© DATA EAST (1991)
GENRE: FPS / ACTION
Exclusive to the PC Engine / TurboGrafx 16, Silent Debuggers was developed by Data East and published by NEC International in 1991. The game is presented in a pseudo 3D style and is one of the earliest examples of the first person shooter while also mixing in elements akin to that of a survival horror game.
The story follows the exploits of two mercenaries come treasure hunters known as Debuggers. Leon and his unnamed sidekick are assigned to investigate the space station Gane which has remained abandoned following a bizarre incident some years prior. Once on board it becomes apparent that something isn’t quite right and the situation quickly escalates as the two Debuggers accidentally trigger a self destruct security program. With the whole station in lockdown the duo find themselves with just 100 minutes before the place blows and to make matters worse the seemingly abandoned space station is littered with a host of hostile alien creatures. As one half of the Debugger duo it is your job to clear the eerie corridors of the station one floor at a time and make your escape. Reminiscent of the classic movie Alien, the game creates a sense of impending doom, building a tense and uneasy atmosphere that plays on the fear of not knowing what’s lurking in the shadows.
THE SPACE STATION GANE
The interior of the station features a total of six floors and one central core block which functions as an elevator between them. The core block is made up of a further eight individual blocks labelled A through H and a Computer Room which runs the whole facility. Certain lettered blocks within the core control the stations various functions such as power, lighting, and sensors. Outside of the core each stage is home to a maze of corridors which become larger and more complex the further down you go, in order to unlock the next level each one must be cleared of all alien lifeforms.
Initially the whole station can be slightly overbearing but a little orientation goes a long way, becoming familiar with the core layout and what each block is used for will stand you in good stead for the mission at hand. At first glance the design of the station appears rather bland, narrow identical looking corridors lack any distinctive details and seem never ending however this lack of detail greatly adds to the overwhelming dread, making you feel isolated and lost at times. Similar in design is the games sparse soundtrack, with no background music the tension is cranked up even further. Trawling the vast station often becomes a lonely experience, only the echo of footsteps and faint blinking of the motion sensor offers a break from the ominous silence.
DEFEND THE CORE!
The lettered blocks within the central core house a number of rooms which carry vital resources and throughout the game these blocks come under constant attack. If a block is destroyed by a rogue alien then the resource within becomes unavailable and the block is locked down. This introduces a fun and interesting element to the gameplay, requiring you to carefully monitor and manage each resource, failing to do so will have catastrophic effects. Destruction of blocks B and F will lead to a power outage causing the lights and sensor equipment to fail, if blocks C and G are destroyed you will lose the ability to recharge health and reload weapons. To aid you in the fight your sidekick Leon will provide radio assistance whenever a block is under attack as well as gifting you a few nifty gadgets to make the process easier. It doesn’t take long for the blocks to perish so it is important to act quickly, this creates a sense of desperate panic which really elevates the gameplay and although the core blocks must be protected at any cost the game actually becomes more interesting when you lose a few!
SHOOT TO KILL!
Given that the game is all about wiping out hoards of alien creatures it is perhaps the weakest part of Silent Debuggers. The combat system is rather basic and the aliens offer little or no challenge especially if you have a powerful weapon equipped. Enemy variation is also lacking visually with the same sprite being used for each monster albeit in a different color. As for the weapons, you start the game with a basic handgun type blaster and have the option of carrying two more additional weapons. The arsenal is quite creative with six different guns available all of which have their own unique characteristics and ammo, this adds a small tactical element to the game. Although the confrontations can be underwhelming the game still does a brilliant job at keeping you engaged through the use of a blinking motion sensor to track targets. This adds a level of apprehension to the hunt which is greatly increased if the sensor becomes faulty and this is what makes Silent Debuggers so enjoyable. Each colored alien has their own traits, some will charge and try to flank you while others will run, forcing you to give chase!
THE BOTTOM LINE
Its safe to say that Silent Debuggers isn’t everybody’s cup of tea and reviewers often write it off as a glammed up dungeon crawler without really giving it a chance. Yes the graphics aren’t the best and the alien encounters may leave a lot to be desired but if you allow yourself to become immersed in the experience Silent Debuggers is a real gem. There are little nuisances which the game pulls off to perfection, it creates an atmosphere which doesn’t give you an inch of breathing space and allows you no time to dawdle. It’s hard to put into words and I don’t believe you can get a true sense of the game until you actually play it.