Neo Contra review

PSM2 investigates the 3D makeover of this old-school scrolling shooter

What is Neo Contra? It's absurd. It's old. It's brief. It's unforgiving. And in some ways it's compelling... OK, so is it actually good?

That depends more than usual on your own attitude to games, but you don't have to be some faded geek in rose tinted glasses to enjoy it. At least, not once you've found how to change the difficulty to 'easy'.

Contra was an (apparently) popular top-down scrolling shooter in the oldest of old-school styles, though it mixed directions to create a feeling of 3D.

This new version (hence the 'Neo' - nothing to do with The Matrix) is actually 3D, which is allegedly something we should be excited about.

However, the game works in exactly the same way. Still. Never mind, eh?

There's not much time for sightseeing anyway. One hit kills you. Touching an enemy kills you. At times, avoiding all the bullets, rockets, blade-swinging soldiers and electrical attacks is like throwing a letter through a postbox from the end of the garden.

In a storm. It's incredibly hard, and with only five lives with which to finish an entire level - which includes a boss fight - near-endless repetition is the order of the day.

Fortunately, that Easy setting we mentioned gives you 30 lives instead, letting beginners at least see more than the first five minutes.

You might think four levels is pretty paltry (and you might be right) but with such concentrated action, it's not the problem it could be. Even on Easy it's going to take a few hours to complete - on Normal, possibly days.

And it's all about experience, knowledge. At first, when you don't know the attack patterns of the many enemies, it's easy to be overwhelmed.

But keep at it and you build an understanding that lets you avoid pain and exploit the inevitable weak spots. It's a classic gameplay tactic.

Each character has three weapon sets, but really there's little between them bar the look - each has a targeted missile, a high-rate-of-fire type thing and a grenade thing.

There's also little difference between the characters, and both appear in the utterly ludicrous cutscenes whether they were there in-game or not.

It's always intense, however - a pace unlike 'normal' games now - making other 3D shooters look snail's pace. And just how much of a change you want will determine your feelings about Neo Contra: it's undeniably old, absurd, brief and unforgiving.

But if the parade of war-based first-person shooters aren't lighting you up any more, it could be exactly what you need.

Neo Contra is out for PS2 on 25 February

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