Tempest 4000 for Windows Review

As most everyone who is an Atari Jaguar fan, I am also a lover of Jeff Minter‘s revamp of the classic Atari coin-op, Tempest 2000, considered by many to be the Jaguar’s best video game. Trippy graphics, frantic gameplay, and a sensational soundtrack lead to a game that is a must-have for the Jaguar. Recently, after some legal wrangling, Minter and Atari have joined forces to bring out Tempest 4000 for Windows and other consoles. When it went on sale at Steam for $9.99 (normally priced $19.99), I picked up a copy.

The first thing that I noticed right away is that, well, the game would not start. I would just get a blank screen after choosing to Play Tempest 4000 or to Play Tempest 4000 on Windows 10 and which resolution to run the game in. Not the best first impression.

After some searching through the Steam forums, I found that a fix was to rename the file containing the video for the opening Atari animation (ATARI.mp4) in my Tempest 4000 install. This allowed Tempest 4000 to launch. Much to my frustration, I had to re-apply this fix after installing an update to Tempest 4000. I would have hoped that a major glitch like this would have been fixed with the update. If the first experience a user has is a game failing to launch altogether, this is going to skew their feelings about the game.

Another startup issue is the dialog prompting if the game should be played on Windows 10 and then the subsequent prompt for a screen resolution. For one thing, it is confusing that the game would not detect if it were running on Windows 10. As a user I found this question very perplexing. Why place that burden upon the user without any further information?

Why is the screen resolution being asked beforehand? Most games that I have played on Windows will allow the video resolution to be changed within the game. After all, it is hard to know what resolution your system can handle so there is often a little trial and error involved. Crank up the number of pixels and the action starts to stutter? Lower the resolution and try again. In Tempest 4000, though, one must quit the game and start over.

Finally, this set of two dialog boxes is presented each time the game is launched. There should be a way to set the defaults and not force the user to interact with them each and every time. Especially galling is that the first prompt (Windows 10 or not), works fine with Steam’s Big Picture interface. So one can select their choice using their controller. But, the screen resolution requires the mouse, at least in my testing. So this really puts a wrinkle in the experience of those trying to take full advantage of Steam’s console-like interface.

Another fairly major bug that I have found with the game is that with my laptop, when the internal Intel graphics are used (my laptop has both integrated Intel and GeForce), the game looks fine in every respect except that the power ups are not visible. In Tempest (and we’ll discuss the gameplay in a bit), when some enemies are destroyed, they will release power ups that you can collect. They travel from where the enemy was dispatched to the “rim” of the playfield where your ship is. If you miss the power up, they will fly past you and disappear. Suffice it to say, not being able to see these power ups is a major impediment to collecting them. If you weren’t familiar with the gameplay of Tempest and had this happen to you, you would be very confused.

Tempest 4000

If you haven’t been scared off yet, and you have launched Tempest 4000, you will see a bare bones title screen. The music is the same as that used for the Jaguar version which is a nice bit of nostalgia if you played that brilliant cartridge. When you start a new game, you will be able to choose between Pure and Classic modes. Classic will let you start a new game from a level you previously reached with the number of lives you had when starting it. There are 100 levels so, if you have old man reflexes like me, you’ll likely appreciate being able to try to work through the higher levels building on your best progress and not having to start from the beginning.

If you are reading this, you are probably well aware of the gameplay of Tempest. But, just in case, I will describe it the best I can. The play of Tempest takes place on a three-dimensional board with a number of “tracks.” Your ship, a “claw,” can move around the outside of the board. You fire shots down the board on the track you are on towards enemies that move up the tracks toward you. If the enemies shoot or touch you, you lose a life. The boards come in a large variety of shapes including tubes so sometimes your claw will go all the way around in a circle. If the board has a left and right edge, your ship is stopped when reaching the end and you can only move back.

Tempest 4000 board example
Your ship firing down at approaching enemies on a U-shaped board.

On each board, you can fire an unlimited number of shots and have one single “Superblaster” which will destroy all of the enemies on the screen. You can pick up power ups that are released by dispatched enemies. These can give you more powerful and faster shots. Better yet, you can gain the ability to jump off of the top edge of the board and, if enemies have reached the top, you can fly over and shoot them. Another very useful power up is the AI droid which will help you fight. Oftentimes, the droid is effective enough that you can concentrate just on half of the board and let it defined the rest.

