Bah, a typical day at work for our heroes Rachel and Ralph. A missing spaceship called the Dire Circumstances has turned up. It's loaded with rare crystals, and they're called in to go and fetch them. Oh, by the way. The ship is full of hostile aliens, so bring your guns.
Derelict is an action shooting game in the style of Gauntlet, though the two player option and special attacks make me think more of The Chaos Engine. Take Rachel (with the automatic rifle) or Ralph (with the grenade launcher) - or play with a friend and take both. Swarms of aliens will attack, all with different effects. Blast away. Take out the generators (Gauntlet/Chaos Engine again!) to stop any more appearing. Collect all of the green crystals for big bonus points.
There are many power-ups to collect, of course. Keys open doors of the same colour (blue and red keys only open doors in that zone - gold keys can be collected and used anywhere). Other powerups include speed boosts, double speed firing, triple shots, and stimulants to restore lost health. And there are the special attacks, which are very useful when surrounded!
The usual lives/saves are thrown out of the window here. Though a vast ship, the Dire Circumstances is divided up into different zones. You enter each by stepping onto the corresponding teleporter from the Hub. If you die, you restart that zone. If you quit, your position is automatically saved and you resume where you left off in the Hub. This is a much more friendly and modular approach, and I like it.
I feel it necessary at this point to explain the controls. They're fairly straightforward, but a lot of new players have trouble because they can't figure out the strafe shooting mode. It's really not that complex. You move with the arrow keys (or joystick/pad) and have three firing buttons. One fires in your facing direction. One is for special attacks (these are limited, so don't waste them). The third is the strafe shot.
To strafe, you simply face the way you want to shoot, start firing, and then move as normal. You'll face in the same direction as you move, allowing you to back away from or dodge enemies. Stop strafing to change direction. This method is ideal for attacking enemies around corners, or getting the aim right on alien generators, or simply for shooting at large groups of enemies.
Onto the technical side of things. Derelict is mildly cartoon in style, and everything is clear and obvious. The pickups spin on the spot, making them easy to identify. The aliens are almost cute. I like it. The sound effects are good, and the mood of the music is just about perfect. This top-down view may be a little old-fashioned now, but it can still be highly effective when done as well as this.
I didn't really have any problems with Derelict once I got the hang of the strafe firing method. Now I barely ever use the other mode! One annoyance that did turn up was nothing to do with Derelict, but Windows - if you press Shift five times in a row, you get a message asking if you want to turn on "Sticky keys". Derelict's manual gives advice on how to turn this off.
Derelict is a lot of fun and a highly polished work. It is definitely worth a look, and Gauntlet fans in particular will like it. Just learn how to use that strafe key!
The PC version was the one reviewed here.
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