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Life Force - June 25, '00 by Dorsola
Game:Life ForceCompany:Konami
Type:ShooterPlayers:1/2

In 1986, just as we were beginning to crawl out of the big Video Game Slump of the mid-80s, some new video-game technology was beginning to emerge. Things like Stereo Sound and 256-color displays and unlimited firepower were suddenly the "in" things to have when creating games that would be attractive to the audiences. (Never mind that such things existed long before they were so highly touted.) This age of arcade gaming saw many failures and a few successes.
Life Force (actually a clone of Salamander, though I'm going to review it this way because THIS is the game I played in the arcades) is one of those games that was sorta in between. It took a by-now age-old concept - the scrolling shooter - and gave the player some new ideas to consider as they played the game. While I don't really know what the core concept of the game is, presumably you're flying around inside some extremely large, organic being, killing off its internal defenses in an effort to destroy it. (Does that sound right? Anyone else play this game and have a better idea?) At your disposal are three different types of weapons, up to four pods that increase your firepower, powerups that speed up your ship, and temporary frontal shields. The usual near-constant onslaught of enemies is accompanied by landscapes that actually change around you - areas that can be blasted away (and sometimes regenerate), growths that attempt to block your path, and various other obstacles.
The graphics in this game are absolutely stunning! Everything is highly detailed, right down to the folds on a large brain that serves as your first boss. It's not too difficult to see what's going on in here. Sound, too, is actually pretty good in the original arcade machine, though MAME's emulation of the various sound chips leaves something to be desired. (It's impossible to understand what the voice is saying when you play Life Force in MAME, though the original machine was crystal clear.) Combine that with some good music and the much-touted Stereo Sound, and you've got some good candy both for the eyes and the ears.
Unfortunately, that's where the good marks end. Play control is passable, but I'm docking points for the sometimes chancy and inconsistent collision detection, and the fact that there are times where, no matter what you do, it is impossible to keep from getting killed. Even on the easiest setting, this game becomes ridiculously hard after the first level - sometimes enemies just appear out of nowhere and converge on you from all directions, giving you no way out. Some enemies are invincible - bad move there, Konami. And sometimes it's impossible to tell if you're actually damaging a boss. And all too often, there's so much on the screen (enemy shots, etc) that it's literally impossible to find a way out of getting killed.
That pushes the challenge factor up to the max, but unfortunately also reduces the replay value. The game would have been better if more attention were paid to its playability - and at the very minimum giving the player a chance to continue. Konami's idea of a continue feature in this game, though, was to give you the ability to buy more lives while you play, up to a limit. Unfortunately, not a very well-thought-out plan given the difficulty of the game.
And unfortunately, this game doesn't perform too well, either on the original hardware or in MAME. There are a lot of places where the action slows down simply because the machine is processing too much information at once, and in order to play without skipping frames in MAME, you'll need at least a P2-350 or equivalent.
Life Force helped to breathe some new life into the arcade game industry... but it also paved the way for better games by not being a particularly memorable one itself.
Graphics
10
8
Sound
Play Control
5
10
Challenge
Replay Value
5
5
Performance

Screen Shots

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2000 EmuViews