Retaliate – PS5 Review

Retaliate is a twist on the classic wave-based vertically-scrolling shooter and it comes from Austin Sojka, otherwise known as Romans I XVI Gaming.  In researching the game we found an older version for the Roku TV platform and even a Commodore 64 (*spit!*) demake, so the idea for this game has been around for a while.

And it’s an interesting one really.  The idea here is that it’s a shoot ’em up but you have no ammo.  The only way to get bullets is to absorb them with your shield () and then fire them back at the enemy ().  With that simple mechanic in place, you’re then set off into what the game calls a ‘Story’ mode (it’s really just six stages of action with a little dialogue-free cutscene at the start).  Then it’s just a case of having enemies drift down into the screen and wait for them to fire at you so that you can catch those bullets and fire them back.  The only complications the formula are that your shield has a cooldown on it so you can’t just hold it the whole time and across the six stages of Story Mode, you can absorb different weapons to fire back (such as homing missiles, a laser and spread shots).  Aside from that, Retaliate is pretty one note.  It’s definitely a thinking gamer’s shoot ’em up, one that requires patience, courage and skill but there is something that holds it back a bit.

For all of the variations under the shoot ’em up genre – horizontal, vertical, scrolling, not-scrolling, twin-stick, run and gun etc – there are two overarching types for us.  Some shoot ’em ups are dry and others aren’t.  Hear us out.  A dry shoot ’em up could be Space Invaders (with it’s one bullet at a time, staid and repetitive gameplay) or something like Xevious which, for all of its classic status, could put you to sleep with prolonged exposure.  These are the games that are contrary to the bright, vibrant, firepower-laden shooters such as your Cave shooters.

And, well, Retaliate feels pretty dry.  There’s never any real excitement generated, no wow factor.  Even the boss battles are plain, dull affairs with re-used boss designs (that aren’t good enough to be re-used to be fair).  And it takes ages to get to them too.  A developer can sometimes get so concerned with making sure a game works that maybe they forget to make it fun.

There’s certainly a degree of challenge here though.  Story Mode is actually pretty hard but that often feels like it’s just because it feels so long and repetitive that it kind of makes you get in your own head and make mistakes.  I mean you could just time your shield activations to take out enemies as they run into you and you’d probably get a lot further, albeit with less of a score, but then it never even feels like score matters, despite a multiplier system being there.  Like, the elements are in place but they never grab you.

Thankfully, there’s an Arcade Mode in there that makes things a little less arduous.  This mode fixes a few of the game’s issues.  It tasks you with destroying as many enemies as possible, it lets you pick whatever level you want, it offers up four difficulty levels and it gets rid of the boss battles.  It’s a massive step up thankfully.  That said, even with all that, the core gameplay still left us a little unsatisfied.

If anything, Retaliate feels more like a puzzle game maybe.  Something that requires you to figure out the best, and quickest, way to clear out waves rather than just arming you to the teeth and letting your guns do the talking.  And there’s plenty of games that do that, so Retaliate does offer up something a little different to the rest of the shoot ’em ups on PSN and that’s worth something.

This concept could have worked better and the presentation doesn’t really help.  Everything’s a little too basic here.  This is the sort of shoot ’em up that could have worked, easily, on the PS1 but probably would have still gained mediocre reviews there too.  The game just looks a bit unloved.  With gameplay this dry, a little eye-candy could have really helped things along.  It wouldn’t be a cure-all but this game with a Pac-Man Championship Edition neo-retro shine would have just felt more interesting.  Even just a few bigger explosions and deeper sound effects would have helped.

Overall, Retaliate just doesn’t excite.  It just works.  Kind of like a student game project where it meets the requirements by not crashing and essentially being playable enough.  It’s not going to be in anyone’s top 50 shoot ’em ups but it may keep you interested for a couple of hours.

Review 0
5 Overall
+ A pretty different take on the genre
+ Arcade Mode fixes a lot of the problems with Story Mode
- Kind of dull
- Rubbish boss battles
- Stages feel too long
- Isn't very exciting or fun
Retaliate's core idea isn't a bad one but there's probably a good reason why hundreds of shoot 'em ups came before and never tried to implement it. It's just not all that fun.


About Richie

Rich is the editor of PlayStation Country. He likes his games lemony and low-budget with a lot of charm. This isn't his photo. That'll be Rik Mayall.

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