It is 1999 and the world remains in a perpetual twilight world of stunted technology. No microwaves, videos or colour tellies, and aeroplanes are still of the propellor driven variety. Pretty freaky. But it gets worse. Into this environment comes the wonderfully named Blardax Maldrear and his Styx republic. With a name like that he can only be after one thing. And he is. World domination! Only one man stands in his way. His name? The equally tricky Sven Svardensvart and his oh-so-super Banshee fighter. Apparently Blardax also did unspeakable things to Sven’s dad, for some trifling reasons, thus giving our hero ample opportunity to look stern and mumble things about this being personal. So we’ve got an evil empire, a stony-faced hero and a one-of-a-kind fighter. And it’s personal. Let us, as they say shoot them up. Take your pick. I mean, you don’t seriously expect me to list every single vertical shoot-’em-up ever do you? Of the masses to choose from, Banshee is most obviously reminiscent of that creaky old arcade machine 1942. In fact, it bloomin’ well is 1942, right down to the loop-the-loops you can pull off in times of stress. Mind you, Core make no attempt to hide this debt to the past, so we’ll let them off for being ironic and post modern, or something. Stylewise though, Banshee takes its cue from stuff like The Chaos Engine and Xenon 2, with its subtle colouring and ladies of atmosphere. But Banshee is light years ahead of anything else in this genre. As it uses all these games as starting blocks and then runs straight off the race track and invents its own race. Expect every other shoot-’em-up for the next decade to be compared to this in future Flashbacks.
Banshee features nasty things. There’s no point hiding the facts. You can shoot innocent fishermen and polar bears, and worst of all, women pushing prams get it as well. Well, the women do and the prams just roll away in a belated nod to morality and decency. Needless to say this will be used as further ammunition in the fight to convict computer games of causing all known social ills, from teenagers not being nice to their parents any more to hoardes of drug-addled monsters rampaging through out previously perfect country. Absolute drivel, of course, but that won’t deter the righteous out there from blaming Banshee for whatever’s bothering them at the time. So here’s my reaction to the more gruesome moments of Banshee. I laughed. Ca you believe it? Yes, I laughed at innocent people being blown to bits by missiles. Except, reality check, I didn’t really, did I? No, I laughed at an amusingly-drawn sprite being hit by a computer generated missile resulting in a ketchup scenario. I don’t laugh at the scenes from Rwanda and Bosnia on the news. Banshee, Mortal Kombat, Cannon Fodder etc, and here’s a newsflash, not real. It’s the people who think they are that are dangerous. The person who thinks the little polar bears on level three are real and still shoots them – that’s the person who’s a menace to society, not the game. Banshee, like any other game, will not turn sweet little children into slavering killers. And if anyone disagrees, I’ll fly over their house in my big plane and shoot them. Except, this being the real world, I won’t. Let’s get some perspective people.
As befits the beefiest of all shoot-’em-ups, the sound effects come bellowing out at you with a ferocity akin to a herd of rampaging buffalo. The constant thunder of the guns unfortunately drowns out the other little touches worth mentioning. When the Banshee (or Banshees in two-player mode) swoop about, you’re rewarded with appropriate screaming engine sounds and the various mutilated enemies all scream and yowl in suitably anguished ways. No surprise, but the meaty sound adds punch to an already hefty game. The graphics capture perfectly the weird sort of Blade Runner meets Biggles vibe that the story promises. Lots of subtle shades of grey and brown create an atmosphere not a million miles from The Chaos Engine, which also had a sci-fit meets bygone era theme. Each level is absolutely gargantuan, stuffed with varied and well-animated enemies intent on hammering your head in. At times the screen is just full of bullets, missiles, planes, helicopters and soldiers and the game doesn’t even bat an eyelid. As smooth as a freshly shaved snake, if you don’t mind me saying so. There are oodles of neat graphical touches to look out for, all of them pretty gruesome. Soldiers spurt blood, fishermen fly out of their boats in agony and cranes collapse onto the people below. It looks a treat. Big saucy levels, constant hassle from about three million different baddies and crisp animation. Yummy.