Ray Force
by sunburstbasser



Ray Force is a vertical shooter which may have a story involving blowing stuff up. The story is actually pretty detailed, just not in the game.

Ray Force was released in 1993 to show off the full capabilities of the then-new F3 system. Taito chose to use a shmup as their showpiece. To create the illusion of depth with their 2D sprites and backgrounds, Taito used the Xevious system, having separate ground and air enemies. When the game was ported to the Japanese Saturn, the name was changed to Layer Section to reflect the different layers of enemies and backgrounds. Outside of Japan, the arcade game was called Gunlock, which also makes sense. The US Saturn port received the title Galactic Attack, which is the least inspired title for a video game since Space War.

The story behind Ray Force is effectively Terminator or The Matrix. A computer, Con-Human, runs most of the world, becomes sentient, and kills off 99.8% of all humans. The few survivors flee into space, and Con-Human is chasing them down. Humanity's only chance is a prototype fighter more powerful than any other weapon ever made, sent on a one-way mission to destroy Con-Human. Interestingly, while the game offers no narrative, the stages themselves each have a theme that works with the story.

Pressing the A button fires your main gun. Unlike many shooters I've reviewed lately, your main gun is fully automatic, and has a good rate of fire. No need for turbo controllers or button mashing. The B button fires your homing lasers, powerful beams that twist in a unique fashion that became standard in many Taito shmups afterwards. Collecting three red powerups or a single yellow one will power up your main guns, collecting a laser adds one to the total number of lock-ons you can have at once. The maximum is eight.

The scoring system is very easy to pick up. When your reticle passes over a viable target, it will lock on. Keep moving, and you can lock on up to 8 targets at once if you have a full laser stock. When you fire your lasers, each enemy destroyed will give an ascending point value, going from x2 for two lasers to x256 for all eight lasers. Killing a single enemy, or using your gun, will not give any bonus. Picking up extra powerups gives a small score bonus.

Ray Force's graphics are excellent. Everything is crisp and detailed. The scaling is smooth and fluid. In a nice touch, enemies below you appear darker, and enemies above you appear brighter than if they were on your plane. Backgrounds can swirl around and even twist sideways, like in the second stage where you dive through a grid on your way to the moon. While arguably not the graphical highlight, I enjoy just watching the homing lasers twist and head towards their targets.

Zuntata's musicians were at their best for Ray Force. Maybe to complement the layers of gameplay, many of the songs have numerous layers of instrumentation. The first stage song, "Penetration," has a melody, bass line, and percussion standing out, but also has flourishes and a countermelody. Explosions are big and sharp, and your weapon noises never get irritating.

Ray Force does have a rank system. The rank goes from 0 to 7, starting at 1. Each time you beat a stage or get an extend, the rank goes up by one. Each time you die, rank goes down by one. Rank mostly affects bullet speed, and while a lot of points are available you won't be able to suicide your way through the game. No matter what you do, even at low rank this game is hard.


STAGE 1: RED POWER TO PIERCE THROUGH



You start far out in space, beyond the orbit of the moon. The frontal force of Con-Human's army has reached you, and this is your only chance to save humanity. This level is pretty simple, with most of the ground targets not even firing at you and targets on your plane being either weak or having minor attacks. Practice getting lots of lock-ons, this stage has a couple opportunities for easy x256 scoring.

The boss starts out by sitting below you, and shooting at you with it's arms. When these are blown off, it comes up to your level. It uses a few bullet spreads and some lasers, but shouldn't pose much problem.


STAGE 2: THE GRAVITY OF BLUE SIDE



Building an army requires resources. Hollow out a moon, and you'll have a lot of metal to work with. Right away this stage does two things you'll need to get used to. The first one is the lines of enemies. For the rest of the game, enemies will come in lines, often many at once, and you'll need to learn how to avoid aimed bullets coming from multiple directions while still destroying enemies. The second thing is the targets beneath you. While not as common, you have targets below you that don't attack, and can't ram you. They are strictly for points. When you reach the moon, you can see it's curvature in the background as you destroy the battleship.



When you leave the moon, you'll see two fleets below you. One is Con- Human, the other is the diversion so that you could get through. As your allies are slaughtered, the boss appears. This round enemy has two gun pods, two hangars, and a central weak spot. The gun pods can be destroyed with your gun, but the rest is only vulnerable to your lasers. When the boss takes enough damage, it goes wireframe. This is the state you will defeat it in. Try to get it with as many locks as possible for a good score.


STAGE 3: THE PHANTASM OF SILVER



If the rest of the game just played like a harder Stage 2, it would be good but nothing special. Stage 3 is where the game really starts taking off in design, creativity, and difficulty. You descend into the atmosphere, and for a brief moment the craters of war are visible beneath the clouds. The midboss appears right at the beginning of the level. Destroy his arms for points, but lock on to his body to kill him. When the clouds dissipate, you'll get to see all kinds of towering islands. It's a little hard to see, but it looks like each island is resting on top of a tower. The land below is brown and lifeless. Enemies can fly underneath these towers, and pop up to strike you. One island is actually connected by metal arms to adjacent islands. Blow up the arms with your laser, and watch the island plummet to the ground.

