When it comes to dredging up a venerable old shooter from yesteryear, the term "spoiled for choice" is a bit of an understatement. Zapping aliens was one of the very first things we wanted to use computers for, and every console has offered dozens, if not hundreds, of scrolling SHMUPS to choose from. To qualify for our Blast From The Past series, a game has to offer something a little different and set a trend that future games were destined to follow, and with this in mind, the choice suddenly became clear.
Back in the heady year of 1995, Eclipse Productions unleashed a freeware title that completely shattered the mold. Tyrian "exceeded" its creators' wildest dreams, becoming a truly iconic space shooter and a standard bearer for the genre itself. And it was on the PC to boot.
Before we continue, it's important to point out that you really ought to be playing Tyrian right now, not reading about it! Good Old Games are offering an improved downloadable version - with extra content and Windows 7 compatibility - for the bargain price of absolutely free.
Now that you're up to speed, it's time to get down to brass tacks. Rather than just a shallow arcade experience that revolved around the acquisition of points, Tyrian offered a lengthy and engaging storyline that kept its players invested in the action. As veteran terraforming pilot Trent Hawkins, players delved into a rich conspiracy adventure that was told through collectible data cubes as well as standard post-mission text pages. You can take as little or as much as you want from the plot (or ignore it entirely in arcade mode), but it was nice to have one.
Of course, Shoot'Em Ups are all about the gameplay, not a storyline. And Tyrian delivered. Its varied stages and enemy types provided a well-paced campaign that continually threw new challenges at its pilots. Wide open stages and labyrinthine tunnels required very different styles of play and evasion, and switched up the formula every time it threatened to become stale.
Tyrian was also the forerunner of the persistent upgrade system that most modern SHMUPS now attempt to emulate. Each mission, regardless of whether you crashed and burned, provided you with resources to spend on new devastating weaponry, hulls, upgrades and shields. However, Tyrian innovated even further by letting players trawl back through previous levels in order to accrue more cash - and in an interesting twist, we can freely rejig our loadouts at will without the fear of losing any money. The countless combinations of items, coupled with the fact that we can experiment as much as we want to, makes the experience as addictive now as it ever was. In fact, it's better-featured than many modern titles I could mention.
Tyrian has now all but faded into the annals of history, but its legacy still lives on. Arcen Games' AI War recycles some of its sprites as a respectful homage, and you'll frequently see it crop up on iDevices and handhelds. Tyrian is a truly ageless title that's still relevant today, and I hope that we've brought back some fold memories of ancient victories. If not, hell, download it and make yourself some new ones!