“The Zone” is a frightfully engaging place to be ‘in’, according to some keen gamers. Staring intently at the screen, other worldly considerations are temporarily vanished as the synapses responsible for reflexes and critical judgement are aimed squarely at a game being played, paired with instinct and determination to beat the stage, or boss, or score.
Jeff Minter’s Tempest 2000 lives very happily in the zone. A pixel-pyrotechnic re-invention of Atari’s angular, abstract, gallery-shooter wheel of the same name, T2000 will more than likely bemuse onlookers as they try to work out the answer to the glaring and obvious question about the whole ordeal: what’s going on here?
Indeed, to those not already versed in the original Tempest, it may appear a collection of lines, shapes and particles – many of which obscure the anarchic mechanics at work. To play, it’s like being on the other side of a two-way mirror; a kind of tunnel vision enraptures the participant and, after a short adjustment and learning period, impulses are rewired to consider the contents of the ‘lanes’ of every one of the game’s web-like stages. Strategies are formed on the fly, the controller all but melts into the hands of an intoxicated player as the fusion of light, sound and interactivity play their parts in an opera of twitch-shooting bliss.
The original coin-op took the concept of Space Invaders and shifted the perspective whilst simultaneously warping (and sometimes, connecting the edges of) the playfield. A simple set of left-right, shoot and zapper controls were the tools to accomplish the simple repeating task of destroying that appeared on each grid, whilst surviving a rogue’s gallery of abstracted wireframe shapes with unique behaviours. 2000 is this, plus.
Stage-duration power-ups and a jump ability (unlocked by said collectibles) add literally a new dimension to the game, although the former appears utterly abusable until midway through the game’s hundred levels, whereby even the hitherto-untouched space outside/above the web is encroached upon by many a creative; and new; meanie. Tempest 2000 forces a player to adapt, to have their perceptions morph like so many onscreen effects — ameliorated by the occasional bonus round that serves as a break in tempo, plus a ‘key’ system that allows access odd-numbered stages after they’re beaten. This isn’t just Tempest-with-knobs-on, but a truly evolved form of the same concept.
Of course, this evolution is host to what is probably the only criticism one can level at Minter’s sublime recasting of a game of such character — it is changed up a gear to the detriment of the overall atmosphere and ‘feel’ of the original arcade game. Whereas Tempest was a surreal wire-frame nightmare (as attested to by its creator Dave Theurer himself, for a frightening recurring dream was indeed the inspiration for its concept), Tempest 2000 is a pixel-shattering affront to the senses. Set in a rave. Albeit, not an unpleasant one.
Gamers who appreciate their every sense being challenged in pursuit of ever-growing highscores absolutely require this game as part of their libraries. Those not of a self-affirmed ‘hardcore’ bent may choose to look elsewhere; as essential as Tempest 2000 is, the initial layer of psychedelic conflagrations could well be enough to prevent them ever enjoying this.