• If there’s one thing the 360 should be remembered for this generation, it should definitely be given plenty of kudos for bringing the XNA Community Games Marketplace to the fore, allowing attic developers and small-time outfits to share their games with the rest of us for a very reasonable price.

    Being a massive shoot ‘em up fan, I’ve a weakness for the various classic retro-styled shooters that have crept onto the Community Marketplace.

    The latest of the batch is Corsair, a game that recalls classics from the heyday of the arcades and strongly reminds me of a cross between Space Ark, Asteroids and even Andrew Braybrook’s oft overlooked C64 classic Morpheus.

    So what’s it all about? Time to head into space…

    Corsair

    Corsair is a shoot ‘em up by Centurion Games and will cost you 400 microsoft points from the Community Games store. First impressions are of a nicely presented and properly polished game splitting core gameplay dynamics into two distinct categories with several game modes on offer.

    There are single player challenges (played for scores) broken up into Corsair Mode (Pilot a single-seat fighter ship and accompany your squadrons into attacking a heavily armed cruiser to stop it blowing up planets) and Decimator Mode (where you reverse the roles, and take on the multi-gun-turreted cruiser and fight off wave after wave of attackers before blowing their planet to smithereens).

    It’s a nice touch that you get to cover both bases, but we’ll kick off with Corsair Mode first.

    In single player mode, your controls are simple but effective. Rotating the mini gunship with the left stick, pushing up to fire your thrusters – and then when you’re within combat-effective range of the cruiser, you can unleash laser death upon it. You can also jink and strafe from side to side to avoid enemy fire.

    As Commander of a squadron you’re pitched firmly into the battle, and your AI cohorts fight alongside you. The idea is to weaken the cruiser’s shields enough to deal a death blow, but of course the cruiser’s not going to sit there and take it. It’ll fight back with its quad guns and can tear through all four combat squadrons in no time at all if you’re lax.

    Action in Corsair Mode is relentless. Should you fail, you can only sit back and watch as your last fighters are destroyed and your planet is (rather spectacularly) destroyed by the cruiser’s main weapon.

    Swapping over to Decimator mode, this was where I eked the most enjoyment out of Corsair. Again, controls are relatively simplistic – this time you can move the hulking great big cruiser around with the right stick, using the four fire buttons to select each turret, with right and left triggers used to fire. The left stick is used to rotate your pulse cannons, bringing them to bear against the multitude of attack ships that want to see you off.

    Decimator mode is all about protecting your precious shields, and you’ll get vocal cues telling you just how well you’re doing. With the adaptive enemy AI pounding the heck out of you, it’s quite challenging to stay alive long enough to deal the final blow, this time watching with a grim satisfaction as the enemy planet is reduced to dust.

    In both modes, you play to a timer, staying alive for the duration of the timer’s countdown and this determines your success on each level. Survive a level or achieve the goal of defending / destroying the planet and you’ll nab scores based on how effective you were at destroying the enemy, and how much time was left on the clock.

    Survive all levels and you can glow with pride as your high score is registered and kept.

    Multiplayer modes cater for up to four local players with either co-op modes for players teaming up, or versus modes for those of you who want to go head to head against each other.

    The game itself is very well put together and offers you a tutorial for both modes, plenty of rousing atmospheric music and sound effects and a nice pick up and play feel. I felt that the tutorial controls seemed at odds with the main game at times but they’re easy enough to get a feel for and you’ll soon find out the most effective strategies in both main gameplay modes.

    If there’s criticism to make, it’s that Corsair needs more of a hook, something that provides you with the incentive to keep playing. Most blast ‘em up fans are quite happy to play for scores but with little variety over and above the rather tricksy AI, it would’ve been nice to have seen power up items, different attack ships or even more of an objective-based set of goals to achieve over and above the survival aspect of the game. It can get repetitive, and though the difficulty curve will catch you out if you just try to rinse-and-repeat each level, a tad more diversity in the game would’ve been most welcome.

    That said, this is shoot ‘em up gaming purified and kept simple on purpose. Corsair will put you in mind of the time you spent hunched over an Atari 2600 playing relatively simple games for hours on end. Perhaps over-complicating things with the aforementioned glitz and fussiness would’ve detracted from the game’s purity and perhaps that’s what developers Centurion Games had in mind.

    If you’re in the market for a good score based shooter with plenty of fast and frenetic action and presentation that’s a notch above the usual Community fare, at least give the demo a go and see what you think. For the attractive impulse-buy price of 400 points it’s a superb effort and one that deserves a few hours of your attention.

    Score: 6/10

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