It is the 27th century, and war is beginning. The reason isn’t really important actually, it’s more of an excuse for explosions, big guns, even bigger spaceships, and some dramatic conflict between close friends turned enemies by the cruel hands of fate. That and some kind of project, Project Sylpheed to be precise, a space combat simulator by Game Arts. Project Sylpheed is a sort of successor to the Silpheed series by the same, with an extra dimension dropped in this time around, and a heavier helping of plot and character development (or as much as can be expected in a flight combat game).
As a combat sim, Project Sylpheed is fairly well put together and rather enjoyable, though the complexity of the controls may baffle some at first. Thankfully, the tutorials are up to the job of explaining your new fighter craft, and while it may take a few missions to really master the controls, even flight sim novices should be able to pick it up with little trouble. There are a few aspects of the game’s setting in space that make interesting maneuvers possible, most notably using your inertia to coast in one direction while orienting and firing in another. Unfortunately, you’ll almost never have a reason to fly like this, as most enemy movements are so erratic they’re difficult enough to keep on the screen without resorting to fancy acrobatics. The games also provides you, as the leader of a squadron of fighters, with wingmen. They’re probably about as useful as the last time your buddy was your “wingman” to help pick up girls though, and if you want to get anything done right in Project Sylpheed you’re going to have to do it yourself, no free rides here.
While the interface is pretty well polished, mission design could use some improvement. Missions in Project Sylpheed have a tendency to be somewhat samey, with goals such as wipe out the enemy forces, defend your carrier, or more usually both. It’s unfortunate, but the missions would still be fun on their own if that was the only thing wrong here. However, some bizarre design choices can make missions annoying and at times downright frustrating. Most of the game’s mission segments seem to have a timer, which is normal enough, fail to do them fast enough and you’ll fail. The aggravating part is that you’re never even told about the timer until you have less than three minutes left to complete your goal. As if that weren’t an important enough thing to hide from the player, secondary mission goals are also hidden. And I mean really hidden. There’s no way to know about secondary goals unless you accidentally complete them, other than the game taunting you at the mission debrief screen with a 0 out of X secondary goals completed indicator. The only things there to alleviate the pain of failure are the cutscenes found between each mission, which help to break up the monotony a little and provide motivation to continue. The cutscenes themselves are fairly well done, providing backstory on our hero and his friend (and nemesis) who supports the rebel forces our hero fights against. They’re entertaining at the least, if a bit cheesy at times.
What may frustrate players more than the hidden goals and timers, however, is the difficulty curve of Project Sylpheed. Actually, it’s less of a curve and more of a ninety degree angle. The first few missions are a breeze, but after that most may find themselves hard pressed, even on normal difficulty. The problem here is the game gets difficult much faster than you acquire more powerful weapons, which in turn makes acquiring more powerful weapons even more difficult. Weapons are attained in two ways, through secondary objectives (ridiculous) and buying them with points earned by doing well in missions (also ridiculous). In later missions, unless you want to play them repeatedly until you’re perfect, you are going to die. This doesn’t seem to be a problem, as Project Sylpheed just sets you up with a new ship and you’re all good to go, except that you lose all points earned up to that point, making buying any new weapons that may enable you to survive longer next time around impossible. The new game plus feature helps with this, as all weapons previously earned are carried over, but it’s still a frustrating system, and has the end result of forcing most players to start on easy, which may rankle some sensibilities.
There are tons of weapons to unlock and plenty of ways to customize your fighter, but unfortunately many of the weapons in Project Sylpheed turn out to be near useless. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say the only weapon you will ever need to equip is missiles, missiles, and more missiles. Covering the screen in endless waves of missiles seems to be a winning strategy, which is a bad thing when it outclasses other weapons to the point of silliness.
Speaking of covering the screen, Project Sylpheed is also a visual maelstrom, which you may consider a good or bad thing depending on your tastes. To add to the 3D disorientation you may experience, there’s also neon trails following every craft’s engines, as well as missile trails, cannon tracers, and your targeting system, all competing to draw your eye. At times it even seems too much for the game to handle, with swarms of enemies causing a noticeable framerate drop.
Thankfully, the sound of Project Sylpheed‘s battles may be enough to make up for it, with rumbling bass accompanying your afterburners as you tear through space in pursuit of glory. Both the voice acting (in communications and cutscenes) and the sounds of space warfare stand out as above average. It’s too bad the music doesn’t follow suit, but it’s decent if not exactly memorable.
If you’re a fan of space sims, and maybe a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to unlocks and mission goals, check out Project Sylpheed. It’s a good enough game to warrant the interest of fans of the genre, and not a bad introduction to the genre either for newcomers, though it’s certainly nothing earth-shattering.