Title :Asteroids
Platforms :Sony PlayStation, Windows
Publisher :Activision
Game Rating :8.6
Review by :Ken Gagne

With so many game titles available, developers have been scraping the bottom of the barrel and updating classics for a new generation of gamers. Such releases usually feature superfluous graphical enhancements without retaining the astounding gameplay of the original. 

This sad fact is light years from the truth for Activision's Asteroids, back to rock the new millennium on the Sony PlayStation and PC. [PSX version reviewed here] 

The gameplay is enhanced but not greatly altered in this revision. Players take control of a ship, careening around a single screen of space, blasting big asteroids into little ones, and little ones into space dust. 

This time around, a bounty of weapons and other power-ups are available. Different kinds of asteroids fill the screen, including the regenerating crystal type, energy asteroids that absorb firepower and return it, and indestructible asteroids. Flying saucers, space debris, and other hazards keep the field anything but a vacuum. 

Asteroids veterans who were content to sit in the middle of the screen, playing the role of turret, must adjust their strategies. Five stages of fifteen levels each have different, interactive backgrounds, such as a black hole that pulls players into its crushing center, or a sun that regularly shoots scorching flares. 

Gorgeous full-motion video sequences introduce the levels. Although flight on three axes is not possible, the graphics are 3D, with fully rendered asteroids spinning about. Explosions and backgrounds are pretty, but nothing too flashy detracts from the game's simple play mechanics. 

Music is also simple, or often nonexistent, allowing the sound effects to take center stage. Several effects are carried over and enhanced from the original Asteroids. Each mission log is presented with digitized speech — yes, the game actually has a storyline! 

Amazingly enough, such a simplistic game has many controls. For example, an asteroid is on a collision course with your ship. Do you fire your regular gun, or a special weapon? Or thrust out the way, or jump to hyperspace? Or raise shields? Eventually they are learned, and response is quick. 

Ships rotate continuously by pressing Left or Right, but there is no configuration allowing for a setup where Up points Up, etc. 

There are three ships to choose from, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, such as speed, shield strength, etc. 

There is also a two-player mode, but options are few. Competition for highest score is simultaneous in a randomly-selected stage, but there is no firing on one another, nor special weapons. Nonetheless, the game would not be complete without this mode. 

It's amazing how well this game from 1979 has held up. Although many new features keep it fresh, the basic gameplay is unaltered, and it's still as fun as ever. A better two-player mode and many more levels would have easily been possible, but as is, Asteroids provides gamers both young an old an excellent opportunity for action.

This article is copyright (c) 1998, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 07-Dec-98