A minigame that can be unlocked in multi-format console game TimeSplitters 2, AstroLander is the game of kings. Almost holy in its simplicity, with a trippy soundtrack and exactly four sound effects to boot. In this game, there's only one rule: gravity. No randomness, no weapons, no NPCs, no AI. Just you versus harsh, real-world physics. And strangely addictive it is, too. From this old-skool simplicity emerges a game where the truly high scores are obtained only by skill and skill alone.
This FAQ will offer plenty of good advice as to how to beat the game to start with - see "Detailed Gameplay Information" for that kind of stuff. However, completion is not the main excitement factor in AstroLander; after a while, even beating Hard mode isn't very entertaining in itself. High scores are where it's at, and world records. Therefore this document is mainly geared towards those who want to get high scores.
Well, here we go.
And now, onto the FAQ proper.
Unlocking AstroLander in the first place is already quite a challenge, and requires you to be reasonably good at Story Mode. If you can't do all this off your own bat, refer to a Story Mode FAQ.
Enter Story Mode and play through on Normal mode until you reach NeoTokyo. Play the level through (still in Normal mode) until you've entered the hackers' hideout. Find the room where you upload the data to the police. Look on the back wall for some lockers. Open them up; the AstroLander cartridge is found inside. Once you pick it up, you can play it at any time during the level, but you don't have it permanently. To make AstroLander permanently available during any Story Mode mission, you have to grab the cartridge and finish the level alive too.
To play AstroLander, enter any Story Mode mission and bring out your Temporal Uplink. Press Manual Reload (Y by default) to activate the old-school games menu. Scroll down with the D-pad then press A to select AstroLander. Again, scroll and press A to select a difficulty setting.
The aim of this game is to safely land your ship on the white landing pad, while avoiding crashing into the rocks. At the same time, you also aim to expend as little fuel as possible, to land as close to the centre of the pad as possible and to land with minimal velocity, in order to gain a higher score. Land safely and the game adds up your score, then proceeds to the next level. There are eleven levels. After the eleventh is completed successfully, the game is finished.
You begin with four spare ships. If you land at too high a speed, land at the wrong angle, or so much as touch the green rocky landscape, you'll crash and lose your ship, then start the level again. Crash five times and the game is over.
After the game ends, you'll get awarded your final score, and possibly entered on the high score charts.
Move the main joystick left or right to rotate your ship anticlockwise or clockwise respectively. Press A to fire your thruster. Those are all the controls in this game. It's a minimalist set-up, much like Super Monkey Ball 1 and 2 for the same console. (Incidentally, experience with those two games will help you a lot here. Delicate control on the stick is fundamental to your success.) You can also use left and right on the D-pad to rotate your ship, but there is less accuracy with this method. Oh, and hit Start to pause and unpause the game.
Gravity pulls you down. The thruster pushes you in the direction your ship is facing. In accordance with Newton's First Law of Motion (and the fact that there's no air resistance on whatever planet this is), if you are moving sideways you will continue to move sideways until you thrust in the opposite direction. In other words, if you start moving horizontally, you will KEEP moving horizontally regardless of how fast you are moving upwards or plummeting downwards. You will keep moving horizontally until you thrust horizontally in the opposite direction and cancel that motion out. Also, it takes energy (= fuel) to raise and lower your craft. Therefore, you should fly over hills leaving as small a gap as possible, and similarly pass under overhangs as closely as possible, to minimise the amount of fuel used.
Easy, Medium, Hard. So simple, and yet so devilishly complex in its apparent simplicity, this trio of similar yet somehow totally alien difficulty settings unites to... create a synthesis of... uh...
The main difference between Easy, Medium and Hard is the gravity strength. You get the same points system, the same levels, the same number of ships to start with, and the same amount of fuel. It's just that in Easy mode your ship will waft slowly to the ground like a feather, in Medium mode it'll descend in a leisurely but still disconcertingly rapid manner, and in Hard mode, it'll drop like a stone.
