Even though video game graphics inch closer and closer to flawless photorealism, game developers still produce titles that faithfully follow the look and feel of 8-bit and 16-bit games from this medium's early years (e.g., Retro City Rampage, the Bit.Trip series, etc.). While I'm glad to see that the industry and its fans still appreciate older forms of video gaming, I've noticed one particular style is usually missing from most retro-themed game titles: early vector graphics, the kind that were seen in classic games from the early '80s such as Battlezone and Tempest and on the short-lived home console Vectrex. These were the first attempts by video game programmers to expand into polygon graphics, with items such as vehicles, buildings and other shapes depicted in bright, neon-colored lines against a black backdrop.
Polygon-based graphics became much more detailed in the years since, but the original minimalist vector style had a particular charm to it that other kinds of video games lack. Thankfully, the game developers at Super Icon haven't forgotten about early vector graphics and they made it the basis for Vektor Wars, a deceptively simple first-person shooter (FPS) that's available for download on Steam and as an eShop title for Wii U. Read on for my complete review.
Like the '80s coin-op arcade titles that this game emulates, the plot of Vektor Wars is straightforward: In the distant future of 2024, an army of evil robots invades the galaxy and players have to use a large arsenal of weaponry to vaporize wave after wave of these battle 'bots on each occupied planet. Players can also score extra points by collecting score multiplier crystals, rescuing small machine characters named "Robodudes" and collecting power cubes that can be used to activate satellite dishes to receive special bonus messages during the game. Players can choose from one of five different modes when playing the Vektor Wars: Story, Arcade, Deadline, Sequence and Survival. Each mode provides something different to the game play, and players' scores are posted in different leaderboards according to individual game mode scores and collective scores.
Rumor has it that former ENCOM CEO Kevin Flynn has a penthouse suite in one of these towers.
Each of the nine environments in Vektor Wars are rendered in classic vector graphics and the game is filled with all sorts of references to '80s era video gaming. For example, the communication system in the game is named "Comm64", a nod to the popular Commodore 64 computer system from that decade. The official Vektor Wars artwork (which I placed at the beginning of this post) looks like something that would be plastered all over a coin-op cabinet in a vintage video game arcade. Because of the black-on-neon look of some of the environments (especially the cities), much of the game looks like stuff pulled straight out of the Tron franchise that began in 1982. In fact, two of the robot invader types look like the Light Tanks and Recognizers from the Troniverse.
Yet for as much as it seeks inspiration from the '80s in terms of appearance and atmosphere, the game itself requires players to think in terms of a modern FPS. In other words, Vektor Wars is a modern FPS in classic vector gaming drag, easy to understand in terms of plot and controls but complex to play in terms of strategy. Players begin each level and each life with the least powerful weapon, so they have to search around each environment to find the weapons they need in order to survive. Different kinds of robot invaders appear on each level, each with different strengths and weaknesses, so players need to figure out which weapons work best against each type. The environments encourage players to explore them, both in order to shield themselves from robot attacks and to score extra bonus points. Depending on the level, players can seek cover underwater, in buildings and caves, or even by climbing rocky terrain that the robots cannot traverse.
Vektor Wars was first released for the PC on Steam in 2015, although the copy I have is the Wii U version that was recently released on the Nintendo eShop. This version of the game comes with its own unique options, including the possibility of playing only on the Wii U Gamepad. However, even though there is always a minimap on the player's HUD display, I prefer to play the game on my TV with the entire level map on the Gamepad screen. This feature makes it much easier to keep track of where your opponents are and where to find weapons, health kits, and places to take cover from robot attack.
Vektor Wars is an inspired mix of '80s arcade nostalgia and modern FPS game play, so I highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for a creative and engrossing gaming experience that combines vintage visuals with modern game play. For gamers who love the classic vector style, you might also want to check out Black Ice, Trace Vector, Vector Tanks, and the Geometry Wars series of games.