Tempest 4000 Review – Storms of Yesteryear

A Wave From the Grave

In the quickly evolving world of video games, it is sometimes necessary to look behind us to gauge just exactly how far we’ve come and to rediscover the value of what’s been left behind. Among the many iconic games of the first few decades in which computer games made their emergence, Tempest holds its own as it implemented what was at the time groundbreaking software engineering, both visually and in gameplay. Many a – ahem – more seasoned player can reminisce on hours and hours spent on the challenge of Tempest; and how the visuals and challenge progression systems were, at the time, unlike other games of its ilk. For those of us that have a fondness for those times, and for those looking for a more earnest, uncomplicated challenge comes Tempest 4000 from Llamasoft (headed by Jeff Minter). This is our Tempest 4000 review.

Yes, I’m ancient. I used to play this game in the arcades when I could finagle (ancient word, further proof of my claim to that status) a quarter from my mother’s purse. Even when I couldn’t, I don’t remember any shortage of people gathering around the game to watch, especially when a particularly skilled individual was playing. So diving into this game came with a bit of apprehension for it live up to the memory and a whole lot of nostalgia.

Tempest 4000 is a tube shooter that consists of an odd c-shaped “vessel” fondly referred to as the Claw. The Claw is based on one of the various geometric prisms with each of its sides creating a panel or lane in which aliens-monsters-bugs of some sort progress toward you or the Claw, occasionally shooting spikes down the lanes towards your vessel or flipping over to an adjacent lane. As the Claw, players are tasked with maneuvering along the edges of the shape and blasting the hostiles to keep them from progressing up the lane. As you destroy them, occasionally a power-up will also make its way down the lane toward you appearing as a line of green plus symbols. Once per level you have access to a super zapper or smart bomb that will clear the range of hostiles.

If the hostiles reach the defensive edge, they become very difficult to destroy without being caught by them. If caught, the Claw will be dragged down to the far end of the range and you will have expended a life. If you have another life, you will find your Claw vessel zooming down to rejoin the prism. During this quick transition, you have the freedom to move and fire as you would once you are on the prism. Take advantage of this to help clear the field before you get there, as many of the hostiles may have reached the defensive side while you were busy dying. Upon completing a level, the Claw warps through space, during which time you can maneuver the now starlooking vessel through the warp rings to gain more points before being set up on a completely different geometrical prism.


There are three play modes: Pure, Survival, and Classic, though I honestly feel the first two should have had their names switched. Pure gives you three lives to progress through these geometrical battlefields, and don’t get me wrong, you may be able to earn further lives through point accumulation but it’s not something I noticed in my attempts. In Survival mode, and this is where I get the idea that the mode names should be switched, the player is given nine lives. Nine seems like more than three, but I was never good at math, to begin with. Classic uses a feature from the original that allows you to start at a level you have reached in previous sessions with a base score and with your starting three lives. But the game plays essentially the same across the modes beyond those differences.

The basics of the game are pure, as the Pure mode might suggest. The psychedelics permeating through the background are more developed than I remember, though that is certainly not a bad thing considering all the mind-boggling layers of visuals and interactions we’ve become accustomed to in modern games. The music is reminiscent of ‘90s techno-rave and fits well with the shifting colors and patterns of the game and backgrounds. This version of the game also includes access to internet leaderboards, allowing you to see the top scores and where you sit amongst them.


While the original Tempest played in an arcade with a specific control scheme using a spinning knob and buttons, the PC release can be used either with a controller or a keyboard. Keep in mind some of the functions in the game are labeled for a controller, and finding their corresponding keys on your keyboard is frustrating (RB is the Key: P, I have yet to identify which key corresponds to LB). Despite the obvious oversight, I found the keyboard to be almost as effective in gameplay as a controller and merely requires a more precise touch.

Tempest 4000 is challenging but uncomplicated and in my perception, the game lives up to the fast-paced action and enjoyment I remember, with a few added tricks or improvements here or there. All in all, a great trip down memory lane in the nostalgia-mobile. After a few days of playing, the nostalgia died down a bit, and I began to question the price point of such a game in our modern market and found myself wondering if the game would not have been more appropriately released on a mobile device.

Note: Our copy was reviewed on (platform) with a code provided by PR.

Jeff Minter has been behind the game’s previous sequels or re releases (Tempest 2000 in ‘94, Tempest 3000 in 2000) and it is a true rendition of the Tempest I grew up with. However, despite porting it over to the newer operational systems, I don’t feel that there was enough of a difference from previous versions to warrant a release at this price point. As I mentioned above, this game would make a great time killer that you could acquire for 5$ on a phone or tablet and I think it works great as a timekiller on consoles as well (though, again, not for the listed price).
  • True nostalgic time warp
  • Challenging gameplay
  • Simple mechanics
  • Price point
  • Nothing new from previous versions
  • Corresponding keyboard keys are unlisted
Written by
A veteran gamer and story-hunter with a derivative digital-action addiction who endeavors to slake his hunger with every idle moment he can find… unless his kids are home. Then he’s just Dad.

1 Comment

  1. Good write up. This was one of my main arcade games when I was in highschool. There needs to be a knob spinner controller for it. Spinning the knob was a key last ditch tactic when getting swarmed. I think the price point is a bit too high as well.

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