Arcade: Shoot-em-up
ZX Spectrum 48K
Firebird BleepLoad

Chris Jenkins
Chris Bourne

Whatever has that lovely, lovely Andrew Braybrook been up to since his last effort, Morpheus, failed to appear on the Spectrum? Well, he's been working on intensity, and now it's finished, and, er, this is a bit of a problem.

The problem is that while I can see exactly what he was trying to do, and while some of the fluffy bunnies at SU think it's a jolly good game, and while it's full of spiffy programming and nice things, I just don't think it adds up to a fun experience. The basic problem is that it seems to have been designed by deciding to take things out, rather than to put things in.

Though the background graphics look very much like those of the marvellous Uridium, the first thing to bear in mind is that they DON'T SCROLL. What? A non-scrolling shoot-'em-up? inconceivable! And there's worse to come. There's no shooting either! While you have a nice cup of tea to recover from the shock, I'll explain.

The plot hinges around a development of a control system from Morpheus. Your task is to pilot a skimmer and its rescue drone, lifting colonists from a series of space platforms besieged by aliens. Your skimmer moves in a circular manner under joystick control, and you can land on the surface of the platform by pressing the fire button. When you land, this summons your rescue drone, which whizzes across the platform towards you.

You must then move pretty smartish to get out of the way before the drone slams into you, and you explode into a zillion particles.

Meanwhile the colonists are making their way across the platform towards the drone. They appear as small spheres, and the aliens attack them as they run. You must use your skimmer to intercept the aliens, otherwise they will cause the colonists to mutate into human bombs. Get one of these in your drone and it's goodnight viewers.

As you progress, the layout of the platforms becomes more complex, with more gaps, causeways and obstacles. It therefore becomes harder to land your skimmer near enough to the colonists for the drone to zoom in and rescue them. Once you have rescued all the colonists from each level, a flashing signal tells you that you can make for the take-off pad and fly to the next platform. By choosing different pads, you can choose different routes through the maze of platforms. Rather than having to complete every single platform, all you have to do is pick a path from one side of the grid to the other. A status screen between levels shows you where you are.

Of course, it's more complicated than that. For a start, there are different types of drones and skimmers. By picking up flying R symbols you accumulate credit which allow you to select better equipment on the purchase screen. All the skimmers are armed with rotating cutters with which they can destroy aliens, but the Alpha and Beta versions can climb over higher obstacles than the simple Gamma. Incidentally, the impression of changing height is very nicely created by the use of shadowing on the sprites. The same sort of variations apply to the drones, so you must always bear in mind what kinds of obstacles can and cannot be negotiated. Sometimes you have to land and "call" a drone several times to steer it around obstacles. The danger here is that alien Trackers will home in on you if you stay on the surface too long. Other aliens include Spores, which are easy to destroy if you get them before they touch down; Stalkers, which can leap small gaps; Podules, which are intermediate stages between Stalkers and Trackers, and are vulnerable for a short time; and Nuclons, which are dangerous fireballs resulting from a stalker catching a colonist. They will destroy or downgrade your ships if they hit them, as will the Trackers.

In the buying phase the cost of new vehicles is shown in RUs (Resource Units) and you can order as many vehicles as you can pay for. There's an "auto" option which recommends a best buy, but the better the equipment, the longer it takes to be constructed. So, what do we end up with? A fast-moving, cleverly programmed and complex game, with an original plot, fine touches and a polished appearance. But, Uridium it's not.

Label: Firebird
Author: Steve Turner
Price: £7.95
Memory: 48K/128K
Joystick: various
Reviewer: Chris Jenkins

Clever, fast-moving but oddly unsatisfying space epic.