Simplicity is no bad thing: simplicity was regarded as such a wonderful criterion for the choice of viable scientific theories by the likes of Thomas Kuhn as it is capable of bringing order to seemingly disparate phenomena and unifying them without unnecessary multiplication of entities leading to potential confusion or a state of affair where a theory might well be untestable. Afterburner: Climax is an incredibly simple game that relies pretty much solely on the player moving a military-specification aeroplane left, right, up or down in order to avoid oncoming projectiles, while allowing them to issue their own projectiles (a choice between missiles and an undefined “gun”) in the general direction of enemy aircraft, sea units and ground units in a desperate bid to survive at unnervingly high speeds of travel. It is simply not a creature of our time: this is a game designed around high-score chasing rather than convoluted narrative; a game designed for completion within fifteen minutes; a game that is about viscera rather than the occupation of any rational faculty.
Perhaps the above description of the gameplay is a little incomplete, if not unfair: through sharp banking, the player can also perform an evasive roll, the animation of which proves incredibly disorienting, accelerate or decelerate as appropriate and enter “Climax Mode” with a nudge of R1. In Climax Mode, the player’s lock-on reticle for the lock-on function of the missile launchers increases in size, time slows down and the player-controlled aircraft seems to enter some sort of alternate dimension in which missiles are as common as molecules of water in the open areas of water that define much of the game’s backdrop. Entering this mode consumes the reserves of the Climax Meter, which can be restored through shooting down enemies in the air, on the ground or at sea. Perhaps it was also unfair to refer to the gameplay as merely involving dodging incoming rockets and shooting enemy units: there are also some mechanics that add a little variety that a little more dynamism to the underlying game: at certain points within the campaign, the player will be issued with special missions (such as “destroy this stealth fighter which missiles will not lock on to”) to complete for extra points.
The fact is, though, that none of the added complexities mentioned above really add anything to the experience. It is always nice to be spoiled for choice in how one goes about completing a game, but given the sheer pace of the action in the game, thought enough to use the roll; to use Climax Mode; to care too much about completion of the special missions indicates only that whatever poor, unengaged soul is playing the game is not engrossed enough in the game to be completely taken away by the surprisingly technical methods associated with evading incoming missiles and the incredible beauty of the scenery. They are simply playing it wrong: this is a twitch game designed to take you out of higher-level thinking in favour of putting the autonomic nervous system in control; this is a game designed to celebrate the lowest-level of mental function; this is a game designed to compel one to “one more play” from the most base form of scoreboard-oriented competition.
There are conceits to more modern narrative arrangements within videogames: the game has multiple endings, but it is not immediately apparent how these are acheived; there are a series of unlockable “EX Options” for the arcade mode of the game, allowing for a series of options that serve to alter the difficulty of gameplay by either hindering the player (by making the gun less powerful, for example) or by helping (through making the missile lock-on reticle larger), perhaps taking away from the brutal spirit that should define arcade games and their propensity to bleed people dry of any loose change they may have the misfortune to be carrying on any given day, but definitely making the game more accessible to the newcomer. It must be said again, however: none of this really matters. The game is an experience utterly incomparable to most others in terms of its speed and visceral nature: it acts as proof that accurately modelling every detail of a human face is not the way to get emotions into video games – all that needs to be done is to fling a player towards enemies at great pace.