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ATF

1988
Simulation
£8.95
English
ZX Spectrum 48K/128K
Multiple schemes (see individual downloads)

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54,55
Andy Wilton
Chris Bourne

Digital Integration fly out.

Lockheed fans must be having a fine old time of it just at the moment: scarcely have MicroProse got their F-19 game Project Stealth Fighter airborne when Digital Integration wheel this one out of the hangar. Based on the Advanced Tactical Fighter, the F-19's stealthy successor, the game's something of a departure for DI. Rather than producing another simulation in the mould of Tomahawk or Fighter Pilot, this time DI have gone for some very arcade-ish blasting action - combined with the strategic depth you'd more normally associate with them.

The move away from slavish simulation takes you out of the cockpit so that you view your plane from above and behind. The viewpoint is fixed so that the horizon stays level no matter how you climb, dive or bank and is far enough back that you can see enemy interceptors on your tail. Aside from the joystick your only aircraft controls are the keys for throttle, undercarriage up or down, and two very handy auto-pilot modes. The first of these, terrain-following, makes landscape hugging a cinch while the second lands your plane automatically for you.

Once you've got the hang of flying - steer, dodge opposing fire and don't fly too fast at low level - you're ready for the game's real guts: combat. The wrap-around game 'world' of sea, snow, beaches and scrubland is the setting for a full-scale war, your task being quite simply to swing the odds in your own side's favour. You won't be given mission objectives: you'll have to work out priorities from intelligence reports and your own sightings, arm up appropriately and get stuck in.

Once you've loaded up with cannon shells for air-to-air combat, ASRAAM and Maverick missiles for surface targets and fuel to get you there, you can home in on a suitable foe taking your bearings from your onboard computer. Enemy interceptors will harass you along the way, pouncing on you from behind or bearing down on you from dead ahead, guns blazing. Cannon shells will finish them off nicely, but being of little strategic value interceptors are often best simply avoided. Your real targets are the enemy's ground and sea forces, air bases, communications centres and - most important of all - the factories he depends on to replace his losses.

Once you're within 100 km or so of one of these you can let fly with a Maverick: they home in of their own accord, and can usually do the job without your ever actually seeing the target. If you've loaded up with ASRAAMs instead you'll have to close in until you can see the target, and then guide the missile in manually. This means a greater cost in fuel and (to start with) an awful lot of misses, but since they weigh far less ASRAAMS can be an attractive choice for short range heavy-duty missions.

As you gain in experience you'll soon find that, even on the lowest of the game's eight levels of difficulty, you can't defeat the enemy simply by destroying the targets intelligence reports tell you about. The only way to make real progress in the game is to fly into known enemy hotspots - you can pinpoint these on the map before each sortie - and find the targets yourself. The onboard computer will inform you of enemy installations or forces as you approach them, and you can then proceed as before.

Interceptor shots will decrease your engine power and damage other systems until you're forced to land for repairs or brought down altogether, but they aren't the only hazard. SAMs (Surlace-to-Air Missiles) will wreck you outright if you don't hit the jammer key in time, and since losing three planes ends the game regardless of the way the ground war's going it's vital that you stay alert.

Though the size of the task is limited - the game world is always the same size whatever level you play on - the initial disadvantage you start at steps up from nothing on Rookie to drastic on the ATF Ace setting, giving plenty of lasting interest. It's got the same instant addiction and strategic depth of Durrell's old Combat Lynx wedded to state of the art graphics: very playable stuff!

Reviewer: Andy Wilton

RELEASE BOX
Spec, £8.95cs, £12.95dk, Out Now
C64/128, £8.95cs, £13.95dk, Imminent
Amstrad, £8.95cs, £12.95dk, Imminent

Predicted Interest Curve

1 min: 75/100
1 hour: 90/100
1 day: 90/100
1 week: 80/100
1 month: 70/100
1 year: 30/100

Once you've sussed the onboard systems you'll be totally obsessed.

9/10
6/10
6/10
8/10
956/1000

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SPECTRUM VERSION

The landscape rushes beneath you very impressively indeed, the ground targets are well-drawn and the 128K sound is spot on. A great all-rounder then, and a good move for DI.

Screenshot Text

The state of the war, on Rookie level; you're purple, allied forces are green and the enemy's red.

Arming up with Maverick homing missiles.

There are enemy tanks 139km away - almost in range - but there's a fighter on your tail!

Out over the sea, flying past an enemy warship. Time to turn and strafe it?

A bar graph shows the balance of power.

Ready for take-off!