Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Played: In The Hunt (Playstation/PS1)

Format: Playstation     Also On: Saturn, Arcade
Developer: Irem/Xing     Publisher: THQ     Release: 1996 (Europe)
Progress: Probably not going to be able to fully beat it but I've given it a damn good go! Reached the Stage 5 boss on my best run (there are six stages altogether).

NOTE: I have also uploaded this very same write-up to a forum topic on the website, Retro Collect, under my alias of Darkstalker90 so if you have also spotted it over there then I am the same author and not a thief!

Most gamers into their retro and classic gaming will have played or - at the very least - have an awareness of Metal Slug, one of the definitive 2D side-scrolling shooters. Developed for SNK by Nazca Corp, Metal Slug was a series of hardcore run 'n gunners famed for its humour and outstanding cartoon-like visual style which crammed in so much intricate detail that it was often difficult to stop admiring every single object...not that you had the time to be gawking at background scenery that is. What some gamers may not be aware of however was that Nazca was formed by ex-Irem staff members who had previously created other arcade games in this same stunning 2D style while working for their previous employer.

Head to Youtube and check out Undercover Cops and the two Gunforce arcade games to see what I mean. The artistic resemblance to Metal Slug is uncanny and in the case of Gunforce, the gameplay is almost exactly the same as Metal Slug with many familiar sound effects imparting a lovely sense of deja vu. In 1993, Irem also released In The Hunt, a side-scrolling 2D shooter with a submarine as the player vehicle rather than a cliched spacecraft or super soldier character. Home versions for the Sega Saturn and Playstation followed in 1995 and 1996. Unsurprisingly, 2D shooters didn't really steal the limelight in an era where we were busy having our minds blown by cutting-edge 3D graphics and salivating over exaggerrated pyramid-shaped breasts so In the Hunt went the same way as Rapid Reload: an "outdated" genre passed up in favour of shiny, new concepts. A lot of people don't even realise that In the Hunt received a PAL Playstation release but I am fortunate enough to own a copy and here to tell y'all about it.

The detail of both background and foreground is mesmerising.

The gameplay doesn't need any explanation. You move to the right in your dinky sub (and sometimes have to move vertically up or down in some stages) and attempt to annihilate everything in the way or at least survive it. Certain enemies drop power-up units which can be stacked to gradually improve the sub's destructive power. The clever and very unique thing about the game however is that enemies attack from under and above water so while you are being hounded by enemy subs below the waves, helicopters, planes and boats above the water will be dropping bombs and forcing you to prioritise which set of foes to get rid of. The submarine has torpedoes and vertical rockets in its arsenal but in a twist, you can't take out the airborne enemies without surfacing first then firing your rockets. Try doing that underwater and the rockets will simply explode as they hit the surface. Below waves, the secondary weapon can obviously be used to wipe out submarines and other nasties above your head while the player also shoots forwards at oncoming enemies.

Pressing the circle button to fire vertically will also drop a depth charge which opens up a third dimension of attack - not bad for a seemingly simplistic old-school 2D shooter eh? Depth charges are handy for eliminating seabed-based threats and anything else which sneaks below your sub BUT their slow descent demands a certain timing to ensure they hit a moving target. There's a lot going on here then for sure with enemies attacking from in front, above and below. You have the tools to take them all on but having to master the timing for depth charges and constantly switch between fighting on the surface and in the depths in order to survive quickly proves to be much more involved than you may have first expected.

There's always loads going on and I flippin' love it. So should you.

And "survival" is the buzzword with this game because as you can probably already deduce with this being an old arcade shooter by a company as hardcore as Irem, In the Hunt can be brutally difficult even on the lower difficulty settings. Death is everywhere and there are times when you'll be sweating from the effort of weaving between the danger bullet-hell style as submarines, turrets, robots, helicopters, boats, battleships and mines all come at your sub at the same time, filling the screen with torpedoes, bombs, lasers and so on. One notable stage in the latter half of the game sees you negotiating a tight underwater cavern where all the aforementioned danger is still present but also accompanied by frequent volcanic eruptions to the point where it's sometimes impossible to avoid getting wasted by something. Plus - despite this being a home version of an arcade game - there are only so many continues permitted before it's GAME OVER and even fiddling around in the options menu doesn't yield much more in the way of extra mercy. The furthest I have personally got is the boss on the aforementioned volcanic stage and that was me pushed to the absolute stressed-out limits of survival in order to even get that far (I believe there is only one more stage after this one).

Co-op multiplayer is available but I haven't tried it yet and I doubt I have anybody interested in a creaky old game like this anyway so I can't comment on whether it makes In The Hunt a more managable battle or if the game simply does the unthinkable and pumps even more enemies into the stages.

These battleships become a frequent menace. Best hope you're powered-up.

Despite the masochistic difficulty however, In the Hunt is still a highly enjoyable game. Aside from its interesting and genuinely innovative take on the side-scrolling shooter, there are those incredible graphics to behold as well. The scenery, objects and enemies are all as breathtakingly detailed as anything found in Metal Slug and a pure joy to behold, especially when things are destroyed, debris flies in every direction and painstakingly crafted explosions fill the screen. It's the sort of artistic mastery that is very rarely seen today and arguably why the likes of Metal Slug remain so popular today. The soundtrack too could have been lifted from the Neo Geo's legendary shooter as well, such is the comforting familiarity of the jazzy tones and enthusiastic upbeat tracks. The senses are truly treated with a game like this.

Chances are that you will already know whether or not you need to play this game after reading my report or simply glancing at the screenshots but regardless, I highly recommend In The Hunt to any fan of shooters, Metal Slug, arcade games or games of a challenging or hardcore nature. I would advise either playing the arcade original in MAME or plumping for the Playstation version which oddly trumps the Sega Saturn port when it was usually the other way round for 2D software in the 32bit era. If you wish to go the Saturn route then be warned that In the Hunt is bugged in that the game will not boot unless you place the disc inside the machine while the power is already on. It should also be noted that the overseas arcade version as well as the Western ports feature a different level order to the Japanese versions which causes a bit of an imbalance issue with harder stages not necessarily saved for the very end! However you experience In The Hunt though, you're guaranteed a tour de force of Irem's near frightening skills with 2D shooters.

1 comment:

  1. It's a cracker of a game... And it's aged a LOT better than its 3D contemporaries!