As an arcade game, Tempest 4000 works very well. It is fast, beautiful, and sounds great. There is a lot of psychedelic imagery and quirky humor that you would expect from developer Jeff Minter. Tempest is a top-tier arcade game that everyone should try to experience in some form if you’re a fan of old coin-ops. Personally, I never remember seeing a Tempest machine as a kid. I didn’t play Tempest until I had a Jaguar and didn’t see an arcade cabinet in the flesh until a few years ago at Funspot. And they haven’t had it out on the floor the last few times I have been.

If you are a devotee of the original arcade game, one thing that may be difficult to look past is the lack of the cabinet’s original control mechanism which utilized a spinner. Since you could do loops around some tubes indefinitely, the spinner also could be turned continually in one direction. In other words, it would rotate fully 360 degrees with no limits unlike the Atari 2600’s paddles which could only spin a certain distance before stopping. In my opinion, it seems like Tempest 4000 tries to emulate a spinner in that you have a little bit of inertia. When you let off your gamepad’s directional controller, you don’t stop on a dime but kind of glide to a stop.

I don’t like the feel of controls. It feels like trying to make a compromise that will probably not make anyone completely happy. Those who want a spinner probably won’t be placated with a joypad or directional stick regardless of the feel of movement. And for those not married to the spinner and willing to use a joypad or keyboard, the drift just doesn’t feel right. The control for Jaguar’s Tempest 2000 feels much tighter and, to me, makes more sense when using a more conventional controller.

Another change made to the gameplay from the Jaguar and arcade versions is that when your ship is destroyed, the enemies don’t all start from the bottom of the board again. Instead, you are dropped back into the action with the enemies as they were when you died. If you were killed with a lot of enemies at the top of the board and you don’t have a Superblaster or Jump then this can lead to a few quick deaths. You have a small amount of time to shoot some enemies when “dropping” back onto the board but on a hectic board, this isn’t enough to give you a breather and re-group. I don’t like this gameplay modification.

Another thing you don’t get with the PC version of Tempest that you would have gotten with the Jaguar version is a manual. If you are not familiar with this game, the limited on-screen prompts and directions might not be a lot of help. I am familiar with Tempest but it took me some time to figure out what to do in between levels. When warping to the next level you control a spark-like cursor and try to keep it centered on the screen as it passes through circles. On the Jaguar, you would move the cursor to where the circles appeared on the screen. On the PC, you want to always stay in the center. This led me, for some time, to push all the way to the edge of the screen to try to go through the rings and it wasn’t obvious to me what I needed to do.

Tempest 4000 screen
Keep the cursor in the middle of the screen between levels.

These in-between stages make for a nice break in the action and is much more enjoyable once you know what you are doing. But I am disappointed that a manual wasn’t included to give some explanation, especially for those checking out Tempest for the first time. The lack of manual, prompt for settings on each load, no visibility of power ups for integrated Intel, and crashing bug all show a lack of polish for this game that shouldn’t be there for a flagship game from a publisher that wants to be seen as a serious company ready to release a new console in 2019.

It probably sounds like I am totally down on this game but there are quite a few things to like. First, Tempest 4000 is Tempest and Tempest is a great frantic shooter. The visuals are beautiful and brings the “Melt-o-vision” of the Jaguar version to a whole new level. The soundtrack has many of the same songs from the Jaguar and they sound great. Hearing those tunes always brings back some great gaming memories.

Another really cool touch for Atari fans like myself is that the levels have Atari-inspired names. Grass Valley (where the the research team that designed the 2600 was located), Basic Programming, and Computer Space (Nolan Bushnell’s first arcade game) are examples. And slogans like “Power Without the Price” grace the title screen. Especially cute is the sound effect lifted from the well-loved Activision game, Pitfall, when you initiate a jump. There is a lot of nostalgia packed into this game.

Despite the rough edges, I would recommend this game, especially if it is on sale nd if you are a fan of Tempest. It seems like the issues in Windows aren’t present in the console versions so if you were considering this for your PlayStation or XBox, you may not run into the hurdles that I did. And maybe those versions even contain a manual to help those new to the game? But I would like to see Atari step up their game as far as presentation and quality if they would like to be taken seriously.

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