Pigs fly! The moon turns blue! The Labour party wins an election! All sorts of other impossible things! And, to top it all, a game licensed from a series of toys proves to be ultra-spiffacious.
Action Force II is an altogether different box of ferrets from its predecessor; it's original, it looks great, and it promises many hours of rewarding gameplay.
You know Action Force - they're the little plastic men with names like Windbreak and Toenail who do heroic things to defend the world against the scourge of the evil COBRA terrorists. In this particular game, the baddies are holding innocent civilians hostage. Quick-Kick, an expert in unarmed combat, is assigned to climb through the landscape of ruined buildings, ladders, walkways and rooftops to seek out and rescue the hostages. And what do you do to control him? Nothing! Not a bally thing! He's quite happy to climb around all on his own without any aid from you. But hold on - what's this? Emerging from windows, from doorways, from dustbins even - nasty leadspitting terrorists! Quick-Kick gets the chop!
The trick, and the whole point to the game, is that you must provide covering fire while Quick-Kick does the business. Move your gunsights around the screen, and blast the baddies as they show their eyes from the windows, dustbins and doorways. Because the speed at which you can move your sight is limited, you need careful planning to cover the whole of each screen so that Quick-Kick can finish it without finding himself fatally perforated. On some screens, you will find also American flags, which you must shoot in order to restore Quick-Kick's energy. Since the flags are pretty close to walkways, you must be careful not to blast Quick-Kick in your enthusiasm.
Once you've worked your way right to the top, the hostages will emerge from captivity, a helicopter will whisk them to safety, and you get to choose your weapons for the next phase. Machine Gun, Bazooka and BioGun all perform in different ways, so it's important to make the right choice for each successive level.
After freeing two groups of hostages, you get to blast away at an enemy tank. You have a very small number of seconds to hit this mechanical monster 39 times (why 39?) by waggling the joystick back and fore. The secret here seems to be smoothness of waggle rather than sheer speed.
Action Force II is full of wonderful little touches; bullet-holes appear in the brickwork, torches on the walls burn, your gunsight judders as you hold down the trigger. Quick-Kick expires convincingly if the enemy manages to shoot him or drop weights on his head. If you remember to shoot the dustbins, keep blasting the flags to restore energy, and keep your cool against the tank, the early levels are fairly straightforward. But as it gets harder and harder, Action Force II just gets better and better.
So far my best performance rating is 'Bullet-Bait,' but AFII is the sort of game which makes you want to perform at your best. A winner.
Label: Virgin Games
Author: Gang of Five
Price: £7.95, £14.95 disc
Reviewer: Chris Jenkins
Amazingly good game licence which combines originality with graphic sophistication.