To counteract the increasing gravitational field, your thruster is actually stronger on higher difficulty levels, too. In effect, you accelerate faster whether pulled by gravity or propelled by rocket. In other words MEDIUM AND HARD MODES ARE JUST LIKE EASY MODE, ONLY FASTER. Except you don't turn any faster in Medium or Hard modes. You turn at the same rate. What this basically means is that on higher difficulty settings the theoretical maximum scores are exactly the same, but you'd require considerably higher skills on the joystick and delicacy with the thruster to achieve them. Because your reactions are effectively lengthened and your turning speeds aren't as fast, your score will decrease, and there's nothing that can be reasonably done about this.
Going straight to Hard mode is inadvisable. Practice on Easy to get the hang of the levels and the game itself, then move up to Medium. Then go to Hard when you feel ready. The difference in gravity between difficulty levels is actually pretty sharp and can make a lot of difference to the way you play (and the amount of success you have). On Easy, AstroLander is a very sedate and relaxing game. On Hard, it actually becomes a game of speed and reactions.
You can actually play Hard mode in preparation for Easy mode - this helps your scores immensely.
At the end of each of the eleven levels, you'll be awarded a points score which is added to your total. The score is counted in three categories: Fuel Bonus (which is based on your Fuel Remaining; see later for much more information), Landing Speed Bonus, and Landing Accuracy Bonus. I'll examine these in reverse order.
In general a Fuel Bonus will vary between 0 for some levels and 12000 for others. On the other hand, LAB and LSB are ALWAYS awarded out of 10000 and roughly 4000 respectively. Where there's a very variable points bonus for fuel, there is a DEAD-CERT 14000 up for grabs for EVERY landing. In other words, points-wise, LANDING IS EVERYTHING.
Landing Accuracy Bonus (LAB) is based on how close to the centre of the landing pad you manage to land, and how close to upright your Lander is when you do so. Ideally you are pointing exactly vertically upwards and positioned directly in the centre of the pad. On a worse run you might be off-centre when you land, or tilted slightly to the left or right (the ship will still land safely up to a certain angle - tilt by more than about ten degrees and even if you hit the pad accurately you'll still crash). The LAB is awarded out of 10000 points on every level, and position and angle of landing contribute in equal parts. A really skewed landing at the middle will get you about 3000 points, and a perfect flat landing at the very edge will get 5000 or thereabouts. It's not too much to expect a score of over 8000 for pretty much every level, and over 9000 is very respectable. Exactly 10000 has only ever been achieved once to my knowledge - it's extremely difficult to do since you need to actually be BETTER than pixel-perfect. There is a degree of luck involved.
Landing Speed Bonus (LSB) is based upon how softly you land your ship. Bringing it crashing down on the pad and you'll crash and burn. Land with a big (but not too big) bump, and you'll get very low points. Land as softly as a feather and you'll get plenteous pointage. A hard landing is around 3 digits (lowest I've seen was 27), while a typical landing is between 2000 and 4000.
However, well above 4000 is possible, though I've never seen higher than 5000. The upper limit for this score is therefore very hard to judge. I believe one of two things are possible: one, the LSB is awarded out of a maximum of 5000, or two, the LSB is inversely proportional to landing speed in which case the theoretical maximum would be infinite if one was to land at zero speed (which is of course impossible... or is it?). I'm inclined towards the former, but if you have more information that could help shed light on this situation, I'd love to know it. Email me.
Either way, higher scores than 4000 are very hard to obtain and 2000-4000 is considered typical and acceptable.
Fuel Bonus is based upon the percentage of fuel remaining in your tanks when you land. Percentages vary EXTREMELY widely from level to level. Theoretically it can go between 0% and 100%. It is entirely feasible to land with no fuel remaining if you run out while sufficiently close to the pad (I've done it a number of times on level 9 on Hard). However, 100% is by definition impossible, and in practice it's very difficult indeed to get to the pad with more than about 80% fuel remaining on ANY level. (Your best chance at this is on level 7, the narrow crevasse - let me know if you beat 80%!)