The boss is a big bomber. The tail underneath it is the weak point. On the fuselage are two rotating turrets, which I pumped a bunch of lasers into but could not destroy. On either wing are four rotating cannons. These cannons don't have much health, but constantly regenerate after being destroyed. If you can manage it, they can be milked for 1,000 points each. I suggest concentrating on the tail when possible, as if the boss times out it will run into you as it leaves the screen.


STAGE 4: THE FISSURE OF CONSCIOUSNESS



You've descended to the surface. While parts of it look alive, it is a facade. Doors will open up for enemies to pop out of, revealing metal far into the ground. This stage has lots of land enemies, and when they fire at you their bullets will take time to reach you. It is safe to momentarily sit right on top of their bullets, so long as you move before they hit your plane.

The ground splits in half, and guarding the inner Earth is a four legged machine that clings to the walls of the canyon. Each leg has a gun which can fire homing lasers similar to your own. The legs can be damaged with your gun, but the body must be hit with lasers usually. Occasionally, it will rise up to shoot at you and your gun can be used at this point. This boss can be killed both by shooting at the body and by blowing the legs off, causing it to drop to it's demise.

STAGE 5: INTO THE DARKNESS



You dive into the crack in Earth's crust, only to see...a city? All of Earth's guts have been scooped out, and metal and pavement slammed down all over. This was done by humanity, and Con-Human was made to regulate it, and making it easy to dispose of pesky humans. The skyscrapers in this stage are made by layering multiple sprites on top of each other, a technique Sega was quite adept at using in their Super Scaler games. The enemies are able to fly underneath roadways and behind buildings, similar to Souky's first level. Unlike that level, the tanks on the roads are all hostile and will shoot at you. The bullets start getting very dense in this stage, especially if you can't kill the enemies that rise and fire spreads quickly.

The boss is one of those standard shmup enemies, the huge mech. His shoulders have lightning guns, which fire purple lightning that takes a random path. It might go around you or through you. He also has both lasers and orbs that follow you, and some spreads. Most of this fight is done with the gun, as unless you damage him he can't be targeted with the laser.


STAGE 6: THE END OF DEEP LAYER



You are deep in the planet now. Artificial corridors have taken the place of the Earth's mantle. Below you, enemies will pop up from even deeper reaches. For the midboss, you actually chase it down, trying to destroy it as it spits out bullets and plants turrets. Towards the end of the stage are triangular connectors with pipes extending from multiple sides, as well as down. You must shoot your way through these pipes. If you manage to destroy all of the pipes connecting one of those triangles and the pipe underneath it, the triangle will plummet to the ground, then rise up as new pipe is made.

The boss is a stationary guardian with a couple shoulder cannons. Destroy the shoulder cannons, and use your laser on the center. It can fire homing lasers that are quite fast. It's worst attack are the orbs, which fire a blast of three aimed lasers if not destroyed quickly. Many orbs can be on screen at once.


STAGE 7: RELEASING INFINITELY



This stage isn't too bad. After the last two, it's a bit of a cakewalk. You continue deeper into the Earth until you reach a tower. When you arrive at the top of the tower, you can see the city curving back in towards you. This is the hollowed out center of the Earth, and the location of Con-Human. Most of the enemies are easy to deal with here. Below you, enemies are so small and densely packed that you can max out your lock-ons multiple times very quickly. One portion right before the boss is full of ground targets. Take out as many as possible to fully power up your gun, max out your laser stock, and get lots of points for destruction and for item pickup.



Con-Human's body is a green mech with two pieces. During the first phase, it is connected to the tower with lightning which is not harmful. When the upper body detaches, the intensity gets kicked up. Along with mines, homing lasers, and bullet spreads, Con-Human has some new attacks. It can fire off a black hole. Fire your lasers, they'll go right at it without lock ons, as fast as possible. In the final form, the boss puts up some barriers. Sit so that your reticle is right on top of the targeting point, and you'll have enough room to move around. This is much easier than the preceding section.



The body of Con-Human is destroyed, but Con-Human remains. In the ending cutscene, your space babe targets the actual computer, and blows it to pieces. Cut to a shot of the Earth from space, as it explodes. No planetary explosion in a video game will ever top Super Metroid's, but this one is still pretty good. The R-Gray fighter that got us this far can be seen in the rubble, battered but intact. As you wait for the thrusters to fire up, you'll be treated to a cockpit view.



The computer monitor underneath the shattered canopy is barely functioning.

Mission Complete.

Powering Down.

Thanks Space Babe.

Overall:







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