Oh, Digital Age. You bring such convenience to our lives, but no-one told us there would be a cost!
After our lengthy Sega discussion on the pilot episode of The MoeGamer Podcast, I was in the mood to boot up After Burner Climax on PS3. Thankfully, this has sat proudly on my PS3’s hard drive ever since I bought it back on its original release back in 2010… because you can’t buy it online any more!
Yes, After Burner Climax was one of the earliest casualties of the age in which we live, getting delisted from both the Xbox 360 Marketplace and the PS3’s PlayStation Store in 2014. So join me as we pour one out for an arcade classic for which you really had to be there…
As you’ll know if you listened to the podcast, I loved Sega’s jet fighter arcade games growing up, particularly After Burner follow-up G-LOC. Somehow I never learned of the existence of 2006’s After Burner Climax in the arcades, however — perhaps due to the fact that arcades have never really been a “thing” over here in the UK, except in touristy seaside towns. Or perhaps because I haven’t really been to an arcade since about 1999.
Thankfully, I was given the opportunity to make up for lost time with the digital-only console release of the game… and I most certainly embraced that opportunity fully. It was a new After Burner game, yo, and after the wondrousness that was OutRun 2 (and related media) I had complete faith in Sega to update one of their all-time classics with modern tech. I wasn’t disappointed.
On the off-chance you’re unfamiliar with After Burner, the concept is pretty simple. You take control of a jet fighter plane (an F-14 Tomcat in the original After Burner, a choice of three real-world fighter jets in Climax) from a third-person perspective and are tasked with blowing absolutely everything up while attempting to not get blown up yourself. You’re armed with guns and missiles, the latter of which in Climax’s case adopt a lock-on system somewhat similar to Sega classics Panzer Dragoon and Rez: move a cursor over an enemy to target it, then unleash your missiles when you’ve locked on to a bunch of things for maximum explosiveness.
The original After Burner saw you simply progressing through a series of very similar missions, each of which was accompanied by different ground scenery. Climax adds a little more depth to the mix with some variety in its levels, drawing a bit of inspiration from G-LOC along the way. As well as flying at high-speed (and low altitude) over various rather scenic locales (complete with “Sega blue skies”), you’ll also find yourself flying through canyons, avoiding enemy searchlights and even negotiating tunnel networks and buildings in your aircraft. Ace Combat it ain’t — your field of movement is very restricted, and you’re always flying “forward” like a 2D shoot ’em up — but it’s certainly one hell of a thrill ride, particularly considering the sheer speed of the experience.
The “Climax” part of After Burner Climax’s title comes from the Climax meter. This gradually builds up as you play, and, when full, can be used for a temporary bit of “slow motion” coupled with a larger aiming sight and infinite missiles. This is great for clearing out particularly dense formations of enemies, and is essential to obtaining high scores. It’s also very useful in the levels where fast reactions are required to avoid obstacles!
The other main addition to the basic formula After Burner Climax adds is Emergency Orders. These are special, optional objectives that pop up in some levels, and vary from remaining undetected by the aforementioned searchlights to destroying a specific target before the end of the level. Completing all of these in a single playthrough allows you to progress to the “secret” final missions and see the true ending of the game, but since they all present a fairly stiff challenge on top of what the game already expects you to do, it’ll take some practice before you get there.
Thankfully, you can help yourself out a bit with the addition of something called “EX Options”, which gradually unlock by meeting various conditions throughout gameplay and can be used in subsequent playthroughs of the Arcade mode. Some are pretty simple — get a Game Over a certain number of times and you can increase the number of times you can continue, for example. Others change the gameplay up a little bit by automatically firing your guns or making the “lock-on” sight bigger, smaller or invisible, for example. And others still are purely aesthetic choices, such as the ability to switch off smoke effects for missiles and/or explosions.
The “EX Options” in After Burner Climax are one of the most old-school things I’ve seen Sega do. They’re strongly reminiscent of the sort of things you’d see in a Mega Drive-era options menu… or perhaps after entering a cheat code. They provide plenty of variety to a game that is already highly replayable — and if you want a more “pure” experience without these options, you can either turn them off or play the dedicated “Score Attack” mode, in which you have infinite lives, but have to live with all the default settings. For those truly itching for a retro-authentic After Burner experience, you can even choose to play with the FM synthesis music from After Burner II instead of Climax’s more modern soundtrack.
After Burner Climax is one of those games that initially seems to be extremely simple — shallow, even — but spending more time with it reveals an experience that becomes more rewarding the more practice you put in and the greater mastery you attain. The two distinct experiences the highly customisable Arcade mode and the more strict Score Attack mode provide allow you to tailor your time with the game according to how you like to play — and there’s plenty of incentive to play both modes, with a plethora of unlockable EX Options and medals providing a ton of replayability.
After Burner Climax is a reminder of the good old days of Sega: of blue skies, big numbers and simple-to-understand, difficult-to-master gameplay — and of games that were as spectacular to watch as they were to play. It’s a crying shame that you can no longer buy this game — but for those of us who were there, it’s a very fond memory of Sega doing what it has always done best.
More about After Burner Climax
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