The Fuel Bonus is also calculated differently according to each level. It is awarded out of a maximum of 14000, 16000, 18000, 20000, 21000 or 32000 points. The maximum fuel bonus is noted alongside each level in the listings below. Because of the massive variation in the multiplication factor and finishing percentage, it's impossible to state a typical Fuel Bonus. The total available Fuel Bonus for the whole game is 211,000 points but don't expect to get more than about half of that in total.
To calculate a fuel bonus, you take your Fuel Remaining, divide by one hundred, and multiply by maximum possible bonus. Example:
Fuel Remaining: 33.6%
Maximum Fuel Bonus for Level 4: 16000
Fuel Bonus = 33.6 / 100 x 16000 = 5376 points.
Basically, to maximise your points, you want to land as close to the middle and as upright and as slowly as possible.
There are 10000 + 4000 = 14000 points (sometimes more) at stake for each level, or a potential 154000 over the whole game, REGARDLESS OF DIFFICULTY. Meanwhile you maximum Fuel Bonus is at most half of 211,000. The best score on Easy is roughly 250000, and landing bonuses made up more than half of that. In other words, LANDING IS EVERYTHING.
Landing is a tricky business, and the most annoying factor in landing is this: when you land accidentally while completely off-centre and at a bad angle, giving a low LAB and a low LSB BUT TAKING YOU TO THE NEXT LEVEL ANYWAY, thus giving you a lousy score for a level you could've done well on. That's really annoying.
Landing takes place in two phases.
The first thing you need to do is to be directly above the middle of the pad with zero horizontal speed. This is a case of getting skilful at killing your horizontal motion quickly without fuss. It's basically a matter of skill and practice and experience. It's also very difficult. You need to be very delicate on the thruster, and when you overshoot and end up moving in the opposite direction, you need to have time to turn the ship around before you thrust in the opposite direction. On Hard it's the turning that takes the time, which makes the lining-up very hard.
On levels where you have a clear vertical descent to the pad (like the first three) you're well-advised to get the lining-up done very much in advance. This gives you plenty more time for correction to horizontal motion while you descend.
Now you'll be near the middle of the pad, with nearly zero lateral (lateral means sideways) velocity. The slight drift that you won't be able to get rid of shouldn't be a problem unless this next bit takes a while to do, and you end up drifting away from the middle of the pad.
Gently allow the ship to descend vertically, tapping on the thruster to keep it as close to zero speed as possible. Aim to let the ship reach the pad JUST as you reduce the speed to zero, or maybe a pixel before or later.
Since you're trying to go slow here this bit might take a long while, meaning that even with a very slight lateral velocity you will drift away from the exact centre before you get to land. If this happens you can either elect to land anyway and take the low LAB, or you can turn diagonally, thrust briefly and try the landing over again. This wastes fuel and therefore reduces your Fuel Bonus. Either way, it's better to get it right first time.
There are eleven levels which are probably supposed to increase in difficulty as you go along. However, the best I can say about the difficulty curve is that the first level is easy and the last level is hard. In the middle, they vary enormously.
LANDING IS THE SAME FOR EVERY LEVEL, SO IT HAS A SEPARATE SECTION. These guides will take you as far as the pad, no further. See "Landing", earlier on.
On levels 2 and 3, if you head right from the start, instead of left, you'll eventually reach a point where the green line representing the rocks just stops. Between there and the physical edge of the level (beyond which the screen refuses to scroll) is a small gap through which it is possible to navigate down. Then you can fly around underneath the level!
Not only that, it's also possible to LAND from underneath the level! You need to be very careful. Gently approach the landing pad from underneath, and very carefully touch the nose of your craft against the underside of the top of the pad. If you touched it gently enough, it will register as a low-LAB landing and you can move onto the next level!
In case you were curious, they are:
Not very interesting fact: sometimes, if the thrust effect is playing while you land, the score effects will not play while the first few scores are being added up.
You can download the music track from AstroLander, along with all the other TS2 music, from this page.