Vectors, the bane of the Commodore 64. Many have tried over the years to bring a polygonal presence to the humble machine, and for the most part, the majority have come up short with Novagen Software’s Mercenary being the rare exception. Stuttering framerates made some attempts unplayable, so I initially approached Bauknect’s futuristic 2017 shooter, Slipstream, with some trepidation despite positive word of mouth out of BCC 2017.
Set in the very distant future, over 12,000 years in fact, the population of the Omikron system is under attack from the very same robots that were created to protect them from asteroid showers. Captaining the Slipstream starship through a remote interface, it’s time to take out the bad robots and save your fellow inhabitants.
Jumping into the cockpit, a brief but impressive intro accompanied by some pounding electronic beats greets the player. Furthering the technical prowess on display is a short launch sequence as our triangular ship takes off. Both the title screen and option menus are sleek in design and the game is playable on an expanded C16, Plus/4, stock C64 as well as taking advantage of Super CPU or Turbo Chameleon 64 hardware support
If you’re fortunate to have any of the latter or an emulator capable, the Super CPU version is certainly superior, with a massively increased smoothness to the framerates and better all-round performance. The C16 version also runs better than it’s C64 counterpart, but for review purposes, the stock C64 version will be the one looked at here.
Performance is relatively solid despite the odd slow down and reduced frames. The ship is animated in a bird-like fashion as it swoops and glides between the hail of bullets, with the vivid colours really popping against the darkness of space. Unfortunately, when enemy activity picks up it can be easy to lose track of the ship as it gets swamped by surrounding polygons. This can cause some frustration, especially when coupled with the slow down but is something you soon learn to anticipate based on the number of enemies flooding your screen.
Background art is thankfully basic to stop Slipstream devolving into a mess of shapes, with almost waveform type terrain adding to the hypnotic nature of the visuals. It’s all a bit of a technical marvel and remains extremely playable despite some shortcomings. Small touches such as the art during the short loading times are evocative and even the odd bursts of TV static set the bar high with a genuinely well-thought out and proficient graphical package.
Slipstream’s remarkable visual style is only exceeded by its dirty EDM beats, giving a real sense of urgency to the futuristic shooting. While the music might not be to everyone’s tastes, it matches the aesthetic and pace of the gameplay like a glove.
Ingo Jache and Ronny Engmann have squeezed a huge amount of variety of SID goodness into this game, with every level receiving its own thumping tune. When combined with some digitized speech and more than adequate sound effects, Slipstream sits at the top of the homebrew audio pile.
While the game shines quite brightly in its graphical and audio presentation, the initial euphoria wanes very quickly the further you travel through its galaxy. Employing either a one or two joystick control scheme can appear like a strange design choice, but both soon become second nature. In two joystick mode, one controls the ship with the other moving your aiming reticule. The one joystick method allows you to change between flying your ship and aiming by depressing the fire button. It soon becomes intuitive and works well within the confines of the game with the targeting system comparable to that found in the classic Rez. The only problem with the aiming is that it feels a little sluggish, meaning you can find yourself under attack quickly while the reticule labours towards its intended target.
The difficulty curve is well-balanced, with later levels proving a little challenging and requiring anticipation of alien waves to progress further. With a good number of levels, Slipstream offers a decent amount of gameplay and hi-score tables give a small amount of replayability value. It’s a real shame that the lack of enemy variety and repeated boss battles at the end of each section means despite all of it’s graphical and audio finesse, the game becomes mundane very quickly. Power ups are restricted to a shield, meaning there’s no unique mechanic to elevate it above other shooters of this ilk.
The general standard of polish in Slipstream is nothing short of stunning. It’s an audio and visual feast that despite hardware limitations taking off some of the shine, it’s ultimately let down by repetitive gameplay and some one note level design. However, if you’re looking for something to impress your C64 loving friends or play in quick bursts, you can’t go too far wrong with this.
Creator of Bored Dog Games on YouTube, a channel home to PlayStation livestreams and high production Commodore Amiga and C64 reviews. Works with the Alien Breed by day.