Rebel Raiders Review - 

Rebel Raiders is an arcade flight combat game from Kando. Published by Nobilis, it aims to create addictive, fun, and simple mid-air battles, which capture the rush of piloting a futuristic jet and the thrill of aerial combat.

Rebel Raiders is a strange one. The developers have polished the game well, as there are little or no glitches or graphical errors. Having said that, the graphics are by no means great all round. This is however a budget game, and at a recommended 20 retail, you should be able to get it for around fifteen pounds, if you can find it.

The story is that the galaxy (this is in futuristic times) has been taken over completely by mankind. The humans and their nations of the galaxy have formed a World Nations Union, which sounds like the United Nations, except with power. This governmental body has grown more tyrannical and unjust as the years have gone by, and a small group of countries have set up a resistance movement. This movement has gone badly, and they are stuck at Bounty Base, their headquarters, awaiting what the government believe to be a final attack.

You join the game in charge of a squadron of aircraft, what seems to be one of the last groups left. In fact, there is an in depth tutorial which will guide you into the already simple gameplay. There are three aircraft with unique weapons in the game, and you will unlock these very early on, although there is a Delta winged aircraft which you are able to pilot on a few special missions.

Your aircraft has a basic machine gun, a secondary weapon (such as heat seeking missiles, or a shot gun) and a special weapons mode, which deploys a highly intense and precisely targeted weapon, but more on that later. The machine gun is a manual weapon, and great fun - all you need to do is get the enemy roughly in the crosshairs and you will be greeted by a flurry of sparks and flames from your opponent's aircraft. The secondary weapon, which you can either fire remotely or lock on and target your opponent with, are very accurate, and when the crosshairs go red, you can use the heat seeking ability to get an almost certain hit on your target. The only way they can avoid them is by ducking into a canyon or fortuitously steering behind an obstacle.

The heat seeking missiles that at first appear the most effective form of attack, are in fact pretty weak. However, the gameplay is designed to be simple, and as such you can launch a volley of about 10 missiles in quick succession towards the enemy for as long as they stay in your sights. The shotgun however reloads slowly, but packs a much more powerful punch.

The missions of the campaign tend to involve you taking down some turrets, shooting a large mothership's defences, or intercepting a fleet of aircraft. They do get repetitive, but it is a fairly addictive experience, and once you stop playing you will get withdrawal symptoms.

The scenery is unfortunately similarly unvaried. There are some very unique backdrops, such as a desert, or snowy mountain ranges, but the textures on these are repeated widely and the only truly impressive level is the Bounty Base on a tropical island. The sea is azure blue with suitably darker shades further out, there are bridges joining the islands which are breathtaking to fly through, and the islands themselves have varying degrees of deep green cover. The desert regions are, well, brown. The brown texture is repeated throughout, and although the mountainous sections and deep canyons of the deserts look impressive, there is ultimately little to look at, and the sea in this section is also disappointing.

The enemies in the game range from fighters, to turrets, and while the fighters are easy to destroy, there is great fun to be had in their downfall. As in many flight shooters, when you get into a dogfight and follow tightly to the enemy through a canyon or across mountain ranges, there is a huge rush, and when you manage to take down your target, the pleasure of seeing it go tumbling to earth is great. There is one thing that any game of this sort has to do, and that is to capture the aircraft's movement, and eventual explosion well, and make the initial dogfight satisfying to the gamer. It makes us cringe to see the aircraft get blown up before they hit the ground, as the thrill of following them down to the ground and pulling up to return to combat is so necessary in this genre, and fortunately, that is one of the features that Kando has implemented very successfully.

The heads up display is important in all flight games too, especially as there is no cockpit (or even first person) viewpoint available to the gamer here. You have information about your ship's damage and ammunition mainly, and this is pleasing, as Kando have repeatedly stressed their desire to keep the game simple. The damage is a strange thing in Rebel Raiders, as firstly, if you slam into the ground, then your aircraft takes about 2 or 3 points of damage. That's out of 100, and while it reminds us of the old arcade fighters, it seems a little out of place in the modern day context of things.

When you hit the ground, a dust effect occurs. When you hit the water, the same dust effect occurs, and this is simply annoying. When brown dirt flies out of the water, it seems that it is just a feature that the developers knew they wouldn’t have time to successfully implement, and as such, left it out, but this is one of the most noticeable flaws in Rebel Raiders. Similarly, when you hit an object, whether it be a turret, building or mountain, you just bounce off. Perhaps after ramming it a few times first. You also lose minimal damage as well, without hurting the offending object.

