I'm not sure what could've prompted Rising Star Games to publish an oddity like Under Defeat HD when so many other shooters were in need of U.S. publishing – Cave's various titles on the Xbox 360 come to mind – but, as they did earlier this year with Akai Katana, they've given the game a modestly fair shake in terms of packaging and options, and that's something die-hard "shmup" fans will enjoy, even if the gameplay isn't quite up to the usual standards.
The game, developed by long-time shooter developer G-Rev, has you controlling a helicopter that battles the odds both on the ground and in the air, as flying crafts, tanks and other nasty bosses plan to pummel you into the ground with gunfire. Along with using occasional bombs and plenty of firepower (which you can level up over the course of the game), you can also use supplementary recharging weapons, usually cannons that ride alongside you and deliver some additional support when you need it the most. Some charge better than others – the Vulcan easily outperforms the bomb power-up, for instance – but overall it's a decent system.
Where Under Defeat HD will draw fans is with its multi-directional fire. As you swivel your helicopter left and right, the direction of fire changes a bit, rather than just going in a straight line. You can learn to accept firing at an angle and even lock it in, staying out of line-of-sight of some grounded enemies, but it also leaves you vulnerable on the side you're NOT firing on. As a result, not everyone is going to be thrilled with how it all plays out. Still, it is something different, and a few of you can easily accept what it provides. The rest, however, may want to stick to Cave's offerings.
Under Defeat HD is hard as hell, with plenty of cheap deaths to count on both hands, and a limited credit count at first. (It expands with prolonged playthroughs.) There are some bonus features to uncover here, including the original Under Defeat game, as it appeared on the Dreamcast years ago. The special edition package, which costs $10 more than the regular game on PSN, also comes with a soundtrack CD and art book. Hardly as memorable as, say, Assassin's Creed III's limited edition, but shooter fans should enjoy. (Everyone else can download the game for less than 1 GB on PSN with ease.)
The graphics are hardly anything to write home about, is this is the sort of thing you'd see in an early 2000's sort of shooter. But G. Rev did a decent job with the HD treatment, with lots of meaty explosions and plenty of gunfire scattered across the screen with minimal slowdown. The backdrops aren't inspired, but they lead to some interesting – and challenging – boss encounters. The team also remixed the original soundtrack a bit, and while it's hardly as hummable as most musical fare in games, it's decent, especially if you remember the original Under Defeat.
Like other "shmups" before it, Under Defeat HD is a very acquired taste. Its gameplay system is bound to frustrate, especially with so few credits to work with from the start. But stick with it, like any good "shmup" fan should, and you'll be promptly rewarded with the kind of experience that deserves more solid U.S. releases. Here's hoping Rising Star Games has some more goodies lined up in 2013.
[Reviewed on PlayStation 3]