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Silent Debuggers

Data East is a company that liked to do things a little bit differently with a number of their games. While a sizable chunk of their releases adhere to common video game genres, there are plenty of games in their library that aren’t afraid to experiment and sometimes are pioneers in new, burgeoning genres. A very good example of this is Silent Debuggers on the TurboGrafx-16 / PC Engine, which was a very early example of a first-person shooter years before such games would go on to become the ultra popular mainstays that they are today.

Taking place in the distant future, the Earth has just gotten out of a major war. Humans have begun the healing process and set out for the stars in a big way. That being said, there are a number of ex-soldiers who have been sent adrift since the ending of hostilities, unsure of what they should do with themselves. Some have gone on to become mercenaries or treasure hunters, and this is where the Silent Debuggers come in. They’re a band of treasure hunters who have come upon a space station that has ceased communication. When they board the thing to investigate, they discover that the place has been overrun by mysterious aliens. Worse still, the main computer suddenly comes online and identifies the alien threat, then proceeds to commence a self destruct sequence. This leaves the player hustling to destroy the aliens before the station explodes in order to stop the computer from completing this task.

If that sounds pretty intense, that’s because it is, and the game goes out of its way to emphasize this throughout. As mentioned earlier, Silent Debuggers is a very early first-person shooter. Up until this point, most games to go for this perspective were RPGs like Wizardry or Might and Magic. Other genres didn’t really use it yet. Even Wolfenstein 3D wasn’t out when Silent Debuggers released. Because of the game’s first-person viewpoint, players were left always having to be mindful of an alien sneaking up on them as one could only see in front of them and would have to turn around to double check their flanks and rear. This not knowing where enemies might attack from could be very scary.

To help track the enemies, players had an audio-based proximity sensor. As someone got close to an alien, the sensor would begin to beep, first slowly, then gradually faster and faster until they were right on top of it. This helped give players a hint to how close they were to the creatures they were hunting. At the same time, though, it further added to the tension because often that sensor would be beeping like crazy and the player would not know exactly where the alien was. It could be in the next corridor, around the corner, or right behind them! Things got really scary with the sensor screaming all the while not knowing where the threat was coming from.

Moreover, Silent Debuggers really has a thing for time limits. Not only are players racing against the clock to stop the station from self destructing, but they also have to worry about the computer identifying threats moving to a specific block on a given floor of the station and locking it down, turning off the power and making it uninhabitable. As one progresses through the game, they become inundated with difficult situations that require them to hustle in order to deal with them. In the end, the game proceeds to place layer upon layer of tension onto the player.

If there’s one thing that may add a slight feeling of security, it’s the arsenal of weapons at one’s disposal. They can go to the COM room whenever they like and talk to their partner about what weapons they want to use, selecting a loadout that looks like it will be helpful as well as grabbing items and taking a chance to double check how many aliens still need to be killed on that floor. The weapons are a big help in defeating aliens faster but players still need to be careful as they have limited ammunition, and burning through that too quickly will result in having to rely on a standard issue pistol, which doesn’t hit very hard.

Visually, the game has a very anime-inspired feel to it, especially with the humans. Aliens can get a bit repetitive as many of them look quite similar with their color palettes swapped. Meanwhile, given that this is a space station, bulkheads and pipes are the order of the day while exploring it, so expect to see a lot of those. There is a fair bit of repetition, but those who like 80s style anime art will probably enjoy the graphics.

For a lot of people, first-person shooters didn’t really take off until Wolfenstein 3D came out. That doesn’t mean there weren’t earlier attempts at the genre. Silent Debuggers is definitely one of the most interesting of these. Those looking for an early foray into these sorts of games and who fancy the idea of constantly being stressed out as they worry about where the next alien attack will come from would do well to take Silent Debuggers for a spin.

- IroIro
May 1, 2019

Platform: PC Engine
Genre: Action
Developer: Data East
Publisher: Data East
Released: 1991

Silent Debuggers Image 1
PC Engine Box Art

Silent Debuggers Image 2
One of the many aliens on the station

Silent Debuggers Image 3
Players' partner will give mission briefs

Silent Debuggers Image 4
The station is quite large

Silent Debuggers Image 5
Players will be seeing a lot of gray bulkheads in their journey