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US Gold Ltd
1987
Arcade: Action
£8.99
English
ZX Spectrum 48K
Alkatraz Protection System

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72
Jack Daniel
Chris Bourne

Oh give me a home where the buffalo roam - and I'll show you a house with a very dirty carpet... I read the Beano too, y'know - which has only the most tenuous of links with the subject in question, Express Raider, one of the very latest from US Gold.

It's a coin-op conversion from a Data-East game that was mildly successful - a fate that is almost certain to befall the Spectrum version as well - as it's not what even my Mum would call state-of-the-art. Pity, because the design isn't a bad one.

The idea is to combine the kicky-kicky bits of martial arts, the jumpy-jumpy bits of platforms and ladders and throw in the nearest smidgeon (that's a complete lie incidentally, the game contains at least seven smidgens) of shooty-shooty. OK so far? The whole point of the exercise is to rob a train and kill lots of people. Whatever next.

OK, so you've got to rob this train, right. It's the Wild West, right. So you use a Smith and Weston '45, right? Wrong - you are a villain with a heart of gold, and give the kindly banker on the first screen a chance by laying down your arms. You must kick him to death. At this juncture, you are on the left of the screen and the banker is on the right, the setting being the scenic delights of a marshalling yard. You are both black, badly drawn, figures, but the banker has a pot belly, and you are wearing a Stetson.

In typical martial arts-style, the eight positions of the joystick corresponds to eight movements of your man - pressing Fire will either kick or punch, depending on his stance.

Along the top of the screen is a gauge that tells you how well you are doing in the fight. It starts in the middle - to beat your opponent, you must hit him enough to move the red thermometer bit all the way over to the right, while every hit you take, moves it back towards the left... If it reaches the far left, you loose a life.

If you beat him, having grabbed the goodies, the cat is well and truly let out of the bag - well what other reason could there be for having to now jump over a series of black coyotes? That's the first bit, now the action switches to the top of the moving train - you must make your way from the back to the front (where the gold is kept). Each screen is set on the top of a different car, and to complete it you must beat up a different opponent, some of whom have got their heads screwed on straight and have guns (lucky the bullets don't go too fast, eh?) Each of these screens is done against the clock, and failing to win within that times looses you another life.

Having got to the front of the train, the shooting bit starts. You are now riding a horse (animated in Twoframovision (tm)) alongside the moving train. You have acquired yourself a gun and must aim at (shown by on-screen cross-hairs) and kill guys that pop up from behind bits and pieces. At the same time they are trying to knock you off your horse with assorted paraphernalia.

You manoeuvre your horse left right across the screen at the same time as aiming the gun - in fact this bit is quite well done, as the two are linked together in a playable, yet believable fashion.

Again it's done against time... and there are other things to shoot at, like ducks carrying extra money and innocent bystanders - also carrying extra money.

Sounds pretty good, doesn't it? So why does it end up as a far from wonderful product? Well, the graphics must be the major factor. They are badly drawn and not very well animated. Would have been acceptable, say, a year ago - but not full-price nowadays. The playability of both sections is average rather than exceptional one way or the other, and while excellent graphics might have raised the tone of the whole thing, they rather let it down.

It's the first time that I've come across Homegan Software - a Hungarian programming team, messrs Zadonyi et al, who did the conversion.

Express Raider isn't totally hopeless - but maybe they should hire an artist.

Label: US Gold
Author: Homegan
Price: £7.95
Joystick: various
Reviewer: Jack Daniel

***

Coin-op conversion that's a mixture of various game types. Mediocre graphics make it not a vital purchase.

3/5