Highway Encounter was excellent with just enough problem solving, first rate graphics and some very engaging monsters - it was almost a pleasure to be zapped, they had so much personality.
The basic plot was simple - you controlled five Dalek-like robots, pushing a bomb down a rather strange Zaxxon-style scrolling road. Arrayed against you were various very well animated sprite aliens, and ingenious problems along the lines of 'How do I get through the chicane while avoiding the moving spark?'. All under threat of a time limit.
With Alien Highway Vortex has taken a lesson from Hollywood: if they like the plot once, they'll like it again - just change a few of the minor characters, and shift the scenery around a bit.
This shouldn't be taken to mean that I don't like Alien Highway - I love it. It has all the addictive qualities that made Highway Encounter one of the best games of last year.
A couple of changes have been made: instead of having five robots - or Vortrons - you have one. An indicator at the left of the screen gives you your current energy level; you lose energy by being hit by aliens, and by running into certain of the obstacles. You get your energy back by pushing the Terratron - the bomb with which you hope to damage the aliens' industrial heartland, I kid you not - into special recharging stations. Reach zero energy and goodbye, cruel world.
Controls are simplicity itself - accelerate/decelerate, fire, turn left or right. Take note of the advice on the cassette insert, which suggests you use keyboard control; you really can't get the sort of accuracy you need using a joystick. To avoid some of the dangers in this game you need instant response.
The panel beneath the view of the road is used for various indicators - an energy gauge, a status computer which flashes you messages (the only one I've had so far is 'energy low' - as if I hadn't noticed!), time left and the number of times you've pushed your friendly little bomb into one of the regeneration refuelling stations that you'll find en route to glory. You must get it into seven stations to prime it properly.
Unlike Highway Encounter, the arrangement of the screens in Alien Highway is supposed to be random every time you play the game - but this isn't quite true. The highway seems to be built up of pairs of screens, and it is possible to get a pretty good idea of what's coming up so long as you can recognise the first screen of a pair.
Another point to remember is that if you come across any barrels, it's more than likely that you are going to need them pretty soon to block one of the shuttling blobs that regularly fly across or up and down the highway.
After the first four or five screens; don't shoot off the edge (ie into the next screen) unless you know what's there. There's a particularly nasty bottleneck with a barrel situated just in the right position to block your passage altogether if you accidentally push it a couple of squares.
It's fiendishly hard, and some of the problems will have you tearing your hair.
The Vortron approaches a refuelling station, pushing the Terratron. Watch out for the flames, they're lethal - guide your robot around them carefully. You don't have to push the Terratron all the way into the pit stop - just touch the side of it. The eye stalk alien is fairly harmless on its own - but watch out when they're hunting in packs.
One of the easier obstacles. Shoot the chimneys and the blobs will bounce from one side of the road to the middle, rebounding off each other - you can go straight through the middle if you're lucky. If the alien gets in the way of the blobs it won't be destroyed - but it will alter their movement pattern. If you can get hold of a barrel, block the blobs. The barrel on the far side probably means you'll need it on the next screen.
Around two-thirds of the way through a pretty tough problem, and just about to die. You get plenty of advance warning on this one - there's a sort of mirror image about two screens earlier. Try and catch the blobs with barrels then! The posts with bars on are just obstacles - you don't lose energy if you hit them. The diamond symbols at the bottom right of the screen show you've only got less than a third of the way through the game.