeing right away. But when the primary battle is over and youíre combing for artifacts, the Chronos' languid speed can give off a case of soporific claustrophobia amid all the colors of blue and washed-out gray. Still, some of the locations are quite elegant, especially the ancient ruins. The music partly consists of a very low ethereal vibe (sort of like Ecco the Dolphin but not quite as organic) and some almost-out-of-place techno tracks. It all sounds much like nostalgia-waxing Sega Saturn or early-PlayStation era music and itís nice to see some composers who arenít hung up with trying to be the next orchestral maestro (though Iím sure if Sub 's music composers are reading this, theyíd be offended).
Sub Rebellion is as simple as a compelling adventure game can get without becoming too basic, pandering, or child-targeted. Some of the mistakes border on serious or critical but with such an eager nose for amusement and exploration, itís so very easy to overlook it. Most likely not for everyone but if youíre a shooter, adventure, or Irem fan, there should be no real hesitation. (And come on, you have to be at least one of those listed, right?).
. . . Sqoon