Tuesday 29 December 2015

Polar Rescue (Vectrex review)

Developer: GCE
Publisher: GCE
Released: 1983

Polar Rescue is a first-person action-shooter that was released exclusively on the Vectrex.

Controlling a submarine your mission is to travel through the icy waters, shoot down enemies and rescue any survivors. You can speed up and down with Buttons 2-3, while Button 4 fires torpedoes at mine fields, ice chunks and enemy subs. The HUD at the bottom shows your speed, remaining torpedoes, sub damage, as well as the oxygen level which basically acts as a timer; run out and you lose one of your five lives. There's also a sonar which displays an arrow that you must follow to reach the Docking Station of the survivors; once they're aboard your sub reverses back to the surface and you repeat the process again. The sub controls are good and offer the right level of freedom without feeling too sensitive. The collision detection is spotty though as you'll randomly take damage despite seeing nothing around you. It's also not clear whether an enemy or the Docking Station is above or below you so it's easy to waste time and oxygen circling around. The combat is no fun at all as you can't always see the opposing sub as it fades into view; it can still fire at you though despite being barely visible and you have very little time to react resulting in some cheap deaths. Firing is another problem as there's no reticule on screen to show where your torpedoes will land; this means that the majority of the time you'll simply shoot and hope for the best rather than relying on pure skill. The Docking sequence is the most enjoyable part of the game as you need to speed down and use your HUD indicator to manoeuvre the cross into the square indicator; this allows you to lock-on and it reminds me of the refuelling sections in Top Gun (1987, NES). The game's graphics are excellent and I particularly love the animation when the sub attaches itself to the survivors' pod.
Polar Rescue should be commended for trying to do something different as it has tons of depth and there's nothing quite like it on the system. However, the gameplay just isn't very enjoyable and it needed more polish to remove its annoying quirks.
Random trivia: This is one of only three Vectrex games with a pause button; the others are Spinball, a.k.a. Flipper Pinball (1982) and Star Ship a.k.a. Harmagedon (1982).

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