R-Type Tactics
| R-Type Tactics

Irem's R-Type is the quintessential brainless throbbing 2D shoot-'em-up. Established in 1987, the franchise has born numerous sequels across a wide range of formats and is famous for featuring grotesque alien enemies, monstrous firepower, and a level of toughness normally associated with old boots.

As the title might suggest, R-Type Tactics is a massive deviation from the kind of game play that R-Type fans will be used to. The hectic reaction-testing action is replaced by methodical, turned-based combat, all of which takes place on a hexagonal grid.

Instead of controlling just one craft you're given ownership of an entire armada that grows and develops as the game progresses. The ultimate aim remains the same however: the total obliteration of the malevolent Bydo Empire.

If you consider yourself to be a hardcore fan of the series then you may well have been sent into bemused freefall by the news that this wasn't to be the 2D shooter you've been waiting for, so it's probably best at this stage in the review to hand you a few recognisable features to cling to.

Naturally, R-Type Tactics retains many of the illustrious craft witnessed in the series so far – the most famous of which is undoubtedly the R9 'Arrowhead' – the star of the 1987 arcade original. This craft is arguably the cornerstone of the Earth fleet and is ably supported by a range of hybrid vessels, many of which will be instantly familiar to those of you who studiously unlocked all 101 of the ships available in the erroneously-named PS2 title R-Type Final.

It's not just the craft that will be comfortingly familiar to R-Type aficionados – the weaponry also harks back to previous instalments. Missiles, ripple lasers and standard Vulcan shots all make an appearance, but just as was the case in the original game, the most vital components of the player's arsenal are the 'Force' orb and the chargeable 'wave cannon' attack.

The former is a glowing orange sphere that can either be attached to a friendly craft or controlled independently. In the original R-Type the introduction of this device was nothing short of revolutionary, but here it's a little less innovative. When latched to the front or rear of one of your compatible ships, the Force forms a shield for added protection. When it's floating around on its own it can be treated as a defensive unit – it has weedy firepower but can sustain tremendous amounts of punishment and is perfect for drawing fire away from your more delicate units.

The 'charge' weapon is also a vital element of the game. Only a select few units in your armada possess this incredibly powerful feature; not only is it deadly to smaller units but it can rip through several enemies at once.

Predictably, such immense clout comes with a caveat – it takes a few turns to reach maximum charge (hence the name) and if the unit in question comes under attack at any point then the charge gauge is reset to zero. Therefore, unleashing its full potential without putting your units in harm's way calls for some serious tactical manoeuvring on the part of the player.

Although the game play is naturally different from what has gone before, R-Type Tactics still shares many traits with the traditional 2D shooter; the action always moves from left to right, for example. There are also some familiar boss battles to engage in – although predictably, due to the turn-based system you'll experience them from a refreshingly different perspective.

Heck, even the flying 'power up' pods from the original make an appearance, although this time they form part of your fleet and are essential for keeping your units stocked up on both fuel and ammunition.

Once you look past the reassuringly familiar elements of the game then it becomes clear that in terms of depth this is a different kettle of fish from its illustrious predecessors. Like most strategy RPGs each unit in the game has advantages and drawbacks; for example, the R-9D 'Shooting Star' fighter has excellent long-range weaponry but is useless in close-quarters combat, whereas the standard R9 'Arrowhead' is more balanced, offering both long-range and short-range weaponry, but not really excelling in either category.

Faster units generally consume fuel faster than their slower counterparts and usually come with weaker armour. Some units have unique capabilities that set them apart from the core of your fleet: the RE-1 'Midnight Eye' is a reconnaissance vessel that's perfect for scouting out enemy positions (like many games of this type, there's a 'fog of war' on the battlefield which means you can only see as far as your unit's radar range) but it's highly advisable to keep it well out of the reach of hostile craft, as it's useless at combat and has paper-thin defences.

In typical RPG fashion your units become more adept as you advance through each of the game's missions. In between each battle you can construct craft in your R&D lab, creating more powerful variants with enhanced abilities or simply building more existing units. This portion of the game is especially intriguing, and grants a real sense of progression.

One aspect of the original that is definitely retained here is the difficulty – R-Type Tactics offers a rock-solid challenge that repeatedly knocks you back, forcing you to rethink you strategy and experiment with each ship.

If a game keeps your attention despite the fact that it's able to hand your bottom to you on a plate several times over then you know you're onto a winner, and while R-Type Tactics does have moments that will make you fly into an expletive-driven PSP-hurling fury, once the red mist has settled (and you've retrieved your console from the other side of the room) you usually find yourself gagging for another attempt.

Given the revolutionary change of pace it's no surprise that some aspects of R-Type Tactics are less polished, however. The aforementioned 'fog of war' adds some challenge but it often makes the game feel incredibly unfair – especially when you consider that your Bydo foe isn't hindered by such visibility issues. It's rather frustrating to see your 'Midnight Eye' scouting ships get destroyed time after time again because you have no other choice but to send their fragile frames into dangerous territory in order to plot the way for the rest of your battle fleet.

Other problems are thankfully easier to overcome; the 3D combat cut-scenes look nice but the annoying loading times that occur before each one only serve to interrupt the flow of the game. Therefore it's a good idea to switch them off entirely; it may remove one of the most visually impressive portions of the game but it makes things flow a lot quicker.

It's testament to the sheer depth of this title that we're almost running out of room and yet this review hasn't touched upon aspects such as resource-mining, terrain effects and the pleasingly decent two-player versus mode. R-Type Tactics is literally bursting with content and although you could argue that things get repetitive in some of the later missions, everything is carried off with such aplomb that it never really becomes a game-breaking issue.

R-Type Tactics might not be the game that fans have been asking for but it's much more than just some shameless cash-in. While it doesn't do anything that hasn't been seen in previous turn-based tactical strategy games, the use of the R-Type brand is nevertheless inspired.

R-Type Tactics

Hardcore devotees of Irem's legendary shooter series may balk at the methodical gameplay but R-Type Tactics ranks as an intelligent and entertaining extension of the R-Type universe