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Arcade: Shoot-em-up
ZX Spectrum 48K

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Jim Douglas
Chris Bourne

I think there must be an, "Easy to Use Vertical Scrolling Shoot-Out Development System." doing the rounds of the industry at the moment. Well, to tell the truth, ever since Lightforce emerged everyone has been cranking out lookalikes. US Gold had Bedlam, Softek had Xecutor and there were even Budget releases like Zeppelin's Sabotage and Powerama from Powerhouse.

The last two share an uncomfortably large number of features with Octan, Firebird's addition to the troupe.

As you can see from the pictures, we're talking seriously attractive graphics here. If they were standing in a bar, you'd buy them a drink (God knows, I wonder about you sometimes - GT). The scrolling floor beneath the base-relief hi-tech alien battlecruiser is remarkably pleasing. Not only does it scroll downward doing fantastic imitations of acres of crazy paving, but when you move from side to side, it all moves sideways with you. Oo-ee-oo! Crazy paving gone crazier!

Still this is all a bit by-the-by, as even a digitised Picasso (who he? - TD) couldn't save a program with iffy gameplay. Not that Octan has iffy gameplay. Lordy, no!

When you get going, there's a definite impression that everything is a little sluggish. It's tricky to get out of the way of the aliens and you can only fire one shot at a time. Pretty soon, though, you'll realise that it's just you that is the slowcoach. Everything else is shifting at a fine pace. The immediate problem is to turn your ship from a passive dustbin into a psychotic killing juggernaut.

By bombing the pyramids which litter the alien ship's surface you can make letters appear. Each letter corresponds to a different feature on your ship, which can then be enhanced. You've got to collect three of each letter before anything interesting happens. You can double your laser-fire, drop more bombs or get some more lives. The big problem is that these pyramids are nearly always situated right in front of a gun installation which will fire upon you as soon as you're in range.

The aliens are marvellous. Although unbelievably nasty, they actually look quite cute. My favourites are the Starfish shaped things which swarm around in, um, swarms, grinning away and bashing into you.

At the end of each level (which is bloody tough to reach, and impossible for me to pass) are two huge fireball spitting baddies - again, nicely defined and thoroughly menacing.

Octan is by no means perfect, the controls sometimes feel a bit plodding, even when you've collected your 'speed-up' icon, but that said, it's a supremely polished game with fab graphics. And for £2.99, you can't really go wrong, can you?

Label: Silverbird
Author: Robert F. Gill
Price: £1.99
Memory: 48K/128K
Joystick: various
Reviewer: Jim Douglas

One of the best top-bottom scrolling shoot-outs of the moment.