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Andy Wilton
Chris Bourne

Can Firebird spare the rod?

Lawyers may end up making more money off it than programmers or software houses do, but this one's got to be a nice little earner for someone. Programmed by Steve Turner, this 3D droid-em-up's got all the playability of Turner/Braybrook classics like Paradroid or Ranarama, and it's every bit as addictive too.

The plot's simple enough: eight enemy satellites are endangering Earth's spacefleet, so you've got to disable them by shutting their nuclear reactors down. As game tasks go this one's no picnic, given that each satellite has four reactors and a wide range of very unpleasant defence droids. You start the game with a decidedly weedy KLP-2 droid, so you're clearly in for a rough old time of it. In fact, you won't survive very long at all unless you can beef yourself up a bit.

Self-improvement's something the KLP-2's very good at mind you. Just switch its grappling device on, ram an enemy droid, hack through the blighter's security system and you can cannibalise it for spare parts. These form a new improved droid with better weaponry, defences or power systems, depending on the type of droid you grabbed - and you've still got the KLP-2 to fall back on if the new model gets destroyed.

Grappling's not the push-over it might sound like, however, thanks to the all-important enemy security system. This nasty little anti-tamper set-up takes the form of a sliding block puzzle linked to a self-destruct device. Solve the puzzle completely within a given time limit and you get your brand new droid; get only the bottom row right and you recharge your current droids energy banks but fail to do even that and the enemy droid explodes, taking you with it.

Droids come in different categories from zero (strongest) to eight (weakest - KLP-2s an eight) and the time limit for the puzzle depends on the relative strengths of your own droid and your target: attack a strong droid with a weak one and you'll have very little time indeed.

Once you've mastered grappling you're ready for the game proper, with its exploration, combat and reactor-bashing. The game area's 100-plus isometric 3D screens have ramps, ledges and drops rather in the Marble Madness style, plus teleports and those all-important reactors. Though you can't fall off a screen entirely you can easily fall from one ledge to another, taking damage in the process. In places, magnetic floor-tiles and steep slopes threaten to send you over the edge. At first these present few problems, but as you start disabling reactors your droid becomes harder to handle, with weight and magnetism both affecting you far more.

It's the rods that are the problem, you see: each reactor's got four rods, and each rod's got a positive or negative charge. The total charge across the four rods determines the reactor's status: swap rods between reactors and you can send the charge too far one way or the other, shutting the power off. Unfortunately, rods are heavy things, so carrying them up slopes can be a problem. What's more, the charge on the rod you're holding alters the action of magnets on your droid: the higher the charge, the stronger the pull.

Once you've cleaned out a satellite, you can teleport to another one and continue your reactor-cide. With only 32 reactors to do the game's not going to be impossible to finish, but as the difficulty steps up you'll soon see just how tough the task is. Nicely paced and very challenging, with great in-game information displays and varying droid abilities to add depth, this one manages to be enormously compulsive despite being made up of some pretty standard game components.

Reviewer: Andy Wilton

Spec, £7.95cs, Out Now
C64/128, £8.96cs, £12.95dk, Imminent
No other versions planned.

Predicted Interest Curve

1 min: 65/100
1 hour: 90/100
1 day: 90/100
1 week: 82/100
1 month: 70/100
1 year: 20/100

Screamingly addictive, but you'll solve it eventually.


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Controls aren't quite as responsive as they might be and there's the odd bit of colour clash too but by and large it's good-looking stuff - and horribly playable too!

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You're in a P3 class pursuit robot, but that still leaves you out-gunned by the P1 guarding that reactor plate.

Hiving successfully grappled the P1 - you're P1 class now! - you've accessed the reactor. Pull that -3 rod out and the total will climb to +6, overloading the reactor.