There is some diversity in the ships that you will be up against. The heavy fighters are my personal favourite. These are much like the TIE Bombers in Star Wars in appearance terms, and they drop a sort of depth charge behind them that really hurts to get in the way of. It can certainly take away 10 percent of your total health if you get hit by multiple blasts at once. The way to destroy these particular ships, is to aim at a certain highlighted wing. They're larger than the other ships, so it isn't too difficult, but they take a lot of shots, and you have to be constantly dodging the backwards firing of the aircraft. The highlighted wing moves every five seconds or so, and this emphasises the arcade and old style flying fighters niche that Rebel Raiders falls into. You can't damage the wing unless it is highlighted, and once they are both down, you can concentrate your fire on the main hull.

When you are faced with many of these ships, a horde of fighters, and turrets firing up at you, the action is intense, and it is these parts of the game that are truly memorable. With your wingmen in these situations you will feel at ease, but still have a thirst for seeing the enemy crash down to earth, and this part of the game really saves Rebel Raiders from being fairly boring throughout.

If another ship fires a missile at you, it hovers behind your engine with a blue tail. When it is about to close in on you, it turns yellow, and you can initiate a barrel roll to send it wayward. These missiles and their actions appear the same each time, and we feel that the thrill of using skills to dodge, duck and dive to avoid such weaponry is necessary in this sort of game. The only real purpose of these missiles is to make you lose focus on the enemy you may be following, which, while distracting, does not truly hamper your chances of shooting it. When many missiles come at you in a short space of time, it also starts to get pretty annoying.

When you are under fire, whether it is by the big pulsating balls of the aforementioned craft's depth charges, or the turret's similar attacks, or simply laser fire from a large ship, you can never tell where it is coming from. There is no port of exit on the ships that a weapon could be fired from, and you just see the gunfire appearing in mid air around the back of each craft and coming towards your ship. Similarly, the enemy fighters don't fire at your own craft in any way apart from missiles (which you never see launched), and their AI isn't up to much either.

They run predetermined courses, and don't think for themselves. This means they cluster together, which heightens the action and makes it more enjoyable, but it means that if you are right behind the enemy, they try no random evasive manoeuvres, and you can sit in wait for them if you learn their patterns on a certain level.

There are various speeds your craft can go at. You can slow, which is well animated with flaps coming out of the plane's top; you can speed up slightly; or speed up fully. These two separate faster speeds are useful when in pursuit of enemy fighters, as you will need to judge their speed and attempt to stay in line with them.

The special weapon mode turns the heads up display green, and while holding down the machine gun button, you can lock on and charge a more powerful attack, such as a five-missile strike which is all but guaranteed to destroy the target. This is a welcome addition, as it adds variation and requires some skill to keep the enemy in your sights for the required time allotment.

The campaign is fairly large, with around 3% of the game's completion given for each mission that is successful. There are also 32 challenges, and their completion is necessary to unlock some of the other aircraft, power-ups and extra missions. There is unfortunately no multiplayer, and no dogfight mode where you can just fight random ships (probably mainly due to the predetermined flight paths).

The story is played out through very short cut scenes, with laughable voice acting and cartoon images of yourself and your fellow pilots, but it becomes clear that the main thing to experience in Rebel Raiders is fun. The music is one element that is great, and it really does remind you of previous games of this sort from many years ago. The navigation and text acts similarly, and the simple gameplay too.

The graphics aren't great, the story moves with the finesse of a Pokemon episode (really, the script and voice acting is very similar), and there are problems with the collisions and lack of enemy intelligence, but the game is fun, it's as simple as that. There are numerous film references, and you will think of Star Wars when you loop over to go inside a large base and fly through it's insides, before destroying it, and Independence Day when a huge mothership flies over the top of you. To their credit, Kando credit these influences, and it helps make the game seem even more familiar to the good old days of the arcade aerial shooter.

It is worth remembering that Blazing Angels will be out soon, and that promises, in fairness, a much more complete and modern combat experience.

As with all the budget games we review, we take price into account hugely, and you do get a fair bit for your money with Operation Nighthawk. Don't however expect it to be too close to the standard of a full priced average game, as these titles are budgeted for a reason.

There's not much out at the moment in this part of the flight genre, and Rebel Raiders: Operation Nighthawk promises to remind gamers of previous titles, and at the budget price, it may be worth a pop if you're a fan of such games.

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